Late yesterday we received this moving story from Fellowship staff member Gil Tevet, who was at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the latest Fellowship Freedom Flight from Ukraine.
Seventeen years ago Liora started a journey when she made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Russia as a 14-year-old girl. But that journey was never really complete – until today.
Standing in the arrivals hall of Ben Gurion Airport, Liora is surrounded by people peppering her with questions. They are all interested in her well-being and how she feels about this special moment. Liora answers them all politely, but she doesn't really look at any of their faces. At every moment her tense gaze is focused on the end of the hall, at the opening and closing doors through which her family will be entering. She so wants to see four members of the Fellowship’s Freedom Flight from Ukraine: her mother, Anya (64); her brother, Yuri (38); her grandfather, Gershon (87); and her beloved Uncle Michael (56).
But one beloved member of the family will be missing. A month and a half ago, her aunt Irina, Uncle Michael's wife, was killed when a missile fell on the family’s home in Donetsk, Ukraine. Irina, a teacher, had been making dinner at the time. "They live close to the airport," says Liora. "It's the area where difficult battles have been fought for months. The war goes on and on, and my family members were always waiting for it to end already. We asked them to leave. But it's human nature to stay in a place one knows, despite the terrible dangers.”
The missile not only killed Irina, it destroyed the house. The family was left with nothing. Liora began trying to help them from Israel, and when she heard that The Fellowship was organizing more flights for refugees she got in touch with Fellowship staff in Israel. “They took up the cause energetically,” she says. “Fellowship representatives got in touch with my distraught family and within a month and a half they were getting ready to make aliyah. Everything happened under fire. People are really endangering themselves in order to help Jews make aliyah from there."
In helping her family, Liora remembered well her own aliyah. She moved to Israel in 1998 through a program for young Jews making aliyah without their family. As a brave 14-year-girl, she was the family's first emissary in Israel. She acclimated to Israel wonderfully, studying at Fellowship-supported Beit Ulpana, a girls’ school in Jerusalem, learning accounting, and marrying Avi, a toy salesman. They're raising their three children in the city of Elad. Now they'll also take care of Liora's newly arrived family.
At the airport, Liora and Avi first meet with Marina, the Fellowship staff member who took care of the family in Ukraine, and with Dalit, who handled the administrative end in Israel. "During this entire tragedy," Liora tells Marina and Dalit, "your attitude toward my family and the efficient manner in which you took care of them have been a true ray of light. I'm so grateful to you.”
Family after family enters the hall and singing fills the space. "We bring you peace," sings dozens of Fellowship staff members who came from Jerusalem to help the olim (immigrants) feel welcome during their first moments in Israel.
Then suddenly Liora’s long-awaited family arrives. She runs and engulfs her mother, brother, grandfather, and uncle in hugs and kisses. She hasn't seen some of them for 20 years. Embracing her Uncle Michael, whose recent loss caused her family to make aliyah, Liora cannot stop her tears. Even with this huge grief, Liora knows her historic journey to Israel is complete. She's now surrounded by family in the land of their spiritual forefathers. Finally, they are all home.