A Place to Call Home
Yael Eckstein | June 20, 2023
On June 20, the international community observes World Refugee Day — a day especially resonant with those The Fellowship helps find safety through aliyah (immigration to Israel). Writing at Townhall, Yael tells how the Holy Land is a true refuge for those “from the four corners of the earth” who are longing for a home:
Though they come from different parts of the world, Svetlana and Laknesh have something in common.
Svetlana is an elderly woman from Ukraine. She has been a refugee twice in her life. Once, when she was a little girl, she fled with her family to escape the Nazi army in World War II. Then, later in life, she fled once again to escape the horrors of the war that erupted after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. She recalls her disbelief at again having to leave her home: “I didn’t think that war in Ukraine would drive me out of my hometown for the second time,” she says. “I never thought I would face bombings in old age as I did in my childhood.”
“After two of the longest and most terrible weeks of my life, we got a call from the synagogue and were told there was an evacuation bus. We had to come to the synagogue within an hour. We had a glimmer of hope. When we got on the bus, we simply relied on fate—which we put in God’s hands, then prayed and prayed for his mercy.” That bus took her out of the war zone, and she ultimately ended up living in safety in Israel.
Laknesh’s relatively stable life crumbled in the 1980s, when the effects of a long and bloody civil war hit home. Her husband was killed in that war, and she was all alone. She decided to come to Israel, but the decision was fraught with danger: Ethiopian Jews who managed to escape the war-torn country had to make their way to Israel mostly on foot, via Sudan. This journey could take months, and many died on the road from hunger and disease. It was too dangerous to travel in large groups because leaving the country was illegal, so Laknesh joined several others – along with four children from her family – and set out on the perilous journey. “I was very scared,” she says, “but the fear of staying in Ethiopia was worse. All the Jews were leaving because of severe anti-Semitism and violence. I didn’t want to be left behind…”