International Fellowship of Christians and Jews helps South American Olim find new lives in Israel
August 31, 2022
JERUSALEM — With the help of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, 84 new olim (immigrants) have made their way home to the Holy Land. This time, the olim came from Mexico and 6 different countries throughout South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru. This group includes families, retirees, and young people migrating on their own to study or to serve in the army in Israel.
“Particularly with the many challenges that our world faces, including financial and logistical obstacles that can make aliyah (immigration) to Israel much more difficult, it is very meaningful to be able to witness people from all over the world make this life-changing move,” said Yael Eckstein, president and CEO of The Fellowship. “We feel privileged to be able to play our part in facilitating the growth of aliyah from Latin America, and privileged to have supporters whose heart for Israel and her people makes this work possible. Working together, we look forward to helping even more people come home to Israel.”
Ariel Kessler and Barbara Bernstein are a married couple who lived in Asunción, Paraguay, up until their recent aliyah flight. Though born in Buenos Aires, they moved to Asunción in search of economic opportunities after going bankrupt due to the financial crisis in Argentina. In Paraguay, they integrated into the small Jewish community, where approximately 1,000 Jews reside in a country of 7.1 million people.
The Israeli embassy in the country shut down in late 2018, as a response to the Paraguayan government’s decision to move their embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, where they had moved it earlier that year. The Kesslers made aliyah with their four young children, ages 4 to 12, to provide for them what they see as a more fulfilling Jewish life.
Bernstein told The Fellowship, “Although there are no other organizations in the country, everything was extremely well-organized. We made the decision a little over a month ago because we want our children to experience a full Jewish life. It is not possible for us in Paraguay to keep kosher, observe Shabbat as a community, or to ensure that our children will get to meet a Jewish partner in the future to start a family. In Israel they will be able to grow up proud of their Judaism.
“I also had anti-Semitic experiences in Paraguay and I do not want that for my children,” added Bernstein. “I got tears of emotion every day as the flight date came near. We have always felt a strong connection with Israel, and we have passed that connection along to our children. I can think of no other country that receives immigrants like Israel, as if we were family. The Fellowship was instrumental in making us feel comfortable throughout the process and gave us valuable career counseling to help us after our arrival in Israel.”
The 84 olim include a number of young people who are coming to Israel to pursue their dreams, even though it means saying goodbye to their family at a young age. Such is the case of Pedro Guinzburg, who is 21, and has been living in the Argentinean city of Bahía Blanca, a city of less than 300,000 residents with a small Jewish community.
Guinzburg has distant relatives and friends living in Israel, but he made aliyah alone. Even though his Jewish community’s main building last year was spray-painted with anti-Semitic threats, his decision to move to Israel stems more from his great love of the country than fear of violence. “I made the decision because I feel that as a Jew, I have to live in Israel. I am not moving for better economic conditions or because I want to find a better job, but because I feel a connection to the country that I have never felt in Argentina.”
When Guinzburg visited Israel in 2020, he told The Fellowship he felt very much a part of Israeli society. “I saw the materialization of the stories and emotions I had heard from my family and at my Hebrew school. I am going primarily because I want to serve in the IDF. I think Jews around the world are indebted to Israeli soldiers for the security that we have today and I want to do my part in paying it back. I intend to join a combat unit. I am proud of becoming an Israeli soldier and my family obviously worries about me and is sad to see me go. But they support my decision.”