A New Life in the Holy Land
November 11, 2014
Dear Friend of The Fellowship,
I am already excited about Hanukkah this year, not simply because it’s a festive Jewish holiday, but because during this eight-day celebration The Fellowship will be flying 200 Jews from war-torn areas of Ukraine to their new home in Israel. I have been on several such flights over the years, planes full of Eastern Europeans or Ethiopians who have waited years, often under harsh conditions, to be allowed to leave their countries of origin and move to their spiritual homeland. I never tire of their excitement and utter joy in finally calling the Holy Land home.
This flight has been a long time coming. For more than a year civil unrest and violence have spiraled out of control in eastern Ukraine, leaving the Jewish community trapped in the middle of volatile situations that have put their very lives in danger. Life had already been difficult for the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the former Soviet Union, many of whom had spent their lives hiding their identity to avoid anti-Semitic hatred. This unrest left them even more vulnerable.
When the unrest in Ukraine first started, The Fellowship immediately contacted the leaders of the orphanages and Jewish community centers in this region to find out how we could help. I traveled to Ukraine twice earlier this year to offer firsthand encouragement and to see if there was more we could do to assist this community. Based on these findings we rushed in food packages, visited isolated and scared elderly, comforted displaced people, and offered assistance for others who were forced to move away from dangerous areas.
But as the unrest and violence continued, it became clear that the best option for many in this Jewish community was to move to Israel. So on December 22, the sixth day of Hanukkah, The Fellowship will fly a planeload of these Ukrainian Jews from Kiev to Israel. Many of these people will be coming with only the shirts on their backs, leaving behind loved ones, careers, property, and a lifetime of memories. They will be greeted at Ben Gurion Airport with a festive gathering of Israeli government officials, diplomats, VIPs, family members who have preceded them, and other well-wishers. And you, Fellowship friends, have made this possible.
We have already helped many people in Ukraine make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). One of them, Olga, a 56-year-old librarian in the city of Gorlovka who was less than a year away from retiring, watched the battles between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian armed forces enter her neighbourhood. “The violence came up right to our door,” her son Andrei said. “One by one, whole families were leaving Gorlovka.” They were particularly afraid of the possibility of an attack on a local chemical factory in the city; if it exploded, it would cause a humanitarian disaster.
The family tried to maintain a sense of normalcy amid the chaos, but one day the library where Olga was working was hit by an artillery shell, destroying parts of the building from the roof to the ground floor. After this event, Olga, her seriously ill husband, and Andrei fled for their lives, leaving behind everything they owned. With help from The Fellowship, they made emergency aliyah to Haifa, where Olga is studying Hebrew while also caring for her husband, and Andrei is looking for a job.
“I still think about my friends in Ukraine, with whom I lived for 56 years,” Olga said. “It’s hard for me to talk about because it is so tragic. We’re so thankful to The Fellowship for saving us.”
This upcoming emergency aliyah will help those still trapped in Ukraine, allowing them to finally live in safety and to finally live freely as Jews. The timing of this freedom flight at Hanukkah seems especially appropriate. Hanukkah is the celebration of two miracles God performed for the Jewish people years ago, offering His protection and provision. What a perfect time for us to fly these Jews in peril to safety, providing them a miraculous new start in the land of their spiritual forefathers.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
President and Founder, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Canada