JERUSALEM — Approximately 160 Jews from Ukraine landed in Israel Monday on two charter flights arranged by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship). While the olim (immigrants) arrived against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, they also came several weeks before Hanukkah, a holiday that is not only celebratory for Jews but also a reminder of the significance of reconnecting with Jewish culture and one’s Jewish roots.

One of the olim, Illia Tkach (27), arrived on the first of the two flights on Monday and made aliyah alone. Illia said, “My mother and sister are currently remaining in Ukraine. Maybe they will make aliyah in the future.” Illia is experiencing a renewal in reconnecting with his Jewish identity. “I do not know enough about the Jewish holidays and the history of my people. That’s something I want to explore. There is no better place than Israel to do that. It was very important to me that I make aliyah. It was so important that when I was asked what city I want to go to during the quarantine, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and said, ‘Only to Jerusalem’. This is the capital of Israel. It’s a historic and sacred place which is so intriguing to me. I don’t know if I’ll be in Jerusalem forever, but at least starting the new chapter of my life there will be great.”

Illia expressed gratitude not just to The Fellowship for arranging the flights but for Drs. Peter and Stephanie Chung, Canadian donors who sponsored both flights. “I want to thank him for all of his help in arranging my journey home. Thanks to his generous support, so many people have a chance to change their lives for the better. I only wish for him lots of success and good health.”

In a video addressed to the olim before their flights, Dr. Peter Chung said, “I am really humbled and honoured to sponsor this flight. I know what it is like to move to a new place. I came to North America as a new immigrant like all of you are doing right now. The Fellowship will be there to help you along the way.”

Yael Eckstein, President of The Fellowship, said, “Everyone at The Fellowship feels so fulfilled and proud to assist Jews in not only making aliyah during such a complex and challenging period, but also in facilitating their absorption into Israeli society. We are thankful to our very generous donors like Drs. Peter and Stephanie Chung who help make such historic aliyah flights possible.”

For more than 20 years globally, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has been helping Jews make aliyah and has invested more than $200 million in bringing more than 750,000 olim to Israel. The Fellowship has also been a major contributor to the Jewish Agency and helped to establish the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization. In 2014, The Fellowship began operating independently in the field of immigration. Since then, they have brought more than 25,000 olim to Israel from 30 countries around the world. The olim receive comprehensive assistance from The Fellowship including special grants of $500 per adult and $300 per child. They also sponsors their flights to Israel and ensures that they receive the absorption basket that they are entitled to under Israeli law.

Additionally, The Fellowship works to make sure that the immigrant families are absorbed within their respective municipalities, particularly with regards to housing and employment. Moreover, The Fellowship continues to advise the families afterward.