As Ukraine's political turmoil spreads, the number of Ukrainian Jews immigrating to Israel has doubled this year, mostly from restless eastern regions. The uptick comes amid reports ofan attack on a synagogue, the attempted assassination of a Jewish mayor, and an apparent threat to force Jews in Donetsk to register.
According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, overall immigration from Ukraine has more than doubled to 777 in the first four months of this year, with particular spikes from Odessa (315 percent), Simferopol (294 percent), and Dnepropetrovsk (266 percent). How much of this movement is driven by a desire for a better life, rather than a fear of persecution is debatable, but the trend is hard to miss.
Another 19 Ukrainian Jews arrived in Israel today. While that may be a drop in the bucket compared to the 16,884 immigrants that Israel took in last year, the Ukrainians' relocation is noteworthy because of its benefactor, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ).
In six weeks of fundraising, ICEJ has already raised enough money to bring 100 Ukrainian Jews to Israel, continuing a biblically-inspired aid program that has helped 115,000 Jews settle here over the past few decades.
The reason? They see such work as fulfilling biblical prophecy of the return of the Jews to Israel some 2,000 years after they were scattered to other lands. Some evangelical Christians see the Jews' return as a prerequisite to the second coming of the Messiah.
Helping Jews to immigrate is also a gesture of gratitude to the religion from which Christianity sprung – a gratitude which was sorely lacking historically, says ICEJ media director David Parsons.
“It is in gratitude for all that we received from the Jewish people,” he explains. “It’s also a certain humility … because while Jews were dispersed, Christians treated them worse than probably anyone else. So we sort of owe them a moral debt.”
ICEJ is one of the largest proponents of Christian Zionism, a largely evangelical movement that sees support for Israel as a divine calling.
Israel is increasingly tapping this wellspring of support to protect its interests everywhere from Congress to the United Nations, potentially softening or reversing the stance of countries such as Brazil that have not traditionally supported Israel.
ICEJ also brought over a plane full of French immigrants last summer, and has more than 200 Jews from India arriving in the coming weeks.
Upper echelons in Israel
Jews from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, make up nearly 1 million of Israel's 5.6 million Jews. Of those, about a third are Ukrainian. While some live in poor, peripheral areas of the country, a significant number have reached the upper echelons of science and politics, including Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin.
For Christian Zionists, seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises – such as Isaiah’s prophecy of the “gather[ing] together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” – helps strengthen their own trust in the divine.
“The same God who promised me certain things under New Testament, he’s the same God who made certain promises to them under their covenant,” says Parsons. “It strengthens our faith when we see these Jews coming from around the world.”