Three planeloads of Ukrainian Jews sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will land in Israel in the coming weeks, The Jerusalem Post learned on Sunday.
According to IFCJ founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the new immigrants will each receive a monetary payment from the interfaith group as well as help in navigating Israeli bureaucracy and job placement services once they arrive.
Eckstein, whose organization is currently running a refugee facility in Zhitomir for Jews who have escaped the rebel cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, said that many of those who had escaped the Moscow-backed insurgency, expressed a desire to emigrate.
“Many of them have said ‘okay a week ago I wasn’t ready to go on aliya, now I am,’” he said, claiming that Ukraine’s worsening economy and the doubts that many refugees have about being able to safely return to their homes has contributed to increased interest in coming to Israel.
“I am hoping to double the number of immigrants coming from the Ukraine this year over last year,” he said. The IFCJ wants to “get as many people to Israel while the iron is hot and to make it as easy and as user friendly as possible.”
The Immigration and Absorption Ministry released figures on Sunday, which showed that immigration from Ukraine between January and August is up 146% over the corresponding period in 2013, with 2773 having arrived in that time.
A ministry plan to offer an additional NIS 15,000 above the value of the normal absorption basket of benefits to those escaping highrisk areas will be supplemented by an additional $1,000 per adult grant by the IFCJ, Eckstein said. Children will receive $750 each.
The IFCJ is in talks with the Absorption Ministry over the rental of a center in Israel for those who choose to join its charter flights, he said.
“We will have job training and job placement counselors for them at this place and give them three to six months to get settled down.”
“We will bring in mayors from different cities into this place so that they can decide where they want to move and mayors can promise them this and that and then if they have a problem they can just call the mayor.”
Those staying in the IFCJ sponsored facility in Zhitomir hope to be relocated to Kiev and placed in rental apartments until they can be flown abroad, he said.
Those who are in the process of arranging aliya, as well as the Zhitomir group will leave on flights from Kiev, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk as soon as arrangements are finalized.
Some of those who have escaped the east have returned to try and bring out other members of the Jewish community.
Asked about what role the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for immigration to Israel, will play in the flights, Eckstein replied that as a private organization “we can do this better and quicker, with better results by seizing the moment.”
“I am not trying to bypass the Jewish agency,” he added, claiming that the IFCJ could cooperate with all Jewish bodies operating in Ukraine. “I am hoping that their emissaries in the Ukraine will cooperate by directing people to these charter flights.”
Coming to Israel on an IFCJ flight will “make it easy and simple and user friendly to care for [the immigrants] individually on the [Israel] end in a holistic manner and to provide them an additional financial incentive to come. When people all come together and arrive in Israel it creates a consciousness and an awareness both in the Ukraine and certainly here in Israel of the importance of this whole thing.”
Eckstein compared the concept to that of Nefesh B’Nefesh, which among other services, provides aid in navigating the labyrinthine absorption process.
Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, expressed skepticism over the government’s plan to boost Ukrainian aliya through financial inducements, but said that the offer of additional funds by the IFCJ and the government grant “may help because you are dealing with people who are displaced.”
“I don’t think the $1,000 will be an incentive to make aliya but I think it will help the people who do decide to make aliya when they get to Israel,” he said, indicating that this number would likely continue to rise.
Bleich added that he would soon be opening a facility in Kiev for housing an additional 350 refugees from Donetsk, both Jewish and gentile.
By the end of July, the American Joint Distribution Committee was taking care of 500 refugees in Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa, according to Jewish Philanthropy.
Asked about Eckstein’s plans, a spokesman told the Post that the Absorption Ministry “is working with full cooperation with all the relevant organizations that work regarding aliya from the Ukraine… We welcome any initiative that is supposed to promote aliya from the Ukraine or worldwide.”
The Jewish Agency has been involved in helping refugees make their way out of the war zone, as well as renting apartments to house some of the refugees and organizing seminars to explain the immigration process, a senior agency official told the Post on condition of anonymity.
“Our help is not only to buy them a ticket,” he added. “The main help is actually to aid them to go out from these regions and help them in organizing [their] absorption here in Israel.”
“As part of its responsibilities, The Jewish Agency works closely with Israeli government ministries, including the Aliya and Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, as well as with various organizations that wish to join the effort to bring new immigrants to Israel... The Jewish Agency is currently engaged in intensive activity in the embattled areas of Ukraine and is working with its partners to enable those Jews who wish to immigrate to Israel to do so as swiftly as possible.”