“Thus said Hashem: I will raise My hand to nations And lift up My ensign to peoples; And they shall bring your sons in their bosoms, And carry your daughters on their backs” Isaiah 49:22 (The Israel Bible™)
The Jewish state was a little brighter this past week, as millions of Israelis lit candles each night for eight days in celebration of the Festival of Lights. At Kibbutz Tzuba in central Israel, 30 young immigrants celebrated Hanukkah together, turning what otherwise could have been a lonely, lightless night into one of strength, hope and faith.
“Holidays are for families,” said Yehudah Sharf, director of Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). “Being alone in a new country can feel sad and lonely. That is why we help the olim celebrate the holidays together.”
On Monday, Dec. 18, young adult immigrants studying Hebrew at JAFI’s Kibbutz Ulpan enjoyed a Hanukkah party of holiday treats, songs and dancing. Gifts were donated by Israel365 Charity. The Kibbutz Ulpan program provides intensive Hebrew study to recent immigrants who live in a residential kibbutz setting. They study Hebrew 24 hours a week and work in the fields another 24.
Students such as Aileen Cohen, 25, from Charlotte, N.C., shared stories about why and how they came to Israel. Cohen attended Appalachian State University, where there were only 10 Jewish students on campus. She told Breaking Israel News, “I didn’t want to fight anymore to be different.”
Cohen said she was always the lone Jew amongst her friends. In Israel, she lives and works alongside her Jewish brothers and sisters.
“I hope to get married and raise a family here,” she said.
Today it is legally and financially easier to move to Israel than ever before, said Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder of Israel365, himself an immigrant. Nonetheless, he said the transition from anywhere in the world to Israel is not an easy. Programs, such as those run by JAFI, offer much-needed support that can be the difference between an immigrant’s successful absorption into Israel or his/her return to the Diaspora.
“I bless you that your absorption into Israel should be smooth,” Weisz said in a speech.
The Bible teaches that the Jewish people will be scattered twice and twice will return to Israel, the Promised Land – the first from Babylon and the second from the ends of the earth. The ancient Israelites were first exiled to Babylon and began to return home some two generations later. Then, the Romans forced a second Jewish dispersion out into all nations. Jews wandered for nearly 2,000 years before returning and regaining sovereignty over Israel in 1948.
In Isaiah 43:5-6, God tells the people to “Fear not, for I am with you: I will bring your folk from the East, Will gather you out of the West. Will say to the North, “Give back!” And to the South, “Do not withhold! Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the end of the earth” back to Israel.
But the Jews didn’t and will not come back to Israel on their own. Rather, non-Jews – “the nations” – serve a role in what is commonly known as the the ingathering of the exiles to Zion.
“Thus said Hashem: I will raise My hand to nations And lift up My ensign to peoples; And they shall bring your sons in their bosoms, And carry your daughters on their backs” (Isaiah 49:22).
JAFI has worked together with non-Jews around the world since before the founding of the State of Israel to help ensure the vision of a prosperous Jewish return to the Holy Land became a reality. The organization continues to serve as the government’s official partner in these efforts.
Since 1948, JAFI brought to Israel more than 3 million olim. Today, according to JAFI’s website, the organization assists in the immigration of around 30,000 new olim each year.
JAFI has supported a small number of lovers of Zion to come and learn in Israel too.
At the Hanukkah party, Sophie Obersteiner, 26, from Germany said she came to Israel to “work toward reconciliation between Germans and Jews.”
“God has given me so much love for the Jewish people,” said Obersteiner, a Christian. “I have a longing for God to use me to help His people.”
She continued, “I love learning Hebrew because the Torah is written in Hebrew and I love reading the Bible in its original language.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel. Sign up to receive updates from JAFI – click here.