Over two hundred new olim arrive on flight of IFCJ aliya initiative.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
We were reminded this week of the importance of both Jewish sovereignty and good friends. Escaping a dearth of food, heat and water and a general economic malaise in war-torn Ukraine, 224 men, women and children landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday, in a flag-waving, dignitary-laden ceremony.
This was a home-coming, plain and simple.
And it provided an opportunity to be thankful that there is a place in the world that every Jew can call home. We take Israel for granted. But try to imagine the fate of aliya-eligible Ukrainians if there was no Israel.
It was also an opportunity to be thankful that there are many non-Jews who are stalwart supporters of the Jewish state. Monday’s flight was sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Motivated in large part by their religious faith – particularly their understanding of biblical prophecies – Zionist Christians are reaching out to help Diaspora Jews displaced by war and hardship.
Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, head of IFCJ, placed Monday’s event in the context of the dovetailing of Christian and Zionist goals: “We need to convince in whatever way we can that there’s no such thing as a Jewish refugee as long as the State of Israel exists, and that there are groups of people enthusiastic to help them get there,” Eckstein said.
The IFCJ and the State of Israel are both investing generously to facilitate aliya.
The Fellowship is giving a one-time grant of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child who comes to Israel. Earlier this year, the government approved a measure that would provide escapees from high-risk areas such as eastern Ukraine a NIS 15,000 grant over and above the standard absorption basket, as well as vocational aid.
In 2014, about 5,000 Ukrainians made aliya – a sharp rise from last year. But Ukraine is not the only country supplying immigrants to Israel.
Overall, immigration is up 35 percent compared to last year and is at a 10-year high at 25,000.
This is the first time that a majority of the immigrants are from the West, not the former Soviet Union.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted this week during a Hanukka candle-lighting ceremony at the Canada Center in Jerusalem, there are both “push” and “pull” factors involved.
On the push side is growing anti-Semitism, particularly the variety spawned by Islamization.
This hatred of Jews was on full display during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, when Muslims and their sympathizers took to the streets in European cities and attacked all Jews, not just specific Israeli policies.
The economic downturn in many parts of Western and Central Europe and the full-fledged meltdown in Ukraine and now Russia due to plummeting oil prices is another push factor.
Then there is the pull factor provided by Israel, a country with one of the few burgeoning economies among Western nations. The Jewish state is not just a refuge for the weak and downtrodden.
Israel of the 21st century, with its robust economy and low unemployment, offers economic opportunities on par with many Western states.
As Netanyahu put it in somewhat of an understatement: “Israel is a good place to live.”
Even with economic troubles and rising anti-Semitism in Europe, however, it is no easy matter to pick up and leave behind the familiar for the unknown. Promises of a better life are often not enough to convince the prospective immigrant. That is why it is good there are organizations such as the IFCJ, the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee to make the transition a little easier.