tour during a seminar
By: ICEJ Staff Writers

The astonishing influx of Jewish people making Aliyah to Israel is nearing levels last seen after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. The majority of these new immigrants are Russian-speaking Jews from the former Soviet republics. Economic hardships and war-related issues have prompted thousands of Jewish families to plan their move to Israel. The ICEJ is supporting the Jewish Agency’s initiatives in those regions most affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In the first quarter of 2023, more than 16,000 Russian-speaking Jews from former Soviet lands made Aliyah, a similar rate to the more than 62,000 who came last year. This means over 250,000 Russian-speaking Jews have made Aliyah since the Ukraine conflict began in 2014, marking it as an historic Aliyah wave from the North. Here are ways the Christian Embassy has been helping with this mass Aliyah.

Aliyah Seminar in Lithuania

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russian-speaking Jews moved to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia hoping to find peace, safety and economic opportunities for their children. These hopes began to fade when Russia invaded Ukraine last year and concerns grew about possible problems spreading to the Baltics. Lithuania also took in thousands of Ukrainian war refugees, and overall Aliyah has since more than tripled from the Baltic region. 

In April, the ICEJ supported a weekend Aliyah seminar for young families in the Baltic states that was held in Vilnius, Lithuania – a former Soviet republic now part of the European Union which shares borders with Russia, Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The Aliyah seminar drew 52 potential olim at a hotel where they enjoyed Shabbat together, good meals and the hotel’s amenities. Teachers from Israel spoke about Passover and Shavuot, as well as their new life in Israel – the main theme for the weekend.

Last year, the ICEJ helped with a Jewish Agency special summer camp in September and later a winter camp in December for Jewish children from both the Baltic states and Ukraine. Additionally, pre-Aliyah events were held during Hanukah and Purim. These special events were supervised by Ilze Saulite, our Latvian national director and our regional Aliyah coordinator who has been active in this work since the 1990s.

Aliyah from the Baltic states has surged since February 2022 when the war started, and the Jewish Agency has asked ICEJ to help with Aliyah flights and preparation expenses. The ICEJ has responded by sponsoring 200 Aliyah flights from the Baltic region. Adding in other former Soviet republics and Ethiopia, the Christian Embassy has already sponsored nearly 1,000 Aliyah flights so far this year.

Vilnius was once known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North’ – a name given by Napoleon on his way to Moscow in 1812. The region became a relatively safe haven for Ashkenazi Jews fleeing western Europe during times of severe persecution, such as from Germany in the First Crusade (1096–1099), and the Expulsions from England (1290), France (1306 and 1394), and Spain (1492).

Life was not completely without problems, as there were pogroms and restrictions following the order of Catherine the Great to establish the Pale of Settlement – a large Jewish ghetto stretching from today’s Ukraine into Poland and Lithuania. At the height of the Russian Empire, there were some 5 million Jews on Russian lands, including 3 million living in the Pale of Settlement as depicted in the movie “Fiddler on the Roof.”

During World War II, these Jews communities endured the worst persecution in their history at the hands of Nazi Germany, as the majority of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were from this area. After the war, many Holocaust survivors fled to Israel. Now, many of the remaining Jews are preparing to finally follow them home to the Jewish state, and the Christian Embassy stands ready to help.

Medical rescue flight for Ukrainian Jewish family

During Passover in April, the ICEJ also assisted a family of five from eastern Ukraine to fly to Israel. The grandfather, Boris, is in his mid-60s and needs regular dialysis treatment, which required special help on his flight. The family had just traveled from their home in occupied eastern Ukraine through two former Soviet republics in a very difficult and harrowing journey which included border interrogations and cell phone checks. The ICEJ covered the flights for all five family members and the urgent medical care upon arrival. They landed in Israel during Passover, when the airport immigration desk is not usually staffed. So, the Jewish Agency took extra steps to ensure they were well received and taken to their housing and dialysis treatments throughout the Passover holidays, which the ICEJ also covered.

The family was so glad to be free after more than a year of life under occupation. This was truly a Passover story, which the ICEJ was very happy to be a part of.

“Finally, our dream came true,” said Boris after landing in Israel. “Thanks a lot to the Jewish Agency and also the ICEJ, who supported us and helped us regain our freedom!”

The history of the Jewish people is not just one of persecution and exile, but also resilience in the face of adversity. These Jewish newcomers from Ukraine, the Baltic states and other former Soviet republics will help build Israel and fulfill the destiny of the Jewish people.

Please help us with this massive wave of Aliyah now underway from the Land of the North. Send your best gift today to bring more Jews home from exile.

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