By: Ester Heinzmann

The recent dramatic developments in Russia and Ukraine are leading to an increased desire among the Jewish communities there to make Aliyah to Israel. Including close relatives, there are still an estimated 900,000 people eligible to immigrate to the Jewish state from the former Soviet republics. For the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), it is a special privilege to help them make the journey home to Israel, and especially to prepare their children and young people for this significant step. In this regard, over recent months the ICEJ was able to assist some 1,000 Jewish children to take part in Aliyah summer camps.

Aliyah from the North

About 2,700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the return of the Jewish people from the four corners of the world, explicitly saying they would come from the “north” (Isaiah 43:6). In the early 1990s, the miraculous fulfilment of these words began. When the Iron Curtain fell, more than one million Soviet Jews boarded planes and ships bound for Israel. Communism’s decades-long anti-religious grip could not prevent Jews from answering God’s call.

“It was like a wind was blowing, and we just knew we had to come”, a Russian new immigrant shared at the time.

Since 2008, the Aliyah from the former Soviet republics has been steadily growing. But no one expected what has happened in recent months.

“The events in Ukraine have triggered a real tidal wave. Between the end of February and the end of July alone, some 33,000 Jews from Russia and Ukraine arrived in Israel”, explained Danielle Mor of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

That is more than three times as many as in the entire previous year – and it appears the flow is not going to stop anytime soon. Even with the reports that the Russian government wants to curb Jewish Agency activities in Russia, this is only increasing the number of Jewish applicants who want to immigrate to Israel.

Ukraine youth at Aliyah summer camp

Prepared for the future

Even in peacetime, Aliyah is an enormous challenge – especially for children. Suddenly, they must find their way in a new place with an unfamiliar language and culture. This is where children and youth programs help.

Youth Aliyah dates back to the 1930s, when Jewish activists tried to rescue as many Jewish children as possible from the rising threat of Nazi Germany and bring them to Eretz Yisrael.

Today’s Aliyah youth programs prepare Jewish children for life in Israel. Aliyah camps play an important role, especially in the former Soviet republics. The children make new friends, learn about the traditions of their forefathers, and understand – perhaps for the first time – the importance of the state of Israel as the home and safe haven of the Jewish people. This is especially important since many families were separated from their connection to the Jewish faith.

Young trailblazers

Some young people decide to precede their families and immigrate to Israel on their own. With the support of Jewish Agency programs, they finish high school or start university in Israel. As their parents and siblings join them at a later stage, they will have already settled in and can then actively help support their families in adjusting to Israel.

This summer, the ICEJ sponsored ten summer camps spread across eight time zones – from Belarus and the Baltic countries all the way past the Ural Mountains to Siberia and the Russian Far East. Thanks to the help of Christians worldwide, we were able to cover the transportation costs for around 1,000 Jewish children and young people, some from remote areas, to attend Aliyah summer camps, among our other sponsored activities.

Ukraine youth sit round during recreation; Aliyah summer camp

Recreation for Ukrainian children

At the end of July, a special summer camp was held in Lithuania for 100 Jewish children who had fled from Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what they went through in the last few months. When they woke up one morning, war was raging! They had to leave their homes, were separated from friends, and most have not seen their fathers for months (men ages 18 to 60 are still not allowed to leave the country). Now they live with the constant feeling of an uncertain future. But the summer camp, with its varied activities in the fresh air surrounded by beautiful nature, helped them to think about other things and created unforgettable memories.

“We had a fantastic time”, Nastia said enthusiastically. “The program was great, and I made new friends. I hope to see them again soon!”

Shabbat celebration for Ukrainian youth at Aliya summer camp

A special highlight was the carefree Shabbat celebration.

“You created an atmosphere of joy, recovery and peace. It really did our children good”, Inna rejoiced. “Thank you so much for that!”

Alexei reported that his child returned from the summer camp “overjoyed… A huge thanks for your service to the children!

Bringing Israel’s sons and daughters home
It is our hope and prayer that these children will one day decide to make Israel, the land of their forefathers, their new homeland, and we would like to support them in this.

“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and I will raise up my banner for the peoples.’ Then they will bring your sons in your arms and carry your daughters on your shoulder.” (Isaiah 49:22)

Please help us to enable these Jewish children to make Aliyah to Israel!

Donate to our Aliyah efforts via the button below:

Photo Credit: JAFI