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Linda Pardes Friedburg
Russian-speaking American Israeli Community-building Mom

From the darkness of war, the light of Aliyah

Vika, who made aliyah to Jerusalem from Kirovograd, Ukraine 12 years ago, helps her parents make aliyah this week. (Linda PardesFriedburg)

“And render a miracle to gather in our exiles, and gather us from the four corners of the earth to our land. Blessed are you God who gathers the dispersed of his nation Israel.” (The Amidah Prayer)

In Ukraine, the world is witness to killing and heart-wrenching tragedies and cold. And here in Israel, God has kept the temperatures exceedingly low and the weather miserable, lest we forget the suffering of so many during this extended Ukrainian winter.

Our purposeful lives in this imperfect world seem to dictate a constantly dissonant reality, so that we never rest on our laurels, and are always aware of the great fixing that needs to be done.

During the ecstatic high of dedicating the Mishkan in this weeks Parsha, and God’s very Presence settling in it, we lose two of Israel’s greatest spiritual leaders, Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu.

Amidst the joy of living in our own beautiful land, we met this week with infuriating tragedy, as four precious Jews were murdered by an Israeli Bedouin terrorist.

And so too, in reverse perspective, there are miracles and rays of light embedded in this horrific war.

We see this on the Ukrainian borders and in countries of refuge (Israel disproportionately leading the way) where armies of kind people are giving their all to alleviate the pains of loss and displacement.

But the greatest current drama for the Jewish people is being played out inside Israel, where so far 7,500 Ukrainian Jews, among 16,000 refugees of war, have finally come home, hopefully to stay.

I witnessed this in the Jerusalem hotels this week, where close to 600 Ukrainian and Russian olim (or aliyah-eligible under the Law of Return) are making their first steps in their new ancient homeland. Along with other volunteers, I helped  families fill out documents to receive their olim status, including the Chutkova family from Kharkov, whose uncle and great aunt live here, whose father had to stay in Ukraine under the draft law, and whose daughter, 14-year-old Alina, studied in the Jewish school in Kharkov and is excited to begin studying in  in a religious high school in Jerusalem.

I also helped lovely Victoria, who made aliyah by herself from Kirovograd 12 years ago, fill out aliyah forms for her parents, who joined her in Israel this week.

Families are meant to be together, including the larger family of Am Yisrael, for as we learned from Rav Kook, the Land of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, only when we are together as a nation in Eretz Yisrael, can Am Yisrael fulfill its manifest destiny in this world.

After 30 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, we must heed these words of our first chief rabbi – who saw the place of every Jew, traditional or secular, from every corner of the world in the building of our Land – beyond the great works of all the  chief rabbis of Ukraine (as we know from this war, there are several) who built thriving Jewish empires on Ukrainian soil and brought back many Jewish souls, because it is indeed time to come home.

And most significantly, we must make our newest olim feel and understand that they are finally home.

This calls for the second miracle that we must work hard to bring about – receiving our Ukrainian and Russian-speaking brothers and sisters with open arms, in our places of work, in our schools, in our communities, and in our homes.

There has been an incredible outpouring of chesed and good will throughout Israel in the form of clothing and necessity warehouses that have been created for the new olim and other amazing grassroots efforts to help absorb this aliyah.

Our organization of Russian-speaking olim in their 20s and 30s, Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli, has signed up over a thousand volunteers across Israel in its olim volunteer database (https://bit.ly/helpolim – please join us!) and we are working constantly with the municipalities to address the immediate needs of the olim.  We have also hired our first professional Russian-speaking volunteer coordinator in Jerusalem to strategically organize the numerous volunteer initiatives and match them with the needs of the olim, and are raising funds for more Coordinators in other cities.

We know that the most important work comes afterwards – integrating the new olim not only professionally, but culturally, socially and spiritually –  so that they know they are a link in the chain of Jewish history and part of a much greater story!

We are already doing our best to integrate them into our communal activities, Friday-Shabbat retreats,  hikes, cultural events, holiday celebrations, and home hospitality. We are grateful to have been doing this for the past 12 years, and that our many-thousand strong community of Russian-speaking olim students, soldiers, and young professionals is rooted, Zionist, and helping build Israel in every field.

This can and will be blessing of this new aliyah – we need only the vision, energy, resources and faith to approach this challenge together.

Shabbat shalom!

About the Author
Linda Pardes Friedburg made Aliyah from New Jersey in 1990. She is Founding Director of Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli National Jewish Leadership Initiative for Young Russian-Speaking Israelis, is grateful for her six kids and one Belarussian husband, and still feels the need to pinch herself every time she drives up the hill to Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, their home since 1994. https://youtu.be/i0cR_j6OLP4 www.en.shishi.co.il EMERGENCY UKRAINIAN/RUSSIAN NEW OLIM CAMPAIGN! https://www.jgive.com/new/en/usd/donation-targets/64189
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