Christian ministries: COVID closed airport, Jews still moved to Israel

"Thus said Hashem: I will raise My hand to nations And lift up My ensign to peoples; And they shall bring your sons in their bosoms, And carry your daughters on their backs" (Isaiah 49:22).

 Jewish family from North America moves to Israel with the help of the Cyrus Foundation (photo credit: STEPHEN EPSTEIN)
Jewish family from North America moves to Israel with the help of the Cyrus Foundation
(photo credit: STEPHEN EPSTEIN)

The COVID-19 pandemic barred most foreigners from entering Israel, while the disease burned through the world. The crisis also led to a surge in antisemitism. As such, there was increased demand by Jews worldwide to move to Israel. Christian ministries said that despite COVID, they were there to assist.

Christian ministries that support Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) are often motivated by the prophet Isaiah:

Thus said Hashem: I will raise My hand to nations And lift up My ensign to peoples; And they shall bring your sons in their bosoms, And carry your daughters on their backs (Isaiah 49:22).

Christian World spoke to three of these ministries about the state of Aliyah in the last two years. Here is what they had to say: 

Ebenezer Operation Exodus

Among the oldest of the "Aliyah ministries" is Ebenezer Operation Exodus, which was founded during the first Gulf War in 1991. At that time, founder Gustav Scheller heard a Divine call: “Now you can begin helping My people to go home.”

Today, the ministry works in more than 50 countries, with teams operating in the former Soviet Union, including Russia and Ukraine. In the US, they are known as Operation Exodus USA. 

The organization helps Jewish families cover expenses, such as passports or other documents that may be needed to prove eligibility to move to Israel. They subsidize transportation costs to meet with Israeli officials as part of the application process and, in some countries, they help pay for the cost of shipping household goods to Israel. 

Jewish immigrants on their way to Israel, helped by Ebenezer Operation Exodus (Credit: Courtesy Ebenezer Operation Exodus)Jewish immigrants on their way to Israel, helped by Ebenezer Operation Exodus (Credit: Courtesy Ebenezer Operation Exodus)

Stephen Minnis of Ebenezer said that during COVID their operations continued unabated. 

“We have still been able to help olim despite the challenges of the pandemic," he told Christian World. "Our teams have continued to assist the potential olim who contacted us. We have helped more olim from Latin America than usual in 2021, particularly from Argentina, Brazil and Chile,” he said. 

Throughout the past two years, new Jewish immigrants were never barred from entering Israel, even when other Jewish people could not travel to the country. However, cancelled flights often delayed immigration, Minnis said.  

"This meant we spent more resources looking after those who were waiting to make Aliyah and we had, in many cases, longer transfers to airports,” because fewer international airports were offering flights to Israel, he said, adding that despite worldwide economic challenges, Ebenezer stood firm. 

“Our Christian supporters gave faithfully and generously throughout the pandemic and we had sufficient funds to continue our work without interruption,” according to Minnis.

He said that the ability to remain flexible and react to “sudden changes in flights and COVID restrictions,” as well as their ability to pivot in their communications with their supporters has been key to their success during COVID.

Cyrus Foundation 

Bart and Deborah Kellogg’s motivation for establishing the Cyrus Foundation in 2005 was biblical. 

“We feel that the Bible is very clear in many passages that God is calling those of us in the nations to help with the restoration of Israel at this time in history," they told Israel365 in 2020. "The larger focus of that restoration, we believe, is the return of the Jewish people from all the countries where they were dispersed. We are to bless and serve them as they return and are ‘planted’ in their Land.”

The Cyrus Foundation is best known for assisting with the cost of shipping household goods from the country of origin to Israel. These shipments can cost well over $10,000. The foundation, which operates in North, Central and South America, also helps when a family needs to take a connecting domestic flight to the airport from which their flight to Israel departs.

“There was a slight uptick in requests for assistance," said Director Deborah Kellogg, "Many of the families felt staying outside of Israel any longer was not safe or a good place to raise their children.”

Acquisition of aliyah visas, a necessary part of the process, has been especially complicated in the past two years.

“The government policies made it very difficult for the families wanting to return to Israel," Kellogg said. "Many of them had everything ready, were accepted for citizenship in Israel but the government  would not send their visa to them. This was frustrating for us all and the families suffered many hardships financially waiting for their visas."

The majority of Jewish families the Cyrus Foundation assisted over the past two years were from North America.

"Antisemitism is definitely causing Jewish people to want to go to Israel to live," Kellogg said. "Many families we have helped said they have experienced significant persecution because they are Jewish and do not feel safe in the West any longer.”

Aliyah Return Center

Prior to COVID, the Tiberias-based Aliyah Return Center (ARC), in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel, had over 80 Christian volunteers helping to rehab a 15-acre campus in the lower Galilee. It was being prepared to house new immigrants, including lone soldiers, who needed extra time and assistance to get settled in the country.

The Center’s Christian director, Chaim Malespin, explained that during the past two years of COVID, they went from having 83 volunteers to none. Nevertheless, their efforts to assist Jewish people to settle in Israel continued.

Malespin shared that, as important as it is to get Jewish people to Israel, it’s equally important to assist them once they arrive, a process known as absorption. 

Chaim Malespin in Tiberias (Credit: Courtesy Chaim Malespin)Chaim Malespin in Tiberias (Credit: Courtesy Chaim Malespin)

"They want jobs, some of them come with not much money. There are no jobs waiting. Even Israelis didn't have jobs [during COVID]," Malespin said. "There were financial struggles. So how do they survive while they're learning Hebrew and getting integrated into the society?”

That’s where Malespin and his supporters stepped in. All these challenges, according to Malespin, “create quite a harrowing experience, but not one that that faith can't overcome.

“What we've seen through this time is that we were able to not only survive, but to grow into far more operations. We now have a new lone soldier house in Tiberias, which is now housing lone soldiers with no place [else] to go," he said.

They also opened a goods and clothing distribution center in downtown Tiberias, as well as more Aliyah housing. ARC is also involved in providing conversational Hebrew classes for new immigrants with night classes getting ready to begin. Much of their work is coordinated with Mayor Yosef Ben David and Chief Rabbi Yosef Kramer of Tiberias. 

"In the hardest of times, there is something that brings heroes to the front and that's what I want to focus on," Malespin said. "Heroes have arisen. [Christians] are saying, ‘I feel a stir; I'm willing to help a Jewish person, to sponsor or to support [them]. And the minute I can get there [to Israel to help], I will get there.'"