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Making Aliyah one step at a time

For over four decades now, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been helping Jewish families make Aliyah to Israel. Among the Jews we have helped bring back to their ancient homeland are doctors, teachers, artists, engineers and people from many other professional backgrounds – each one making their own unique contributions to the success of modern Israel. Amazingly, we are eyewitnesses of the fulfillment of Isaiah's vision that one day a restored nation of Israel would make the desert bloom and fill the earth with its fruits (Isaiah 27:6).

This divine work of restoration is taking place one family at a time, and each family must make the journey home to Israel one step at a time.

Lydia Lagunova, along with her husband Yuri and their young daughter, just made Aliyah in early April. They arrived on a special “evacuation flight” from Kazakhstan sponsored by the ICEJ. Lydia insisted the entire family had no doubts when they made the final decision to begin the process of Aliyah.

“We wanted to live and work in our homeland and nowhere else”, she said.

“Our family lives a very active rhythm. We are all engaged in completely different activities,” Lydia added in describing her small family.

Lydia has been an actress with the Russian academic theater for more than seven years. She first performed as an actress in Ukraine and later in Kazakhstan, in the National Russian Academic Theater in Almaty. Besides working in the theater, Lydia and her husband also organized their own theater school, where Lydia was teaching stage speech, choreography, rhetoric and stage performance. Her husband, Yuri, has a higher education in engineering and economics. For over 20 years, he has been working in the automobile industry. Their nine-year-old daughter Alexandra is in the fourth grade and is already an actress in her own right.

“We had been thinking about Aliyah for a long time, but a lot of difficulties prevented us from realizing our aspirations,” Lydia recalled.

The first time they tried to make Aliyah, their plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014, which forced them to move to Kazakhstan. The Lagunov family faced many hardships there, but the moment finally came when they resolutely decided it was time to move to Israel.

After contacting the Jewish Agency For Israel, they received all kinds of assistance in taking their next steps toward their dream of making it to Israel.

“We passed the consular check successfully, and for us it was the most important and desired gift in the difficult year of 2020,” Lydia confided. “What a miracle, that despite the acute issues with crossing borders and no air traffic, there was still an opportunity to take a direct flight to Israel, the country of which I have long dreamed of.”

The Lagunov family's dream came true when a special Aliyah 'evacuation flight' from Kazakhstan sponsored by the ICEJ landed at Ben Gurion Airport earlier this month with a group of 102 Jewish immigrants on board.

“Thanks to everyone who was involved, who gave us the opportunity to start a new life here”, said a grateful Lydia.

Many more Jewish families are waiting to take their next steps in making the journey home to Israel, the Land where they truly belong. As Christians from the nations, we are invited to play a key role in the prophetic return of the Jewish people back to their ancient homeland. You can play your part by supporting the ICEJ's Aliyah efforts. 

ICEJ sponsors Aliyah flight for 102 Jewish immigrants from Kazakhstan

A group of 102 Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel on April 11th on a special Aliyah evacuation flight from Kazakhstan arranged by The Jewish Agency for Israel and sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Their Aliyah comes at a particularly difficult time due to corona-related health guidelines and travel restrictions, including obtaining visas and permits for flights, so the arrival of today’s planeload of olim (newcomers) from Alma Ata is a small miracle, noted one JAFI official.

Many of these new arrivals had been planning to make Aliyah months ago, but were delayed by lockdowns and global travel bans. After landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, they will be required to undergo quarantine and other measures due to corona health regulations in Israel.

Among the new arrivals is a Kazakh Jewish family with two sons who already came to Israel on study programs for high school students and completed their IDF service with distinction as lone soldiers. The mother is a journalist who worked in the past with the Israeli newspaper Mabat and as a Jewish Agency representative in Kazakhstan. She is especially excited to be closer to her grandchildren in Israel, as well as her younger sister who lives with her family in Hadera.

Another new couple is coming with their nine year-old daughter. He has degrees in engineering and economics and has worked with Volkswagen, while she has been as working as an actress, theatre teacher and TV presenter.

Another young Kazakh Jewish immigrant spent time studying abroad in London and is planning to teach English and continue his Torah learning in Jerusalem. He also is coming to reunite with his grandparents, who have already lived in Israel since 1998.

Even with most international travel still disrupted due to COVID-19, Israel and the Jewish Agency in cooperation with the ICEJ have been working to arrange emergency flights for Jewish immigrants from various regions around the world. Interest in Aliyah is actually on the rise, as many Jewish families worldwide now view Israel as safer health-wise and better positioned for economic recovery than other countries. Israeli officials anticipate up to 250,000 new Jewish immigrants to arrive over the next three to five years.

The Christian Embassy has now supported aliyah flights for over 880 Jewish olim since the start of 2021, including some 500 Ethiopian immigrants as part of “Operation Rock of Israel.”

“We are excited to help bring another large flight of Jews making their way home to Israel,” said ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler. “Despite the corona pandemic the Aliyah has not stopped, and we are especially honored to be a part of the return of so many Jewish families to the Land of Israel during this unusually difficult season. We know their lives will never be the same, and we wish all these new arrivals great success in finding their place in the Jewish homeland.”

Since its founding in September 1980, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has now assisted over 160,000 Jews in making Aliyah to Israel from some 36 countries worldwide. With your support, we can continue to bring Jewish families back home.

 

‘A Call of Hope’ rings true for Bracha

It can be so deflating when one unexpectedly loses one’s job. Unfortunately, this has happened to tens of thousands of Israelis due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, one million Israelis are looking for work at present. Over 600,000 were placed on unpaid leave and are realising they will not be able to go back to their previous jobs. Not knowing where to turn next, many are seeking out job counsellors.

In our March/April magazine, we published the story “A Call of Hope” about an Israeli call center the ICEJ is supporting which aims to ease the unemployment crisis caused by the Corona pandemic and help jobless Israelis in need of support. Each person who courageously calls the helpline receives personalized support as well as practical tools and guidance from trained volunteers. For example, callers receive assistance to write a resume, prepare for job interviews, define vocational goals, and set tangible employment goals. They also receive information on their rights and how to cope with loss of income and are referred to additional resources and services.

We can now share the beautiful success story of Bracha, a single mother from southern Israel. She recently found herself unemployed after 11 years of steady work for the same company. She applied for various jobs but nothing opened up. Soon, she found herself growing frustrated and feeling worthless.

One day, she came across a Facebook ad for the call center and sent them a message, although she did not expect a response. However, the next day she received a call from Etty, one of their trained volunteers.

“I never imagined this would be the tool that would get me back into the job market! Etty listened to me, supported me, and gave me the confidence with which I eventually found a job at a local community center. Even after I started working, she kept calling me once a week, at a set time, to see how I was doing. I felt comfortable enough with her to share that I was not happy at this job. She didn’t judge me, but also didn’t sugar-coat the situation. She reminded me that things were tough for everyone, but that they would get better. With her support I kept working there while also applying for other jobs, and after some time got hired as a Finance Coordinator for an organisation that offers legal services. I am extremely happy in this position and believe that without Etty and the Call Center, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the call center received 100 calls per month. However, this figure jumped to nearly 1,000 callers per month due to the health crisis. Emergency tech upgrades were needed to handle the increased volume of calls.

Thanks to our generous donors, the ICEJ was able to help expand the Call Center’s personnel and infrastructure so they could continue offering hope to people like Bracha.   

Jewish mother follows in her sons’ footsteps to Israel

Since our inception in 1980, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been active in bringing Jewish people back to the Promised Land, and in that time we have witnessed many amazing personal journeys of Jewish families making Aliyah to Israel. By sharing these unique stories, we hope to show the impact our joint endeavors are having on entire generations of Jews returning to their ancient homeland. Indeed, we are grateful to our faithful Christian friends around the world who are making it possible for the sons and daughters of Zion to come home.

Two Sundays ago, Irina Karasikova was among a group of 102 Jewish immigrants who arrived in Israel on a special Aliyah ‘evacuation flight’ from Kazakhstan sponsored by the Christian Embassy.

Irina first visited Israel back in 1996 and fell in love with the country. That trip deeply impacted the lives of her and her two sons, Mikhail and Eugene. It was her sons who proved to be the determined younger generation who first paved the way back home. Now, after 25 years of waiting, their mother has joined them in their true homeland.

Irina’s parents moved to Alma-Ata – capital of the Kazakh republic – in 1953, after graduating from universities in Odessa. From her birth, Irina knew about her Jewish roots. “My family never hid the fact that we were Jewish,” Irina noted. However, her first steps in learning about the history of her ancestors, and about Israel occurred in 1996 when she helped as a journalist to prepare the first issues of the Israeli newspaper Mabat for publication in Kazakhstan. Then her eldest son Mikhail took part in a Jewish children’s camp where Irina came with a video team and filmed an interesting story that was broadcast on national TV.

In the same year, Irina visited Israel for the first time. She was sent there by the Jewish Agency for Israel to accompany a group of 150 children from Alma-Ata who were taking part in a special study program. “I fell in love with Israel when I first arrived in this wonderful country and saw tall palm trees on the way from the airport,” Irina recalled.

Since that time, Irina’s life and career have been closely linked to Aliyah work as a Jewish Agency representative in Kazakhstan.

“My eldest son Mikhail began participating in all youth activities of the Jewish Agency since 1997 and worked as a madrich at the Sunday School at the Israeli Embassy in Kazakhstan,” said Irina. In 1999, at the age of 16, Mikhail went to study in Israel. Then he served three years in the Israeli Air Force, after which he entered the university in Ariel. He received his higher education as an electrical engineer. Now Mikhail and his wife and two daughters, four-year-old Liel and one-year-old Talya, live in Ariel.

The younger son Eugene followed in the footsteps of his older brother when he went to study in Israel at age 14. After finishing high school, Eugene went to serve as a soldier in the combat unit “Nahal”, rising to a platoon commander and graduating from the officers’ school. When Eugene was 25, he was promoted to major and served in the army for nine-and-a-half years in total. The army provided him with the opportunity to study and receive a bachelor’s degree in political science. After his army service, he received a master’s degree in business consulting. Now Eugene works as a project coordinator in a start-up company and lives in Tel Aviv.

Irina raised wonderful sons who became responsible, contributing citizens of Israel. Throughout her life, she has been helping many Jews to get acquainted with their homeland and to move there. Now, it was her turn to go home to live in the land of her ancestors.

“I had thoughts about repatriation to Israel for a long time, but now the time had come,” Irina confided. “I want to be close to my sons and grandchildren, to help them and rejoice in their successes.”

So she followed in her sons’ footsteps to Israel. And just recently, her youngest granddaughter took her first steps, here in the Promised Land. Now, the Karasikova family will be able to share many more beautiful moments together in Israel.

This special Aliyah evacuation flight from Kazakhstan sponsored by the ICEJ helped Irina and dozens of other families reach Israel to start a new life near their families and fellow Jews. Let us continue to support Aliyah in order to make an impact in lives today and in the generations to come. 

 

Shielding northern Israel’s vulnerable border towns

Within four kilometers of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the village of Hurfeish is home to a mix of Israeli Druze and Christians. The Druze minority are exceptionally loyal to Israel and consider it a great honor to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Many continue in security professions after completing their service with the IDF.

While the Druze and Christian residents of Hurfeish live in peaceful coexistence, the community does face a serious external threat. They live under the constant fear that Hezbollah terrorists operating freely on the Lebanese side of the nearby border will decide to fire rockets into Israel, with Hurfeish right in the line of fire! They literally have seconds to find shelter.

Israel’s entire northern border region is hilly, forested terrain dotted with picturesque villages like Hurfeish. The area is home to around 250,000 residents – an ethnic mosaic of Jewish, Druze and Arab Christian towns and farming communities. One thing they all have in common is a lack of adequate bomb shelters for the local inhabitants.

During a recent spike in tensions with Hizbullah across the border, local council heads learned that the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem had placed over 110 portable bomb shelters in Israeli communities along the volatile southern border with Gaza. So they invited an ICEJ delegation to visit the area and consider donating shelters in the North as well.

After assessing the need, the ICEJ decided that Hurfeish would be the first village to receive shelters. The heartbeat of Hurfeish is its community cultural center. Usually a hive of activity, it is comprised of an outdoor sports complex and the indoor community center which hosts public events, daily activities, and educational courses. Through the generous donations received from our Christian supporters, the ICEJ recently was able to place two bomb shelters at the facility, giving peace of mind to those who use and enjoy it.

Unfortunately, the delivery of the bomb shelters was not without incident. As the truck carrying the two heavy portable bomb shelters made its way through the hills on the way up to Hurfeish, the driver had to break and swerve to avoid a motorcyclist who suddenly cut in front of him. The biker was spared any harm, but the truck’s heavy load – each shelter weighing 23 metric tons - went flying into a nearby field! Thankfully, no one was injured, but the shelters were now flat on their sides.

A police investigation ensued, while an independent engineer examined the shelters for structural damage. To our relief, the damage was only cosmetic, confirming the resilience of these shelters to protect lives! After repainting the bomb shelters, they soon were re-loaded onto a truck and safely delivered to the eagerly awaiting Hurfeish community.

Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President of Aid and Aliyah, was thrilled to finally see the shelters in place next to the cultural center and the adjacent sports field, complete with dedication plaques crediting ICEJ-Germany for the donations that made it possible.

Hurfeish also has a village church where local Arab Christians congregate and participate in activities. The ICEJ hopes to embark on a second project in this village, which will see additional shelters being installed at other defenseless sites.

The need remains acute, as Lebanon is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis due to Hizbullah’s misuse of public funds, and some analysts believe the Shi’ite terror militia may seek to extricate itself by starting a war with Israel. The IDF is holding a large training exercise this very week to prepare for such a conflict, but the local residents need more time to install shelters.

A recent State Comptroller report warned that 2.6 million residents of northern Israel do not have access to functional bomb shelters. The need is most acute in the towns right along the border, where shorter range rockets cannot be stopped by the IDF’s Iron Dome batteries. These villages are desperately looking for funding to provide better protection for their communities, and the ICEJ is grateful for our friends worldwide who are enabling us to offer them these urgently-needed bomb shelters.

Please consider a generous donation to help protect the vulnerable communities of northern Israel.

ICEJ enables Druze teachers to continue nurturing dreams

Zooms and online teaching are par-for-the-course these days, but how can a teacher educate online without the proper tools?

Recently, the ICEJ responded to a request to supply teaching equipment to a Druze school in the Israeli town of Usifiya, situated near Haifa in northern Israel. This town was inhabited by the Druze in the early 18th century and today is still 77% Druze.

Answering a need for a traditional religious school in this Druze community, a special school in Usifiya opened seven years ago with 105 students. Today it has expanded to its maximum capacity of 400 students, and boys and girls learn in separate classes. The students are extremely dedicated and eager to achieve. This is evident in the fact that they accomplished some of the highest marks in their matriculation examinations in the country, making their teachers very proud!

Showing motherly love towards her students, school principal Nuwal focuses strongly on building good relationships with the students and tries to instill good values. She teaches them to appreciate those who are different from themselves and encourages them to give back to their community and country. Speaking from the heart, Nuwal shared her desire to prepare her young students – particularly the girls – to continue their studies and successfully complete academic degrees in professions of their interest, like medicine, business and high tech.

Despite the academic successes enjoyed by the school, it was evident to the ICEJ AID team on a recent visit that the school could use some extra assistance to upgrade the learning environment. Over the past year, as Israelis faced extended coronavirus lockdown periods, the teachers at this school found themselves in an extremely challenging situation. Online classes were expected, but a lack of proper equipment prevented them from teaching effectively online. When the ICEJ received their urgent plea for assistance, without hesitation we stepped in to meet the need.

“Thanks to our wonderful British friends, the ICEJ-UK branch gave an incredible gift which enabled us to supply seven sets of projectors, screens, speakers and five laptop computers for the teachers to use in the classrooms,” remarked Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah.

The AID team also had the opportunity to meet two of the students, who thanked the ICEJ for helping them continue their studies even in these difficult times of corona.

“We could see that the students love their school and were happy to be remembered and assisted by Christians from around the world who don’t know them personally, but opened their hearts to help them, nonetheless”, said Nicole. “Naturally, this donation came as a great reinforcement of the valuable lessons of ‘giving and accepting others’ that no doubt will be utilized by the teachers in the future!”

The principal Nuwal and her faculty of teachers warmly welcomed the ICEJ with incomparable Druze hospitality when the AID team came to dedicate the educational tools. “We are so thankful for the investment that you have made in our students”, enthused Nuwal.

While nurturing the students’ dreams, Nuwal has a big dream of her own; she hopes that one day they will be able to move to a bigger and newer school so they can accept some 300 additional students who they currently are unable to accommodate.

Through your faithful giving, the ICEJ can continue to support and lift all sectors of Israeli society. Ahead of the new school year, the ICEJ also will provide academic sponsorships to Druze students, so that their hopes and dreams currently being nurtured and instilled by teachers like Nuwal and her team can be fulfilled.

Thank you for making an impact in the lives of these Israeli Druze students. Please continue to support the work of the ICEJ.

Israeli Media Features ICEJ’s Haifa Home on ‘Yom HaShoah’

As Israel marked ‘Yom HaShoah’ this week, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, several Israeli media published or broadcast feature stories on the ICEJ’s Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz published a very warm article on the Christian volunteers working at the Home. Here are excerpts…

German Volunteers in Israel Find Themselves ‘Welcomed, and Even Loved’ by Holocaust Survivors
Ha’aretz, Wednesday, 7 April 2021

As a teenager during World War II, Debora Wanner’s German grandmother led a Hitler Youth group in the small town of Ettlingen. Now, for almost two years, Wanner has been volunteering as a physiotherapist at the… Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors [operated by Yad Ezer La-Haver and ICEJ].

“I feel a responsibility to acknowledge the fact of what has happened,” says Wanner, 35. “I can’t change the past but I can change the present … and the future. I can only take responsibility for my own actions. I can either be a bystander or I can take a stand. I decided that I will take a stand.”

Wanner says that her grandmother’s world came crashing down after the war. She came away with a determination never to be led blindly by others again, and to be a friend to the Jewish people and to Israel. She became a Christian, visited Israel and instilled a love for the Jewish state in her family.

Wanner is one of three German Christians volunteering at Haifa Home who decided not to return to Germany at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. They stayed behind knowing that if they were to leave, the home would not be able to replace them. Geriatric nurse Natalia Ochs, 52, has been volunteering for 2.5 years at the Haifa Home. Kerstin Hoffman, 23, came for a year of volunteer work through a German government program after completing her ophthalmology studies, and left the program in order to remain in Israel for another year when the pandemic broke out.

Ochs, who was born in Russia to a German father, has lived in Germany for 24 years, and perhaps cleared the way for the other long-term volunteers. Able to speak both Russian and German, she communicates easily with the residents, whom she visits daily.

In the apartment of 93-year-old Sofie Leibowitz, she checks blood pressure and looks over Leibowitz’s readings. Ochs recalls that the first time she came to Leibowitz’s apartment to introduce herself, the woman closed the door in her face, saying she did not need any help. In time, she came to value Ochs’ company.

“I am happy I can speak to her, not everyone knows German,” Leibowitz says.

The volunteers give them a lot of love, and the survivors return that love, she adds. Both of Leibowitz’s parents died in the Transnistria detention camps, where Romanian Jews were sent during the Holocaust. An estimated 275,000 to half a million Jews were killed by starvation, disease, death marches and mass executions in these camps.

The backgrounds of those who volunteer with the survivors at the Haifa Home are irrelevant, she says.

“They are not guilty of anything. It was their parents or grandparents. It’s been almost 80 years. We’re already passed that here in Israel,” she says. “We don’t think about their religion. We need their help and they help us.”

‘One of Ours’

Shimon Sabag, founder and director of the Yad Ezer La-Haver charitable organization, opened the Haifa Home in 2008, after noticing that an increasing number of Holocaust survivors were coming to the organization’s soup kitchen for free meals. Sabag, whose Greek mother survived Auschwitz, set up the home to provide senior care for survivors in need…

One of the first precautions taken during the pandemic was distancing from senior citizens, which put a halt to individual visits with Holocaust survivors. Only a handful of the volunteers where able to continue their work in nursing homes… Israel’s rapid vaccine rollout has now allowed the volunteers to meet with survivors once again.

“This is very important in my heart,” says Wanner. She is affectionately called “Devoraleh” by Fanny Zelekovic, 92, as Wanner gently massages her limbs to alleviate pain from severe arthritis.

“She is like family, like a sister,” Zelekovic says. “She has a heart of gold.” Zelekovic can still remember being taken out of school in Romania at age 7, and not being permitted to go out on the street. So many years later, she still feels the sting of a slap from a Christian friend before she left school. She hid with her mother and brother – her father sought shelter separately – to escape the Nazis and their Romanian collaborators.

After the war, they eventually made their way to Haifa, where Zelekovic raised her family. Today, she counts 19 great-grandchildren. “I don’t care if a person is Turkish, Spanish or German,” she says. “The important thing is that they be a human being. What is she responsible of, for what other people did?”

Wanner admits that she was initially apprehensive of how she would be received by the survivors, “but from the first day I felt welcomed and even loved,” she says.

Last year, during the home’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Wanner tried to remain unobtrusive, but then two survivors beckoned her to sit in an empty chair between them, calling her “one of ours.”

“That made me cry. They really included me,” she says.

A New Relationship

One quarter of [Holocaust] survivors in Israel are estimated to be living in poverty. As they age, many survivors are reliving childhood traumas and need more specific attention, Sabag says.

In 2010, Sabag reached out to various organizations for funding for the Haifa Home, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was the only one to respond. Sabag partnered with the Christian Zionist group, which raised money to buy the first floor of the home’s first building. Several groups of German handymen helped with the renovations through the organization, and a Finnish woman affiliated with the group volunteered at the house as a long-term nurse.

The Christian Embassy’s Haifa Home coordinator, Yudit Setz, originally from the Netherlands, moved to Haifa in 2018 from Jerusalem where she had been volunteering with the ICEJ since 1985, and started managing the arrival of additional volunteers. About 40 more handymen from the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland volunteered their renovation and repair services for the existing apartments.

The following year, Setz brought in the current trio of long-term volunteers, and is now recruiting for the next group through the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem branch in Germany and World Wide Volunteers, which works with the German government.

“The volunteers do amazing work. I have never seen anything like it,” Sabag says. “They live close to us, on a day-to-day basis with the survivors. For a woman to leave her home and come here to volunteer, she comes with a strong desire to give and does her work with all her heart,” he adds.

“I felt a deep call to help Holocaust survivors. I knew I could really help the people here,” says Ochs. “For me it is a miracle that I work here.”

Sometimes, she says, just listening to the survivors tell their stories is more valuable than any medical help she can provide. She knows they are entrusting her with an important part of themselves, and she is contemplating how she will pass on those memories to others.

The number tattooed on 92-year-old Yudit Herzkowitz’s forearm has faded, but her memories have not. At 13 years old, she was separated from her mother, grandmother, and younger brother when they arrived at Auschwitz. Her father was sent to work in coal mines in East Germany and died in 1944. She remained in the concentration camp for six months with her sister, who was a year younger than her. Herzkowitz was then taken to work in a factory; her sister was not. Having lost her entire family save for one aunt, Herzkowitz came to Israel alone.

“You can’t generalize,” she says, sitting next to Ochs underneath a wall lined with photos of great-grandchildren, of which she has 13. “There was a German nurse who helped me when I was liberated. Natalia comes to me twice a week and very much wants to help. If the volunteer asks me about my story, I tell them. But I don’t talk. I don’t look at the number.”

“It is not easy to begin the relationship, but with time they open themselves up more and more,” Ochs says. “This is why I know I am in the right place. People open up to me and there is a small broken child I can take care of like a mother. When some of the survivors have passed away, I saw this peace in their eyes.”

Petite and lively, Chaya Caspi, 88, has been waiting for her daily visit from Kerstin Hoffman. The youngest of the volunteers, she is a general helper – she brings the residents their mail, and helps them with errands and medical appointments.

“Kerstin came yesterday and made tea and brought strawberries,” says Caspi, clasping Hoffman’s hand. With a daughter in Atlit and a son in Australia, Kerstin’s daily presence is a big help, she says. “Whenever I need something, I pick up my mobile phone and I call Kerstin.”

“I grew up in a Christian home so as a child Israel was always a topic, to support and bless Israel,” Hoffman says. “I don’t know if we can repair what has happened but we can build up a new relationship. For me the best thing is to help them; they are in their last years.”

She knows that in the years to come, it will be up to people like her, who have lived with survivors and heard their stories, to carry on their testimony. Bearing witness, as a non-Jew, may even be more crucial.

“I am honored when they open up and tell me the details of their story,” she says. “Sometimes they say they were the only one of their family to survive. I tell them I am glad they are here now and that I can hear them tell their story.”

Caspi was 8 years old when Romanian collaborators took away her father and two older brothers. Her father made it back home, but her brothers never returned. She, her parents and two other siblings survived the Transnistia camps and came to Israel. Enlarged photographs of her two older brothers hang on the wall across from her bed.

“What, is she responsible for what her grandfather or others did?” says Caspi, leaning into Hoffman and patting her hand. “She relates to me. To her, I am not invisible.”

Be part of this amazing work by supporting the Haifa Home.

A Hope Anchored in God’s Promises

The last Aliyah flight of ‘Operation Rock of Israel’ arrived in early March, bringing the final group of some 2,000 immigrants from the Ethiopian Jewish community who came to Israel during this emergency airlift. Through this initiative, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has sponsored Aliyah flights for 502 Ethiopian Jews so far this year. For these olim (new immigrants), the historic return to their Jewish homeland is a dream come true. However, this is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning, as now they will have to build a strong foundation for their new life in the Promised Land.

Israel takes care of most of their needs as new immigrants up to a year or more by placing them in absorption centers. An ICEJ delegation recently visited one of these absorption centers in Kiryat Gat, to meet the newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants and hear their stories firsthand.

Liat Kessler, a social worker at the Kiryat Gat absorption center, warmly hosted our Embassy staff and updated them on how the integration process was going for the recently arrived Ethiopian immigrants. She first noted that half the new arrivals had some form of formal education and half did not. “Because of the different needs we had to open different Hebrew language classes and education styles for the two groups,” Liat said.

Those who had been able to get proper schooling before arriving in Israel were usually able to do so because family members who were already in Israel sent them funds to pay for their classes. Others without this help were not able to study at all.

“The conditions for Jews in Ethiopia are very difficult”, Liat explained. “It is especially hard for large families to rent a big enough place to live. Sometimes, several families have to rent one place together. Many of these newest arrivals were born in the transit camps and the situation of ‘waiting to come to Israel’.”

Salomon Tefere is one of the young men born in the Gondar transit camps with the dream of moving to Israel. The Aliyah story of his family began many years ago when his grandparents were the first to leave there and move to Israel with the expectation that the rest of the family would soon follow. However, they did not expect it to take 17 long years. Despite many years of waiting, his family never gave up hope for a reunion. Their hope was anchored in Bible prophecies about the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland.

Even though most Ethiopian Jewish families in Gondar live below the poverty line, Salomon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pay for schooling and become a textile engineer. After graduation, he got a job in a company that works with China. During this time, he took up the new challenge of learning Chinese and after a year of successful studies, he has been essential as a translator at the company.

Salomon is a talented young man who would like to continue working in the same profession here in his new home of Israel. One advantage he has is that the degree he earned in Ethiopia will be recognized in Israel.

While dreaming of one day being in Israel, Salomon made an effort to learn more about this beautiful country on the Internet. Nevertheless, when asked what surprised him most about Israel upon arrival, Salomon said without hesitation: "How green it is here and how developed Israel is for such a small country! Even the water sprinklers and the agricultural areas were a surprise for me."

His heart also is filled with gratitude for all the Christian donors who helped him and his family reach the Promised Land: "Thank you to the donors and to Israel. God gave you the ability and the resources to help us. You are God’s ambassadors," said Salomon.

We rejoice together with Salomon and many other Jews who have been able to return home and start a new life in Israel thanks to our generous Christian supporters worldwide. We appreciate your faithfulness and encourage you to continue to support the ICEJ’s aliyah and absorption efforts, which are giving much needed hope to many Jews around the world longing to reach the Land of Promise.

 

ICEJ Keeping Hope Alive for Israeli Arabs

As a group of ICEJ staff recently gathered around tables piled high with neatly-stacked boxes of food, they rolled up their sleeves and in no time formed a production line to pack the items into 164 care packages earmarked as gifts for needy Israeli Arab families struggling due to the coronavirus crisis.

Soon, the ICEJ AID vehicle was navigating its way across Israel, from Jerusalem to Nazareth and back to Bethlehem, where the AID team met with local Arab pastors to coordinate delivery of the food packages to the desperate families.

“One Arab pastor in Jerusalem shared how encouraged he was by our support at this time”, said AID assistant Jannie Tolhoek. “Discouraged by a year of dwindling attendance in his church, the call from the ICEJ offering food packages to families in his congregation meant that he had a way to help them in difficult times. It also became a natural bridge to invite them back to church as the country opens up again.”

“We are excited that our gifts will encourage and build bridges amid despair”, added Jannie. “These gifts also show the people that we care and that they are not forgotten. The aid packages gave a touch of heaven, bringing hope to the hopeless and encouraging their hearts to keep trusting.”

Arriving in Nazareth, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah, felt so humbled as she recalled the encounters with each family and their warm hospitality.

“We came with a gift, but didn’t ever go away without being offered drinks, fruit, cookies or other small refreshments – whatever they could offer in return”, she commented. “One family even offered us cookies from the care gift bag that we had just given to them. The most precious part though was our prayer time together, which often ended with the pastor leading in a song of praise in multiple languages!”

Sitting in a garden, enjoying the aromatics of freshly brewed Arabic coffee, the AID team heard how Mary (originally from Bethlehem) and Kamal (originally from Egypt) have suffered during the past year because of the pandemic. Kamal explained his sadness over having to close his shop selling household items in the local shouk (market). Despite their difficult circumstances, this close-knit family strives to help each other, with one son working to support his brother’s studies.

Meeting Assam and Adalea in their home near the shouk in Nazareth, Jannie and Nicole heard how Assam built their living area overlooking the historic city. But with no funds to complete the work, clear plastic bags still cover the window frames as they wait for better days. Despite their difficult circumstances, they did not hesitate to open their hearts and home with traditional warm Arab hospitality. “These visits not only bless them, but they bless us also and inspire us to remain hopeful, smiling and grateful, even in tough times”, noted Jannie.

Heading to Bethlehem, the AID team met with Pastor Naim Khoury, who shared about God’s goodness to him during his 42 days of affliction in the hospital with COVID-19 and his miraculous recovery. With coronavirus still running rife in Bethlehem, many people are fearful and the curfews and roadblocks remain in place. Nevertheless, the AID team was invited to a special church service to give thanks, following which they handed out the care packages. Jannie remembers that many people came asking her to pray for their family members who are ill with corona.

Pastor Khoury’s wife, Elvira, shared about their many challenges. “We receive not only telephone calls from church members asking for help, but also from other families who are in desperate need. Unfortunately, the need is increasing”, she said. “And we are so grateful that the ICEJ is standing with us, feeding our people, and leaving a beautiful fragrance behind.”

Making a turn to nearby Efrat, the AID team was warmly greeted by the town’s legendary Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Together, they distributed food gift bags to another fourteen local Arab families whose members work at a religious school in the Jewish community. Crossing the line each day, these workers have faithfully served at the local school for between six and 25 years.

Each care package included specially selected food items to ensure healthy meals for the families. The care gift bags were received with humble gratitude, but the message that Christians from around the world care for these Arab families living in the Land of Israel spoke volumes.

Thank you for your kind giving, which makes it possible for us to support these and other struggling families in Israel. Please continue to help us reach many more needy from all sectors of Israeli society who are looking to keep hope alive amid these challenging times.
 

 

 

 

‘Rescue Flight’ to Israel Makes Dream Come True

For many Jewish immigrants to Israel, moving to this land means the beginning of a new life in a very literal sense. It means changing to a new language, completely new and different schools for the children, and even new professions for some. Everything that provided stability in their past lives now requires re-calibration. This is not an easy challenge, but a fresh new start does present an opportunity to make dreams come true.

That is why the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem not only helps Jews around the world to make Aliyah to Israel, but also supports training programs for them which are so crucial for Jewish olim (newcomers) to thrive in their careers once here in the Promised Land!

Leonid Shalaev, along with his wife and two children, arrived in Israel on a ‘rescue flight’ sponsored by the ICEJ on March 15. For Leonid, his arrival was marked by a long-awaited reunion with his brother, who had already made Aliyah to Israel.

Leonid was born into a family who had lived for several generations in Kamchatka, in the Far East of Russia – a long 5600 miles distance from the Promised Land. Leonid’s grandfather, Valentin Vasilievich, worked in agriculture and was sent with his wife Svetlana to the remote Siberian city during Soviet times.

Leonid was a young man when he moved to Volgograd, in southwest Russia, to study at the Polytechnic University. After successfully completing his degree, he got a job with a Chinese company, which allowed him to travel to many cities across Russia.

Leonid led an active lifestyle. "Once, I decided to spend my vacation rafting down the Tuyun River from Yakutia to Khabarovsk," he recalled. “During this tour, I met and fell in love with Irina, who became my wife.”

The young couple decided to move back east to Vladivostok, a port city located on the Sea of Japan. Their love blossomed and they welcomed the birth of their son, Savely, and daughter, Polina.

Yet despite now having a family, Leonid was not ready to settle down in the Far East.

“We had a dream to live in a warm climate. I also always dreamed of becoming a computer programmer. And I really missed my brother, who made Aliyah and now lived in Israel”, Leonid shared. “Israel makes all dreams come true!”

From that moment on, Leonid began to take active steps towards his dream of reaching Israel. He found out that one of his friends studied in the Tel Ran educational programs for new Jewish immigrants and was able to find a good job in Israel. “I thought I could do that too,” said Leonid.

Since October 2019, Leonid and his wife began to study Hebrew in Ulpan classes offered by the Jewish Agency. At the same time, he started preparing for the Tel Ran entrance exam and was accepted to the program last August.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly when they flew to Moscow in November 2020 for an appointment with the Israeli consul and received their entry visas to Israel. “We were hoping to come immediately after and had made all the preparations,” said Leonid.

But then Israel closed its borders tighter due to coronavirus mutations and Ben-Gurion Airport was completely shut down for the first time in its history. The Shalaev family's hopes sank, just like dozens of other Jewish families waiting at that time for their flight to citizenship in Israel.

“This was such a disappointment, and we didn’t know what to do," recounted Leonid. “We had already quit our jobs and sold our apartment.”

“And then, we got the best news ever that we would fly with the whole family to our dream! To our new home – Israel!”

This door suddenly opened thanks to the ICEJ, who sponsored the ‘rescue flight’ arranged by the Jewish Agency for a group of 226 Jewish immigrants from across the former Soviet Union, including the Shalaev family.

“Thanks to all those who helped make this flight happen! Many thanks to you all,” said Leonid.

We wish Leonid success in achieving his other dream of becoming a programmer. One of the training courses that the ICEJ supports will help him to reach this goal as well.

All this would not have been possible without the generous donations of our Christian supporters around the world. We now are expecting to welcome our next ‘rescue flight’ from Central Asia with about 100 new Jewish immigrants in April. So please consider sending your best gift to support these life-changing Aliyah efforts.

 

 

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