For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” Ezekiel 36:24
ALIYAH – the Hebrew word for ‘ascent’ or ‘pilgrimage’ has come to mean the act of returning to Israel.
In Israel’s Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948, David Ben Gurion stated: “Exiled from the land of Israel, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom ... The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion ...”.
From the very beginning of the State, Israel opened her doors to the dispersed Jewish people. Every Jew from throughout the word is entitled to settle in Israel and to become a citizen immediately on arrival, receiving the same rights and benefits as all other citizens. The Zionist movement sought to make that dream a reality.
Since that historic date in 1948 more than 3 million Olim (Jewish people who are making aliyah) have arrived in Israel – from east and west; from rich countries and from poor; from persecution and from prosperity but all with a recognition of Israel as their homeland.
Many times in the Scriptures God speaks of gathering His people, the Jewish people, from the lands of the north and bringing them back to their own land – Israel.
The former Soviet Union has a rich and varied Jewish history. Under Catherine the Great the Jewish people of the Russian Empire were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement – much of which is in today’s Ukraine. Jewish life, faith and traditions were kept – they were a distinct people within a nation. Chasidism was born in Ukraine and many of the early Zionists and pioneers of the State of Israel (including Golda Meir) came from here. The Jewish people of the Ukraine endured many periods of severe persecution over the centuries – at the hands of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, the Russian Tsars, Stalin, the Nazis and the subsequent communist authorities.
For many years the Jewish people in the lands of the former Soviet Union were unable to leave due to the policies of the Communist governments. Along with Christians and people of other faiths, the Jewish people in the former Soviet Union faced many difficulties and much persecution if they wanted to pursue their Jewish life and faith and were forbidden to repatriate to Israel.
Due to the persecution and problems of those times many people hid their Jewish identity and the links were broken with their Jewish heritage and traditions. Those who want to make aliyah, therefore, often have problems in finding all the documents they need to satisfy a Jewish consul of their Jewish heritage and their right to leave for Israel. Ezra team members have become very proficient in helping those individuals and families in this process.
Despite the obstacles, persecution and death a Jewish remnant remains and is gradually waking up to its identity and again building a Jewish community but also making the decision to return to their Biblical and historical homeland. Since the doors of emigration from the former Soviet Union opened in 1989, over one and a half million Soviet Jews have made aliyah to Israel, many of them helped on at least part of their journey by Christian believers.