The real story of the modern-day Jewish return to Israel
Adapted from a 2021 article written by David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman.
In his book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”, journalist Ari Shavit writes how the State of Israel was established by European Jews who were orphaned by the Holocaust. Many parents
sent their children ahead to Palestine in the 1930s but never made it themselves.
“Zionism was an orphans’ movement, a desperate crusade of Europe’s orphans”, writes Shavit. “As the unwanted sons and daughters of the Christian continent fled the hatred of their surrogate mother, they
discovered they were all alone in the world… Having lost one civilisation, they had to construct another. Having lost their homeland, they had to invent another. That is why they came to Palestine, and why they now cling to the land with such desperate determination.”
Most of the estimated 3.5 million Jews who have immigrated to Israel over the past 140 years have arrived destitute and needing assistance to survive their first years. This fits the vision of the last-day Ingathering of Israel proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah: “What will they answer the messengers of the nation? That the Lord has founded Zion, and the poor of His people shall take refuge in it.” (Isaiah 14:32).
• The modern-day Ingathering began in the 1880s, when Jews from southern Russia fled ongoing pogroms by leaving everything behind and set out walking towards Jerusalem, the direction of which they knew because they had always prayed facing the holy city.
• As soon as Israel gained its independence in 1948, the nation reached out to bring in Jewish refugees who had been denied entry under the British Mandate, especially the 250,000 Holocaust survivors, primarily European Jews, still in displacement camps across Europe. They had lost everything. The struggling young nation of 660,000 therefore, was required to absorb huge numbers of penniless ‘outcasts and orphans’.
• Then, following Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence, many Arab countries began expelling Jewish communities that had lived in their midst for over 2,000 years. In the early 1950s, more than 800,000 Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews (of Spanish and Middle Eastern origins) began flooding into Israel, many by foot and stripped of all possessions. Although many had lived as prosperous business people, they had to leave all behind and spent the next several years living in tents. The nation managed to absorb this massive wave of destitute refugees.
• At about the same time, the ancient Yemenite Jewish remnant also felt a drawing back to the Promised Land and they came by foot with few possessions in hand. When escape routes were blocked, Israel rescued about 50,000 Jews in secret operations.
• The next major wave of Aliyah came when the Soviet Union collapsed and over one million Russian-speaking Jews were free to come home to Israel during the 1990s. The authorities severely limited the amount of money and goods they could take with them. Neither could they sell their homes or goods as neighbours knowing it could all be purchased on the cheap once they left. There are stories of Soviet Jewish olim throwing their last few useless rubles and kopeks on the tarmac once they landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. Before Moscow allowed direct flights to Israel, ICEJ facilitated overland routes and accommodation for Soviet Jews. We have continued to sponsor flights and also care for many elderly Russian and Ukrainian Jews through our Homecare Program.
• The Jews from Ethiopia were airlifted in large numbers in secret operations beginning in the 1980’s. Waves of Ethiopian Jews have continued to come from their subsistence farming lives into an unfamiliar 21st century culture with little skills to help them earn a livelihood in Israel. ICEJ has sponsored many flights of Ethiopian Jews and assisted in their settling into their new Homeland.
• As is the case all across Europe, antisemitism, including deadly attacks, have seen Jewish synagogues, day schools, museums and community centres, particularly in France, become like fortresses, with metal detectors and heavily armed guards posted outside. Of the 500,000 Jews left in France today, nearly three-fourths come from Jewish families who escaped from North Africa during colonial uprisings in the 1950s and 60s and settled alongside Muslim refugees in the same poorer neighbourhoods of Paris, Marseilles and other French cities. However, the radicalisation of Muslim youth has led to increased antisemitism towards their Jewish neighbours. ICEJ has sponsored flights of disadvantaged families wanting to start a new life in Israel.
Still today, there are many Jews making Aliyah to Israel who are struggling and need help in restarting their lives in the Land of Promise. So, we are there to help, knowing that Israel, after all, is a country built by orphans and outcasts regathered from Gentile nations. Indeed, “The Lord, has founded Zion, and the poor of His people shall take refuge in it.” (Isaiah 14:32)
Please support the ICEJ’s ongoing Aliyah efforts. Donate today!