Three hundred and forty new immigrants (olim) on 17 different flights from eight countries will arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport throughout this week, thanks to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
Monday, June 25, will prove to be the busiest day, as 237 olim from Brazil, Colombia, France, Uzbekistan, Argentina and Ukraine arrive at the airport, with 219 of them coming from Ukraine. Some of these olim are escaping battle zones in the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict, while others are fleeing economic distress.
Supported by hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians, IFCJ is playing an increasingly major role in bringing new immigrants to Israel. While IFCJ has helped bring hundreds of thousands of olim in partnership with the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization it helped start, IFCJ began independently bringing olim in late 2014. Since then, IFCJ has brought nearly 13,000 new immigrants to Israel from 26 countries where Jews are facing rising anti-Semitism, threatened by terrorism or suffering economic crises.
“The flights of olim that landed this week and especially those arriving this morning from the Ukraine represents a special hope, since they include 69 children under the age of 10 — literally the future of the Jewish state,” said IFCJ’s Founder and President, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. “I am proud and excited to see these olim starting a new chapter in their lives here in their Jewish homeland, and I wish them much success.”
In fact IFCJ works extensively to ensure all immigrants it brings enjoy a successful absorption into Israeli life. Once the olim arrive in Israel, IFCJ provides grants for appliances, furniture, housing and employment assistance, in addition to the standard government grants olim receive. “We do everything we can to ensure that all of our olim will begin successful new lives in Israel,” Eckstein said.
This week’s new arrives are expected to be absorbed in 35 cities across the country, with most — 40 — settling in Haifa, followed by Netanya (34), Ashdod (29) and Bat Yam (26) . The youngest newcomer, who landed this morning, is a one-year-old baby girl, and the oldest is an 82-year-old woman, both from the Ukraine. In addition, 11 dogs and 6 cats, who will also now begin their lives in Israel, have joined the olim. Nearly a third of this week’s new immigrants — 101 people–are children under the age of 18.
Mykhailo Semenenko, 40, came on aliyah this morning with his wife and daughter. “I worked in the construction sector and there are almost no job offers in the field,” he said. “My wife is a nurse and luckily she managed to continue working steadily recently, but her salary has been cut in half since the outbreak of the crisis in the east” of Ukraine.
Yulia Foshchii, 31, also landed this morning, with her husband and two children. Yulia and her family have also experienced difficult economic problems. “Prices have all risen significantly; even basic products have gone up a lot. Our day-to-day life was a constant struggle.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was founded in 1983 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews, and build broad support for Israel. Today it is one of the leading forces helping Israel and Jews in need worldwide – and is the largest channel of Christian support for Israel. Led by its founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ has been working to bring Jews to Israel, and has invested more than $200 million over the years, helping to bring hundred and thousands of olim to Israel.
Since its inception close to 90 years ago, the Jewish Agency’s main priorities were to populate Israel with Jews from around the globe. Once the leading advocate for aliyah of all Jews, for the last 20 years or more, it appears that other organizations such as the IFCJ and Nefesh B’Nefesh have taken up the gauntlet and filled a painful void.
With the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, the Jewish Agency relinquished many of its functions to the new government, but retained responsibility for immigration, land settlement, youth work, and relations with world Jewry. This was confirmed by the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency (Status) Law adopted by the Knesset on November 24, 1952. On July 26, 1954 a formal covenant was signed between the government and the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency, recognizing the latter as the representative of world Jewry with regard to the above functions.
Speaking to the Jewish Voice in November of 2014, Rabbi Eckstein said, “We were cognizant of the fact that the focus of the Jewish Agency had shifted over the years. Rather than spend their resources on aliyah, the Jewish Agency focused on ways of strengthening Jewish identity and values in the diaspora. They focused on federation requests for youth aliyah from North America and other places that are not considered distressed countries. We took note of the fact that they had only one shaliach in Ukraine and they were just not offering services to help with aliyah.”
The claims made by Rabbi Eckstein in 2014 not only raise questions about the Jewish Agency’s priorities but precisely where there money is going and precisely how it is being spent. In a written response to inquiries made by the Jewish Voice, Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency spokesman in Israel said, “The Jewish Agency’s Aliyah, Absorption, and Rescue budget for 2015 is $62.67 million, increased from 2014.” According to information received by the Jewish Voice, it was reported that the annual operating budget of the Jewish Agency is close to $400 million.
Mr. Mayer insisted that “aliyah encouragement and facilitation has been at the very core of The Jewish Agency’s activities since the organization’s establishment 85 years ago, and it remains so today.” In terms of success rates, he says that 2014 saw “record Aliyah, with immigration from around the world nearing 25,000—a five-year high—and for the first time in Israel’s history, the number of immigrants from Western countries has surpassed the number of those coming from the rest of the world.”
The facts, however, do not reflect the success rate of aliyah that the Jewish Agency continuously defends.
Observers of the division between the two organizations have speculated that one of the reasons that the Jewish Agency is livid about the fact that the IFCJ is going to branch out on its own and conduct aliyah procedures is that Rabbi Eckstein has solicited the help of several Jewish Agency staffers. At the helm of the new IFCJ aliyah operation is Eli Cohen, the former head of the aliyah and absorption department at the Jewish Agency and Jeff Kaye, the former Jewish Agency coordinator for financial resource development.
A detailed explanation of exactly why the government of Israel felt a compelling need to initiate a program such as Nefesh B’Nefesh is not readily available, but an unnamed government official intimated that the Jewish Agency was just not capable of doing the job it once had in terms of increasing aliyah numbers, especially from North America.
Edited by: JV Staff