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Comforting Israel Through Aliyah

Forty Years of ICEJ Ministry Highlights - Part III

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18 Sep 2020
Comforting Israel Through Aliyah

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is currently marking 4o years since our ministry was established in September 1980 at the first public Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. From the start, the founders of the ICEJ received a clear calling from Isaiah 40:1-2 that we were to be a “ministry of comfort” to Israel and the Jewish people.

In looking back over the past four decades, we can see how God has used the Christian Embassy in many ways to comfort Israel, including through our efforts to bring the Jewish people back to their ancient homeland. The ICEJ has helped the Jewish exiles come home because the Hebrew prophets promised that God would use Gentiles to gather His people back to the Land of Israel in the last days (for example, see Isaiah 49:22-23). It is also back in the Land where the Lord has promised to pour out His Spirit upon the Jewish people (for example, see Ezekiel 36 & 37).

Here are highlights of the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts over the past 40 years.

1981 – The ‘Mordechai Outcry’
During the 1980s, the Soviet Union refused to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel. In 1981, just months after our founding, the ICEJ responded by launching the “Mordechai Outcry” campaign, a series of demonstrations by Christians in numerous world capitals to protest the plight of Soviet Jewry, under the slogan: “Let My People Go!” By the end of the decade, the Iron Curtain was falling and hundreds of thousands of Jews began to flood home to Israel.

 

1984 – ICEJ Pioneers Aliyah and Absorption Efforts
By the mid-1980s, the ICEJ became increasingly involved in assisting Jews quietly making the journey home to Israel, mainly from behind the Iron Curtain. Even during the 1970s, Dr. Ulla Järvilehto, founder of the ICEJ’s Finnish branch, already was supporting Christian-run hospitality centers in Budapest and Vienna which helped Soviet Jews emigrating through the only route open to the West at the time. ICEJ branches in Germany and the Netherlands joined these Finnish Christian efforts in 1984, and soon the ICEJ headquarters in Jerusalem fully committed the whole movement to assisting with the Aliyah and Absorption of Jews in Israel. Over the decade of the 1980s, the ICEJ assisted more than 60,000 Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel with food, clothes, shoes, toiletries and other essentials items.

 

1989 – Gates Open for Exodus of Soviet Jews
By late 1989, the Soviet Communist bloc was on the brink of collapse, as symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall. With the breach of the Iron Curtain, the gate swung open for a massive Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. There were no direct flights allowed yet between the Soviet republics and Israel, but members of the ICEJ-Finnish branch worked with Jewish leaders to open an early route of Aliyah from the St. Petersburg area, by bus to the Helsinki airport, and on to Israel. Other routes began to open as well, and tens of thousands of Soviet Jews began to pour into Israel, where the ICEJ was already starting to help them with practical aid.

 

1990 – ICEJ’s First Aliyah Flight
With the collapse of Soviet Communism, thousands of Russian-speaking Jews began pouring into Israel in the early 1990s. ICEJ branches in Germany and Finland quickly offered the Jewish Agency to pay for a flight of Soviet Jews. On 28 May 1990, a specially chartered flight funded by ICEJ and carrying several hundred Russian Jews landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. This was the first Aliyah flight fully sponsored by Christians and thus it stands as a unique milestone for our ministry. In the thirty years since, the Christian Embassy has funded hundreds of direct flights for Jews coming home to Israel. Counting other means of immigration assistance, the ICEJ has now helped nearly 160,000 Jews in making the journey home to Israel. This includes Jews from Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Belorussia, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan and Venezuela, among others.

 

1990 – Opening of Soviet Jewry Department
With so many Russian-speaking Jews flooding into Israel, there was a growing need to help them get settled in the Land. When a young believer in Jerusalem collected shekels on Ben Yehuda street with a coffee can and brought it to the Embassy for new immigrants, this inspired ICEJ leaders to establish a special “Soviet Jewry Department” to assist Jewish immigrants with absorption into Israeli society. Long lines of Russian Jewish families soon formed every week outside the Christian Embassy’s headquarters at 10 Brenner Street to receive assistance with food, dental work, eyeglasses, school books, clothing, shoes, and other necessities.

 

1991 – Medical Aid for Ethiopian Jews
In May 1991, Israel took in nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in a 36-hour emergency airlift code-named “Operation Solomon”. When many were found to have leprosy and other serious medical problems, Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked if the ICEJ could locate a doctor who spoke the Amharic language to treat these new immigrants. Dr. Campbell Millar and his wife Fern had served many years on a medical mission in Ethiopia, and they agreed to come on staff to treat Ethiopian patients. At the same time, the Finnish Parliament donated a mobile medical clinic to the ICEJ, which we used for the next decade to treat Ethiopian Jews, as well as many Bedouin communities in the Negev.

 

1992 – Sponsoring ‘Exobus’
The ICEJ began ground operations in 1992 to assist Jews in the former USSR to reach airports for flights to Israel. At first, the “Exobus” program brought Jews by bus to Budapest and Warsaw for flights to Israel. As more direct flights became available, Exobus also transported them from Ukraine and Eastern Europe to airports in Kiev and Odessa. Overall, the ICEJ assisted more than 35,000 Jewish immigrants via Exobus in the 1990s. And our Swiss branch began sending van convoys to these regions every month to transport Jews to airports on their way to Israel.

 

 

 

 

1992 – Dramatic Rescue in Moldova
When Jews were caught in the crossfire of a regional conflict in Moldova in 1992, the Jewish Agency asked the ICEJ to help evacuate them from danger. Despite the serious risks, ICEJ-sponsored bus teams passed through rival checkpoints in the war-torn Trans-Dniester region and over a three week period extracted some 400 Jewish refugees for transport on to Israel.

 

1998 – ‘Fishing’ and Transport For Russian Jews
After opening an Aliyah office in St. Petersburg in 1996, the ICEJ began to expand its “fishing” and other Aliyah efforts throughout the vast reaches of the former Soviet Union. In 1998, the Embassy initiated the ‘Far Distant Cities’ program to help Jewish families moving to Israel from Siberia and other remote areas of Russia. The ICEJ also donated two buses for transporting Jews from the Central Asian republics to airports and on to Israel.

 

2000 – Aliyah of Kaifeng Jews

In the year 2000, the ICEJ brought home to Israel (via Finland) the first family to make Aliyah from the Kaifeng Jewish community. A Christian Embassy delegation located the remnant of the once thriving Chinese Jewish community in the historic capital city of the ancient kingdom.

 

 

2011 – Assisting Ethiopian Aliyah
A year of drought and political turmoil forced Israel in 2011 to speed up the return of the last remnant of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In August of that year, the ICEJ sponsored its first Aliyah flight from Ethiopia. In more recent years, the Christian Embassy has brought some 2,200 more Ethiopian Jews on Aliyah flights to Israel, while also expanding our previous efforts to assist the Ethiopian community already in Israel. In 2019, ICEJ AID director Nicole Yoder completed a master’s thesis detailing steps needed to improve Ethiopian integration into Israeli society.

 

2012 – Bringing Home the Bnei Menashe
After years of delay, Israeli officials finally agreed in 2012 to resume the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe community in northeast India, who claim descent from the ‘lost’ tribe of Menashe. The ICEJ sponsored its first Aliyah flight for the Bnei Menashe in December of that year, and in the time since has brought over 1,000 members of this ancient Israelite community home.

 

2014 – Rescuing Ukrainian Jews From Conflict
In 2014, a bitter civil war broke out in eastern Ukraine sparked by pro-Russian separatists. When the fighting threatened Jewish communities in the region, the ICEJ funded emergency flights to bring hundreds of endangered Ukrainian Jews to Israel. The ICEJ also started bringing more Jewish immigrants from the West to Israel around this time, including from France and Sweden where they were facing threats from radical Muslims.

 

2019 – New Milestone in Aliyah of 150,000 ‘Olim’
At Feast 2019, the ICEJ celebrated a new milestone of assisting more than 150,000 Jews in making Aliyah to Israel since our founding in 1980. Most have come from the former Soviet Union, but we also are assisting Jews from Europe, North and South America, Ethiopia, India and China, among other regions. Last year, Keren HaYesod honoured the Christian Embassy with its annual Yakir Award in recognition our long record of supporting and befriending Israel, most notably by funding Aliyah and Absorption projects of the Jewish Agency.

 

2020 – Embassy Flies Jews Home Despite Corona
As the Corona crisis grounded most international flights in 2020, the ICEJ has still been able to bring almost 1400 Jewish immigrants on Aliyah flights to Israel between February and July. Most came from Russia, Belarus and Ethiopia. Based on this remarkable success, the Embassy launched the ‘Rescue250’ campaign, challenging Christians to help us keep up the pace of bringing at least 250 Jews home per month while COVID-19 was still impacting the world. And in the latest development, the ICEJ is currently raising funds to assist with the 2,000 Ethiopian Jews that the Israeli government has just decided to bring home by the end of this year.

 

 

 

 

Please consider what you can do to help with our current Aliyah initiatives:

1) By supporting our Rescue250 campaign, you will be helping bring Jews home primarily from the former Soviet republics. Donate at: on.icej.org/rescue250

2) By supporting our Ethiopian Aliyah efforts, you will be helping with flights for Jews coming from transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar, many of whom have been stuck in these camps for over 20 years. Donate at: icej.org/ethiopia

Finally, if you would like to learn more about the history and legacy of the ICEJ in standing with Israel, please check out our 40th Anniversary Journal today. You can order it at: icejstore.com


 

  

 

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