March 24, 2015
I arrived at the airport half an hour before the first group of new immigrants on the latest Fellowship Freedom Flight from Ukraine was supposed to come out of processing as new Israeli citizens. There were already dozens of people holding signs, singing songs, and waving Israeli flags, waiting to greet these new immigrants to the Holy Land.
Around 50 girls from the Fellowship-funded Beit Ulpana program in Jerusalem came to the airport to greet the Ukrainian Jews. The Beit Ulpana girls know the fears and hardships that these new immigrants face, because not too long ago they were in the same position – they left their families and friends behind in the former Soviet Union (FSU), and came to Israel for high school alone, through a Fellowship-sponsored program.
The 50 Beit Ulpana girls sang traditional Israeli songs, waved Israeli flags, and danced in circles while waiting for the new immigrants to come out of processing at Ben Gurion airport. There was great excitement and anticipation in the air as the Fellowship-chartered flight landed and 110 Ukrainian Jewish refugees were home. At the very moment that we were singing and dancing to celebrate their arrival, they were receiving their Israeli citizenship cards.
Members of the press crowded the airport, anxious to see the faces of Israel’s newest citizens. In Israel we love, appreciate, and celebrate Jewish immigrants coming home. It gives us hope in the future, and connects us to our past. When new immigrants decide to make their home in Israel, the words of the prophets come alive.
As I waved my Israeli flag, sang Hebrew songs based on words of the Bible, and danced with the younger generation of Jewish Russian immigrants, I realized that the timing of this Fellowship-chartered flight is very appropriate. Just one week before Passover, the holiday when we celebrate the Israelites going from slavery to freedom, these Jews experienced their very own redemption. They came from a life of fear, danger, and war in what many people call the biblical land of the north, to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.
Every one of the 110 Jewish Ukrainian refugees on this Fellowship Freedom Flight has a powerful story of hardship, pain, hope, and redemption. One elderly man lost his daughter a few weeks ago, when a shell hit their home in eastern Ukraine, killing her before his eyes. Many of them lived in Fellowship-sponsored refugee centers for weeks, after losing their homes and belongings to the war between Russia and Ukraine.
As the new immigrants exited the airport terminal, their smiles were larger than life. The fear in their eyes was gone – it was replaced with hope and comfort.
Liora, the niece of the woman who was killed, waited patiently to greet her uncle and grandfather who came home on the flight. She could not praise The Fellowship enough. “I called everyone to try and help my family in Ukraine, and only The Fellowship came through to really help,” she told me. “You helped my uncle and grandfather escape the fighting in Donetsk, kept them safe and warm in a refugee center, and now brought them home to Israel. With friends like The Fellowship, I know it will all be OK.”
Thank you, my friends, for making possible this miraculous return of God’s people to the Holy Land!