September 6, 2022
Sondra Oster Baras
I had an amazing experience last week — I participated in an event that represented the culmination of months of hard work and a dream that is about to come true.
In February, we all watched as Putin attacked Ukraine, forcing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Even as we cried with these poor people, we immediately thought of our Jewish brothers and sisters. We knew that most Ukrainian Jews were fleeing but where would they go? Would they recognize this terrible state of events as an opportunity to start life over in Israel?
The State of Israel geared up immediately, sending representatives to the border areas of Ukraine and working hard to help the Jews leave Ukraine. And they were there, available to help Ukrainian Jews come to Israel, whether temporarily as refugees or permanently as new immigrants. Several thousand came immediately but it is still too soon to know how many new immigrants will make Aliyah from Ukraine as a result of this terrible war.
But one thing was clear to all of us in Judea and Samaria. If they were coming to Israel, we hoped at least some of these families would come to Judea and Samaria. A number of communities reached out to the Ukrainian Jews directly, encouraging them to join them. But one region has been at the forefront of Aliyah activities for some years now — the Samaria Regional Council. Headed up by Mayor Yossi Dagan, Samaria representatives have been reaching out to French Jews for a number of years and the communities of Yakir and Revava have successfully absorbed French immigrants in recent years. In fact, you, our CFOIC Heartland donors, have been very helpful in their absorption, supporting their Hebrew language programs and ensuring that there was staff in place to help them adjust to their new country and find jobs.
For weeks before Putin’s invasion, the Israeli authorities warned Ukrainian Jews, including Israeli citizens resident in Ukraine, that the invasion was just a matter of time and that they best leave as soon as possible. Israel sent planes to bring out as many Jews as possible while organized flights were still available. But most Jews did not heed the warnings, finding it hard to believe that something so catastrophic could happen and change their lives overnight.
One family made it out just in time. Meira and Gershon and their five children lived in Kiev. Both were very involved in the Jewish community. And both did not believe the rumors of impending doom. But one day, Meira and Gershon got the sense that something terrible was going to happen very soon and within hours they had packed up their most valuable possessions and boarded a plane to Israel. They had long considered making Aliyah but it had never happened. They ended up taking the last flight out of Ukraine before the invasion. This was not how they had planned to make Aliyah!
They landed in Israel and were sent to temporary living quarters near the coast. Gershon returned to Ukraine immediately, feeling responsible to help the Jewish community and defend his country. Meira was left alone with her five children, and she didn’t know what to do. She felt alone and helpless.
A chance phone call changed her life. She remembered a young woman she had met some years earlier on a visit to Israel, a woman who had originally come from Ukraine. Meira phoned her and when her friend heard she was in Israel, she immediately invited her to come to Revava, a small community in Samaria. Meira agreed to come, more because she didn’t know what else to do. The entire community swung into action. A small apartment was located for the family, the only place available for rent in the entire community. Residents donated furniture, appliances, bedding, clothes, food, pots and pans. When Meira and her children arrived in Revava, they found everything ready for them, even a pot of soup bubbling on the stove and ready to eat. They were overwhelmed.
In the weeks that followed Meira discovered that Revava was not just a place to live. Revava became her family, her close friends, her support system. And she decided that more Ukrainian Jews needed to join her in Revava. It was just at that point that I heard about this family and turned to Revava to ask how we could help. Achiya, the administrator of Revava told me of his dream to build a new neighborhood of pre-fab homes to house the new immigrants for their initial years in Israel, helping in their absorption and ultimately hoping they would settle permanently in Samaria. But, he told me, he could not convince the Israeli government to invest in the project. So I went out on a limb. I told him I thought Christian Friends around the globe might be able to support this project.
I turned to a few organizations with a history of supporting Aliyah. And they came through. Right away. In addition, we turned to you, our faithful supporters, seeking your support for Ukrainian Aliyah to Samaria. And you came through as well. The land had to be filled and leveled, infrastructure installed and ten pre-fab homes constructed. We broke ground in June and last Thursday, we dedicated the new neighborhood — in record time!
Ukrainian families currently in temporary quarters in the north, have been visiting the site and now there are candidates for the new neighborhood. They are getting their affairs in order and preparing to move in. For now, we can absorb only 10 families, but this is a pilot program. I believe that there is no better place than Judea and Samaria to give these families a new start in their homeland. Here they will connect with a community full of people who want to help them. Here they will be able to put down their deepest roots in the land, as they experience a rebirth in their Jewish identity and in their national connection to the land and people of Israel. If the absorption of these ten families succeeds, we will see many similar neighborhoods sprouting up all over Judea and Samaria. And we will be there to nurture them and help them in any way we can.
Last Thursday, we visited the newly completed homes, admired the sign that gives thanks to our Christian friends who made this all possible, and we rejoiced in the dream of the Return to Zion that we are witnessing before our very eyes. Thank you for helping us fulfill our dream!