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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.

ICEJ sponsors Aliyah flight for 102 Jewish immigrants from Kazakhstan

A group of 102 Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel on Sunday evening 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.

 

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.

 

Flickers of inspiration accompany ICEJ’s Passover deliveries

It is a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and the birds are tweeting, but for many Israeli families struck by the harsh economic challenges of the coronavirus, the sky may seem a little duller. As the countdown to Passover begins, many of these families are wondering how they will be able to celebrate this special holiday.

Partnering with local Israeli social workers, the ICEJ AID team has been travelling around Israel over recent days bringing a ray of hope, as they distribute Passover food packages and gift vouchers to needy Jewish families. Locating some homes is difficult, as many of the buildings are not properly numbered. One single mother was so astounded by the visit and gifts that she called the AID team “angels”.

Encountering personal stories of hardship on each visit, ICEJ Aid assistant Jannie Tolhoek recounts a beautiful interaction with Sarit, a music teacher who is currently out of work. Sarit also is the mother of four children ages six to twelve. Just over two years ago, they immigrated to Israel for their safety after the end of an abusive marriage.

“You were sent from above to encourage me today, and to show me that I am seen and not forgotten. Today you bring a smile that impacts me deeply”, said Sarit as she received her gifts. In trying to find a new path forward for her family, she wants to encourage other women to continue living and to empower them. With remarkable faith, Sarit went on to share: “If I can manage, others can too. God gives me friends, a place to live, and I am thankful for those who cross my path, like you today.”

In Kiryat Gat, Jannie and ICEJ staff member Tricia Neighbors offered encouragement along with a Passover gift to Fanny, a mother of six children. Her eldest are twins who are both married, while the other four are ages 11 to 17 and still living at home. Reflecting on the visit, Jannie noted that Fanny was “so desperate for company, she began pouring out her heart to total strangers – telling us that for many years she didn’t think that she was worth anything and that she still suffers from low self-esteem.”

Wanting to reassure her, Jannie told Fanny: “You are strong because of your faith and beautiful because of your inner joy which we can see reflected outwardly.”

Fanny loves working as a cleaning lady and takes great pride in her own home, ensuring that it is spotless for Passover.

Tricia recounted: “Although grateful for the Passover gifts, one could tell that our very visit was just as important to Fanny, and we left her knowing that she was encouraged and smiling.”

Meanwhile, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President of AID and Aliyah, measured 14,866 steps on her health app as she delivered food and gift boxes to Ethiopian Jewish families in Ma’ale Adumin – most of whom live in 3rd and 4th floor apartments without an elevator. In recognition of the foods they especially enjoy, their packages included Ethiopian coffee and other products like flax, dried corn, lentils and more.

“For me, the real star of the day was Da’ud, a wonderful man who assisted in carrying the heavy boxes up all those stairs!” Nicole noted afterwards. “The appreciation was evident when the families received the Passover gifts, and we received many blessings in return. One dear lady who could hardly speak Hebrew offered us a very welcome glass of water as well.” 

Without your generous giving, it would not be possible to help so many struggling families to celebrate Passover with joy. Thank you for giving to ensure they have a beautiful Passover Seder meal. 

 

BONUS: Here are a couple video clips from our recent Passover holiday gifts distribution across Israel.

 

 

Israeli Prison service staff assist the Haifa home in packing Passover packages for survivors and those in need:

 

A Small Family’s Flight to a New Future in Israel

Last week, Israel welcomed a ‘rescue flight’ for stranded Jewish families desperately seeking to make Aliyah – a flight arranged by the Jewish Agency for Israel and sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. On this flight, 226 Jewish immigrants from across the former Soviet Union were brought to Israel to start a new life in their ancient homeland. Each one came with their own expectations, hopes and dreams concerning this major turning point in their lives. They made the decision to leave everything behind and move to an unfamiliar land which also happened to be promised to them by God thousands of years ago. They came to make a fresh start in a place where they truly belong.

Today, we want to acquaint you with the life story of Alexandra and her daughter, who arrived in Israel at a difficult time for the whole world, but with the brightest of hopes. Alexandra is a 35 year-old mother with a wonderful 4 year-old blond baby girl, Miroslava. Since childhood, Alexandra has built fond memories on her Jewish roots. The main reason for her strong Jewish identity was her father, a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences, who devoted his whole life to science and family.

“My dad is a Jew. I have known this since childhood and am proud of my father”, said Alexandra.

Even though Alexandra always knew she was eligible for Aliyah, the circumstances always seemed to be inappropriate for taking such a big step toward a new life in Israel. “It seemed to me too difficult and almost impossible, but I really wanted to move to Israel”, she recalled.

As life went on, Alexandra got married and gave birth to her beautiful daughter. Unfortunately, she did not find support from her husband for this desire to build a future in Israel. “I hid my dream deep inside myself”, she said.

Then 2019 turned out to be a very difficult year in Alexandra's life, as her marriage broke up. But thankfully, her daughter remained in her life. And even this dark moment became the catalyst she needed to open the door to a bright new future in Israel.

“In 2020, I decided to take a trip to Israel to look around,” Alexandra said, “but then the coronavirus pandemic broke out. I spent a lot of time at home and had a lot of time to think. It was so strange that I had never been to Israel before, but I always felt like I was part of the Jewish state”, she added.

Since travel was widely banned in 2020, it become the year of online communication. Sure enough, Alexandra met and began corresponding online with a man from Israel, and what began originally as a casual friendship blossomed into a romantic one. But the borders between the countries remained closed. So Alexandra urgently sought advice on what steps she had to take to make her dream of Aliyah come true. She connected with a coordinator of the Jewish Agency, who counseled, explained and walked with her throughout the Aliyah process.

Alexandra recounted how her family reacted. “My parents were thrilled with my decision to make Aliyah and they supported me and helped to collect all the documents I needed.”

Her new special friend also provided tremendous support from Israel. “He helped to find my relatives in Israel. Now all my relatives are friends again!”

Her flight to Israel was scheduled for February 1. But right before departing, Ben-Gurion Airport was completely shut down for the first time ever due to corona restrictions.

“It was so hard! Everything was ready and then this delay”, Alexandra recalled. “Not knowing how long it will be… Living out of our suitcases.”

That is when the Christian Embassy played a huge role, sponsoring the ‘rescue flight’ for Jewish immigrants in limbo – like Alexandra – from all across the former Soviet Union. Because of this flight, Alexandra and Miroslava have finally arrived in Israel for the first time. And this small family can now begin planning their future – which just might include her new Israeli friend.

“Now we are at home, in Israel”, Alexandra said with great excitement. “This is an ideal place to raise a child. Now I have a great responsibility, and it gives me the strength to move forward”, she concluded.

Together with the ICEJ, you can reach out to other Jewish families throughout the world who are longing to come home to Israel. The ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts provide the bridge for them to rejoin the Jewish people in their biblical homeland.
 

 

Hidden smiles come to light during Passover deliveries!

Reflecting on this week before Passover, the ICEJ AID team has been hard at work to accomplish a very tall order!

Sunday saw deliveries of boxes with holiday supplies arriving at the ICEJ headquarters in Jerusalem. The boxes were soon emptied as Nicole Yoder, ICEJ VP for AID and Aliyah, oversaw the effort to sort the contents into hundreds of Passover gift bags. Within hours, a sea of blue ICEJ gift bags filled the large assembly room. Each one contained a sparkling new cooking pot and dish towels, accompanied by a Passover greeting card with a food gift voucher, so those desperately in need can cook especially for their Passover Seder meal next weekend.

The sun had barely risen on Monday morning when the AID department’s jam-packed vehicle started out to deliver gift packages across Israel. Clocking hundreds of kilometers on the odometer, the AID team has been driving this week between Jerusalem and Ashdod, Beit Shean, Kiryat Gat, Netanya and other Israeli towns. Working together with local Israeli social workers to identify those in dire straits, the AID team then brought the gift bags and food vouchers with a smile either to homes or to a central location for pick-up.

In Beit Shean, a steady flow of people arrived to receive their gift bags and food vouchers, completing the distribution within only 90 minutes! Recognizing the desperation of many Israeli families in the current economic situation, ICEJ AID assistant Jannie Tolhoek remarked: “In previous years, only two-thirds of the people arrived within the first two hours of opening for distribution.”

ICEJ staff also received a very warm welcome from Etti, a social worker in Netanya. “You’ve arrived on a very special day, ‘Good Deeds Day’” said Etti. This is a day where Israelis can check with their city council to see where help is needed and volunteer to make a difference. “The ICEJ is making a difference in these lives, not just by the gifts, but by reaching out to them yearly and giving such a special touch through this Pesach greeting card which has a blessing on it” said Etti. 

Meanwhile in Ashdod, Jannie visited several homes to deliver gift bags and food vouchers to disadvantaged families. Esti, a single mother of five grown-up children – two of whom are disabled, lives in a run-down building. Her husband left 40 years ago when their children were small. Grabbing Jannie’s hand to express her gratitude, Esti said: “Thank you for coming, thank you for thinking of me. This year Pesach will be special, because I know that you gave us food on the table with a smile!”

Visiting next with Yitzhak, he wept while showing Jannie and his social worker, Ram, the mouldy and broken cupboards about to fall from the kitchen wall. Though Yitzhak works hard at a local supermarket, he does not make enough to maintain his house and care for his family. Underlining the essential role social worker’s play, Yitzhak shared: “Without Ram’s support, always calling and checking how I am doing, I may not be alive. He is my lifeline!”

Ram pointed out the unique challenges many of these Israeli families face this year, noting that “requests for help have increased 120%, more than double compared to last year.” Yet, a big smile beamed from both Yitzhak and Ram as they received the gift bags and food vouchers expressing Christian care and support from around the world.

The economic challenges have not spared local congregations either. Together with Pastor Birlie Belay, assistance was given to Ethiopian Jewish families in need, where our team was greeted with warm hospitality. Rachel, an elderly cancer survivor, refuses to allow her health problems to deflate an upbeat spirit and a gorgeous smile. Full of faith and gratitude, she repeated, “thank you, thank you, thank you!”, while receiving her gift.

“The Christian Embassy is our family. You look after us and support us,” assured Pastor Belay. “We are so grateful to the ICEJ for bringing our families to Israel by helping with the Ethiopian Aliyah. Thank you for helping us with these gifts as well, and for encouraging each person. Our words cannot express the impact that you made tonight by going to these families. They will remember you!” 

As Passover distributions continue over coming days, with many more families needing to be reached with food vouchers and holiday gifts, you too can be a part of bringing hidden smiles to light. Your giving helps to create a memorable Passover Seder meal for those in desperate need during this most important Jewish holiday. Please consider making a generous donation to this effort.
 

 

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