By: A. Howard Flower, ICEJ Aliyah Director
On Thursday, a Christian Embassy delegation welcomed to Israel a group of 26 Jewish high school students from war-torn Ukraine who arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on a flight sponsored by our supporters worldwide. With these latest arrivals, the ICEJ has now funded Aliyah flights for some 813 Jewish immigrants who have left the former Soviet republics so far this year for the safety and hopes of a brighter future in Israel.
The teenage students crossed over from western Ukraine into Poland earlier this week to catch the flight from Warsaw and begin their new life studying in Israel away from the raging conflict with Russia. They have gone through a testing process to qualify for the Naale program, which offers full scholarships to Jewish teenagers from around the world to study for several years at leading high schools in Israel.
Two of the teens, brothers Oleksander and Yaroslav, told the ICEJ welcoming party: “Thank you to the Christians, thank you to all who supported this Naale program… We’re here right now because you’re helping us.”
The Naale program is jointly funded by Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel, and has a remarkable success rate. Some 90% of the time it results in the Jewish students deciding to stay and become Israeli citizens, while 60% of their parents soon join them in Israel.
The Naale elite academy was first launched in 1992 with only 50 students from the former Soviet Union. Since then, it has expanded to include Jewish students from over 40 countries worldwide, with more than 20,000 Naale participants becoming Israeli citizens.
The unique concept of Youth Aliyah – Jewish parents sending their children to the Land of Israel ahead of them – first began in Germany before World War II as a means of rescuing Jewish children from rising antisemitism and offering them a safer life in Mandatory Palestine. The movement was founded by Recha Freier, a rabbi’s wife who wanted to save Jewish children from the growing Nazi threat. Youth Aliyah coordinators arranged for their resettlement in kibbutzim and youth villages in Eretz Israel that became both their home and school.
Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, became a key backer of Freier’s initiative, and the group has been a major supporter of Youth Aliyah to this day, as have pro-Israel Christians.
In 2005, the ICEJ started assisting Naale students at the request of the Jewish Agency’s senior representative in St. Petersburg, as we expanded our Far Distant Cities initiative to include help for Russian Jewish children preparing to move to Israel. Our efforts soon included Jewish teenagers from Belarus and the Baltic states. In fact, since 2009 the ICEJ has been sponsoring flights, pre-Aliyah logistics and testing, airport transfers, summer camps and other programs for Naale students from throughout the former Soviet republics – even during the Covid years.
Ever since the war erupted in Ukraine in 2014, much of our Naale support has focused on helping with Youth Aliyah seminars and retreats for Ukrainian Jewish teens preparing for life in Israel. These children have not only faced physical harm from the long-running war, but they also have been deprived of a normal childhood.
So, for 26 Jewish youths who just landed in Israel, the trajectory of their lives has greatly improved thanks to our generous Christian supporters around the globe. And with your continuing help, the ICEJ will be sponsoring flights for more Naale students from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics in the coming weeks.