Christian Embassy Marks 30 Years of Aliyah Flights

Latest plane arrives three decades after first ICEJ flight in May 1990

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By: David Parsons, ICEJ VP & Senior Spokesman

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem welcomed a group of 94 new Jewish immigrants to Israel on Tuesday (26 May) on a special chartered plane which marked thirty years of Aliyah flights sponsored by the ICEJ since the first one touched down in Israel in May 1990.

When the Christian Embassy was founded in Jerusalem in 1980, one of its first initiatives was to start advocating for the release of Soviet Jewry. Christians staged rallies in capitals around the world demanding “Let My People Go!” So when the Iron Curtain fell in October 1989 and the door finally opened wide for Jews to leave the Soviet Union, it was only natural for the ICEJ to start helping bring them home to Israel.

Actually some of the ICEJ’s earliest leaders, such as Finnish branch director Dr. Ulla Järvilehto, were already pioneering Christian efforts to as

sist Jews trickling out of the Soviet bloc in the 1970s and 80s through welcome centers in Budapest and Vienna. But once Soviet Communism collapsed, the possibility opened up for bringing masses of Russian-speaking Jews directly by plane to Israel.

So the ICEJ’s German branch approached the Jewish Agency with an offer to help pay for a flight of Soviet Jews and ICEJ-Finland quickly agreed to cover the other half of the costs. Thus on 28 May 1990 – exactly 30 years ago this week – a special ICEJ-funded charter flight carrying several hundred Russian Jews landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. In fact, this was the first Aliyah flight fully sponsored by Christians and thus it stands as a unique milestone for the ICEJ.

An excited ICEJ delegation was waiting on the tarmac to warmly welcome these exiles home, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecies that the Jewish people would one day return to the Land of Israel from the “north”, and that Gentiles would be there to assist them (see e.g., Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 60:4-16; Jeremiah 31:8)

At the start of this year, plans were underway for the ICEJ to bring a large planeload of Russian Jews to Israel this same week, to mark the 30th anniversary of that first Aliyah flight. But then the Coronavirus pandemic struck and travel bans were imposed around the globe. It looked like Aliyah would come to a halt. Yet to everyone’s surprise, interest in Aliyah has actually increased, and Israeli and Jewish Agency officials have been finding creative ways to keep the door open for Jews to continue coming home at this time.

The flight on Tuesday included Jews from across the former Soviet republics. Many had to first catch connecting flights or travel long distances by vehicle or train to reach the hub airport, and the ICEJ was there to help. Since this involves a permanent move to a new country, the Christian Embassy also paid for extra luggage allowances. And because there are still Corona health rules in place, the ICEJ also is covering their two-week mandatory stay in a quarantine hotel here in Israel.

Many of these Jewish olim (newcomers) have dramatic stories to tell about their life’s journey to Israel. One story begins with two young sisters caught up in a war in Georgia in the early 1990s. Both fled the country, but amid the chaos and haste they got separated, never found each other again, and each wound up thinking the other was dead. Yet last year, the son of one sister decided to launch his own search and through social media found his aunt, alive and well, living in Ariel. The son was on this week’s flight and his mother will soon follow – all to be reunited nearly thirty years later in Israel.

With this week’s flight group, the ICEJ has now sponsored Aliyah flights for 855 Jewish immigrants to reach Israel during the past three months of the Corona crisis. And ever since that first Aliyah flight in May 1990, the Christian Embassy has funded more than 300 flights for Jews coming home to Israel.

Once you add in all the other Jewish immigrants we have helped along the way – whether with transport to airports, special grants for needy families, Hebrew language classes, Aliyah seminars, fairs and youth camps, and so much more – the ICEJ has now assisted nearly 160,000 Jews in making the journey home to Israel.

But there are many more Jewish people waiting their turn to make the move to Israel, and the interest in Aliyah is rising – despite the Corona or in many cases because of it. And the Christian Embassy needs your help in bringing them home.


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