A Letter from Natan Sharansky

By Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive, The Jewish Agency for Israel

Last week, I was in Russia and the Ukraine – spending one day each in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Dnepropetrovsk. In each place, I met with participants in The Jewish Agency’s wide range of programs, as well as spent time with our shlichim and local staff members. I had many interesting discussions, and I would like to share my impressions with you.

First and foremost, it is clear that the hopes for dramatic improvement in Russia and romantic expectations from the revolution in Ukraine are now behind us. The rapid increase in Aliyah from Russia—particularly Moscow—and Ukraine will continue for the foreseeable future. And it is in this part of the world that we see clearly how our continuum of programs and experiences truly works, and that the new programs we have opened in recent years complement one another.

Our camp experiences in the FSU enriched the lives of some 8,500 children in 2015. About 3,000 young people attended our Sunday schools and 5,900 individuals participated in our Hebrew classes. More than 3,000 joined our Israel experience programs, including some 2,000 in Masa Israel Journey and more than 1,100 in Taglit-Birthright Israel. Hundreds more participated in our youth Aliyah programs and some 1,500 in our Aliyah programs for adults. Most strikingly, perhaps, more than 88,800 people participated in Aliyah consultations with Jewish Agency staff and 56,600 joined other Aliyah-related activities. And, of course, Aliyah rates continue to climb steadily, with more than 15,000 immigrants expected to arrive from Russia and Ukraine by the end of the year, up from 11,800 in 2014. The movement from participation in Jewish Agency summer camps and seminars to community activism and involvement in Sunday school programs, and from there to Israel experience programs, professional programs, and finally Aliyah is clear and direct – this is our continuum of experiences at work.

During my trip to Ukraine, I visited our refugee center outside of Dnepropetrovsk. More than 1,300 Jewish refugees from the embattled regions of eastern Ukraine have passed through the center, receiving accommodations and Aliyah preparation services before continuing on to Israel. Our Christian partners have been invaluable in helping rescue the Jews from cities like Donetsk and Lugansk, in many cases physically spiriting them out of battle zones to the safety of our facilities. I had the opportunity to meet with several of the Christian organizations helping us in the field. We are deeply grateful to them, as we expressed in our February Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem.

Last Tuesday night, I joined dozens of new French immigrants in lighting the third candle of Chanukah immediately upon their disembarkation from their flight from Paris to Israel. More than 8,000 French immigrants have arrived in Israel so far this year, a 10% increase compared to the same point in 2014. In all, we expect global Aliyah figures to exceed 30,000 by the end of the year, a fifteen-year record. The reasons these immigrants are leaving their countries of origin may vary, but the reason that Israel is their first choice is to a great extent the deep connection to Israel and to Jewish life fostered by Jewish Agency programs and by our dedicated professionals in Israel and around the world. After reading this, I hope you will feel the same pride that I do.

It goes without saying that all of this would not be possible without the dedicated partnership of JFNA, KH and WZO.

Shavua tov, Chodesh Tov and on this eighth day of Chanukah, Chanukah Sameach- חג אורים שמח!


Add Comment