Prophecy Fulfilled: Ukrainian Jews Return to Israel After Thousands of Years in Exile
In Hebrew, it's called "Aliyah", the Jewish people returning to the Promised Land. Just before COVID-19 hit, CBN News traveled from Israel to Ukraine for a close-up look at this prophetic story in action.
In the early morning, more than 130 Ukrainian Jews landed in Tel Aviv to begin a new life.
Many see the moment when these new immigrants step onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport as the time when the words of the Bible written thousands of years ago come to life.
"There has never been a people who have been exiled for so long who then returned to their homeland, returned to their language. And so, there's the prophetic reality of this that's so huge, that each one of these people, Isaiah saw. Jeremiah saw. They saw them," said Yael Eckstein, President of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Their flight marked the one-year passing of Eckstein's father Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, now simply called "The Fellowship."
"He always felt a calling that it wasn't him, but God working through him to unite Christians and Jews, to bring biblical prophecy to fruition," said Eckstein.
Although their trip ended in Tel Aviv, the life-changing journey began more than a thousand miles and a number of choices away.
"We know that Israel is the best place because we have also our relatives there," one immigrant named Lars Heller-Gorelik told CBN News.
"Israel has many advantages. It's much more safer. You, just, can go out at midnight and feel perfectly safe. It's so different from here, you know, where it's not safe at all," said Yulia Heller-Gorelik.
Some saw opportunity, like 53-year-old Eugene.
"My future is no good in this country. I know in Israel I have a future. I have a job," he explained.
Some escaped the war in eastern Ukraine.
"It was very dangerous. In the past three years, we've spent most of our time in occupied territories with severe shortages of electricity and water and we survived the shellings," said Artur Myshchinskyi.
For some, it was a matter of faith.
"I think that it's God. This decision is not only mine. It's a decision of God, for my family," said Iryna Kovalenko.
Back in Ukraine, The Fellowship helped smooth the way by providing documentation, logistics, and finances to bridge the gap from their lives in Ukraine to a new start in Israel. Their orientation helped provide information about the next step.
"My message to them today was they made the right decision because Aliyah – when they will be there, it could be a little bit difficult for them, but it will be difficult, but the end will be very successful," said Ukrainian Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski.
Before they left for Israel, Rabbi Vishedski prayed for the immigrants as workmen outside organized their luggage. Each family's belongings get a number and they are permitted 70 kilos (150 pounds) to start their new life.
With instructions and documents in hand, some headed back to their apartments for a last-minute goodbye.
Iryna told CBN News, it's best to keep their departure a secret because of the stigma of being a Jew in Eastern Europe.
"Only my neighbor from this home knows about my departure," she said. "Because people didn't like me, didn't want that me and my family will be happy."
The hardest part for Iryna was leaving her best friend.
After they finished loading their luggage and giving their last hug and goodbye to their best friends, Irena's family headed to Kiev International Airport for a few more hours of waiting before boarding their plane.
It's about a three-hour flight from Kiev to Tel Aviv, but for most of the new immigrants on this plane, this flight is the biggest step of their lives.
When the plane landed the passengers erupted with applause.
"Now I appear in my real motherland. I returned to my mother, to my real mother with my children and my husband and now I'm so happy, so proud to this great, great trip and great matter… I think the most important thing in my life," Iryna said.
For some, it fulfilled the hope of generations.
With threats to the Jewish people rising worldwide, Eckstein believes it's time for the Jews of the world to come home.
"Sometimes I think that the reason Isaiah said that the Jewish people would come home to Israel [at the] end of days is because he knew that anti-Semitism would once again raise its ugly head and if they didn't come home to Israel, the only country where there's a Jewish government, where there's a Jewish army, who's only concern is protecting the Jewish people unlike anywhere in the entire world, that there wouldn't be any Jewish people left in the world because of all the anti-Semitism," said Eckstein. "And so, I look at this as you never know when the borders are going to close. You never know when it's going to be too late. And so, the fellowship, as soon as we have the opportunity to bring a Jewish person home, we do it immediately."
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