As Jews around the world gather to celebrate the Festival of Freedom, a modern Exodus story develops as well. This week, The Jewish Agency brought dozens of new olim from Odessa – engineers, dentists, economists, linguists, sailors and porters alike, who will be celebrating Passover for the first time in Israel this year. Fresh off their Aliyah flights, the new Olim participated in a model Passover seder organized by the Jewish Agency and our partners, the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, followed by an informational seminar on cultural and professional integration in Israel.
Odessa, the fourth largest city of Ukraine, and according to the Agency's statistics, a city with Jewish population of 30,000, has historically been a cradle of Zionist activity - dating back to the time of Zeev Jabotinsky, Meir Dizengoff and Ahad Ha'am. According to Agency emissary in southern Ukraine Shlomo Azarov, over 100 Jews have made Aliyah from Odessa in 2014 alone – three times as much as that average time period last year.
For these latest Olim, the future is brimming with possibilities.
Maria Balanovskaya, a dental assistant, is making Aliyah with her husband Vitaliy, a mechanical engineer, and their six-year old daughter Darya, through the Agency program “First Home in the Motherland”. Last year, the family visited relatives in Israel, and made a decision then to make Israel their permanent home.
“When we came to this country, we understood that it is here that we have a home, our Land," Maria said. "When we returned to Ukraine from our last trip, we didn’t delay our decision for long. And now our dream is coming true! We are going Home, and on the eve of Passover, the festival of freedom. I think that in Israel everything will get better. And most importantly, that our child has a future in Israel.”
Diana Gontvarg is making Aliyah with her husband Oleg, a dentist, and their two children, Milana, 6, and Natan, 2. Though Diana’s father lives in Ashkelon, the Gontvarg family has yet to visit Israel.
“We cannot wait for our Aliyah on April 10,” Diana said. “A huge thank you to our country of Israel, which cares about its Jews as its own children, wherever they are. I am sure that my children will have a happier and calmer future here."
According to the Agency’s estimates, there are 200,000 Jews living in Ukraine today. With tension escalating across Ukraine, The Jewish Agency alongside its partners at the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews fund recently announced increased security funding for the local Jewish communities of Ukraine.
Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein emphasized that no matter how difficult a time Ukraine is undergoing now, the fund will continue supporting the community.
Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Agency, added: “It is so symbolic that the new Aliyah is happening on the eve of Passover, the festival of freedom.”