- Bringing the War Home
- This Present Darkness
- My Experiences Volunteering in Haifa
- Download April Newsletter
Bringing the War Home
by Hannah Tekle
It has been just over a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022. In March of 2022, the number of Ukrainians coming to our humanitarian aid center rose dramatically. Many had received refugee visas of three months or more depending on the Israeli government’s judgment. Those who came as refugees longed to return and have been waiting in limbo for the fighting to let up, but the war has raged on.
For the first four months or so, those arriving were in shock and traumatized from the atrocities and difficulties that had witnessed and experienced. Together with the government and many other organizations, Tents of Mercy mobilized to assist them. We were grateful for the opportunities to listen to and love on the shell-shocked human beings coming out of Ukraine. As the fighting continued, and Putin called for mobilization of reserves for escalated fighting, a new group of people began coming – Russian Jews and descendants of Jews who were making Aliyah in order to escape the Russian military draft and a political regime that they didn’t agree with.
The immigrants arrived in large numbers from St. Petersburg and Moscow. They were not allowed to come directly to Israel from Russia, so they came through Poland, Turkey, Georgia and Moldova. These young, professional, secular families were escaping however they could – desperate to get away from Putin’s politics and a deadly war they did not believe in.
Among these new arrivals was Peter. He and his family were from Siberia. Just prior to the onset of the war, he visited all the political parties with policies contrary to Putin and went to multiple demonstrations. He was constantly worried that the KGB would come for him, but they never did.
Like many others, Peter and his family “took a vacation” to Turkey and then immigrated to Israel directly from the airport, doing quick aliyah upon arrival. Quick aliyah is a good option for those who have sufficient documentation about their Jewish background. Coming in as tourists, they can apply for citizenship under the Law of Return immediately upon arrival at the Israeli airport. This law grants people with one or more Jewish grandparents the right to receive Israeli citizenship. Especially under refugee type circumstances, quick aliyah is a terrific route for immigration. Straight from the airport, families are given one month of free health insurance, a paid taxi to their requested destination and a SIM card. If they don’t have a place set up to stay they are given paid lodging for a week.
And that’s where we come in. Tents of Mercy receives calls from all over our local “Krayot” and Haifa area, but we also receive queries directly from Russia and Ukraine. People hear about us from word of mouth – or as they say here in Israel – “a friend brings a friend.” They call and often come right away, and we are here to fill needs that the country and the municipality are not able to fill. In this last year we were able to bless over fifty refugee and immigrant families with a “basic household goods package” for new arrivals.*
When apartments are found, those in need can come and take what they lack – beds, dressers, tables, chairs, mattresses and more. We have functioned as a humanitarian aid center since our inception in 1995, but this last year has been a noteworthy one. Following the war on the news from afar is one thing, but hearing about it firsthand from those who have fled and being a direct source of provision for refugees from both sides is something else entirely.
Why Our Town of Kiryat Yam?
Strategically we are in an excellent spot to do what we do. According to our distribution director, many if not most of the immigrants and refugees come to Netanya or to our area, the town of Kiryat Yam. The Mediterranean Sea is a big attraction, but the socioeconomic climate of the Krayot is also a significant factor. There is already a large Russian speaking community here and rents in this area are much more affordable than the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor and even Haifa.
Since last fall, about 70% of our recipients have been from Ukraine and about 30% from Russia, and daily we see more and more immigrants. After the initial help we are able to give, families are invited to return to us after six months in the country when their initial government stipend finishes. At that point they can sign up to receive a year of monthly food baskets. (We serve 200 families on a consistent basis with a waiting list of 30-40.)
There is such an influx of immigration at this time that the waiting lists in the government agencies for services like language school and immigrant housing are long and tedious. The help we offer goes a long way towards assisting these families in getting established in apartments, jobs and even experiencing Israeli holidays. One of the new immigrant families who came to our recent Purim Party said she was excited to experience it for the first time and was eager to get to know the Israeli customs and holidays.
Not Just a News Item but Real Life
Svetlana and Vlad (not their real names) arrived in May from Kharkov. She was incapacitated with a back injury when they came and had to arrive by special transport that allowed her to lie down during her entire journey to Israel. When they came to our center and were receiving initial assistance, she asked who we are. When she realized that the humanitarian aid center was also a Messianic Congregation, Svetlana became very excited and shared that they were believers. They are now enthusiastic participants in the congregation and are putting down roots in their new country.
We are all used to seeing and reading news about things that happen far away, but in the meantime, those far away events are striking very close to home for many. We hope these stories are a window for you into how global realities are touching our daily lives.
* Basic household goods package contains a set of pots and pans, set of dishware, silverware, sheets, towels, microwave, electric kettle, and market cart.
This Present Darkness
By Guy Cohen
In recent weeks I have received many questions about the political turmoil and controversial judicial reforms in Israel.
When I look at Israel today I see signs of chaos, and I see how we are losing the ability to dialogue respectfully. It’s reminiscent of the days before the flood when “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
Yet at the same time as sin increases, we see that God’s grace and righteousness are increasing. “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)
Yeshua speaks about these difficult times in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. When we look at the world today, we see many crises taking place before our eyes – from earthquakes and famines, to wars and rumors of wars. Yet, remember that we as His followers are the apple of His eye and “His eyes are searching to and fro throughout the earth looking for those whose hearts are wholly with Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
My brothers in the Lord, even though we are witnessing the world growing darker; remember that the Lord is calling us to bring His light into this very darkness, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Let us be filled with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. May our lamps be shining and continually filled with oil (Matthew 25). We are the ones called to intercede and seek for His Spirit to come so that His Kingdom wonders will break through. Indeed, I see growth in the house of God and I see people coming to drink from the spring of living water.
Let us be the generation that proclaims the return of our Lord. May we see Him coming, bringing the heavenly Kingdom to earth where he will sit on His throne in Jerusalem. Yeshua is the only one who can bring peace between man and God, between man and man, and between nations. He is the Prince of Peace.
His eyes are looking upon you, even and especially in this present darkness. “Arise, shine for your light has come… Behold, darkness will cover the earth, and a deep mist will cover the nations. Yet, the LORD will dawn over you…” (Isaiah 60:1)
My Experiences Volunteering in Haifa
By Norman Patrick
I was working in the humanitarian aid clothing warehouse sorting and hanging clothes. We had just finished checking out some boots that were donated. I am certain they were brand new. We were placing them on a rack when we noticed that one of the young mothers had her eyes on those boots. We suggested that she try them on, and they were just her size! Those boots will last a long time and keep her feet warm on chilly days and nights. The smile of joy that came over her face when she realized the boots were meant for her was so rewarding!
You might be wondering who I am and how I ended up volunteering at Return to Zion’s center. I live in the United States and act as an emissary on behalf of their ministry. It is my responsibility to speak with people and congregations in the US and raise support and awareness. To ensure that I have first-hand experience of the humanitarian work they are doing in Israel, I felt it necessary to come visit and serve alongside the other volunteers.
Although my intention was to bless the needy by being the hands of the LORD toward them, I found that I also received joy and blessing while serving, It is truly more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Employees alongside volunteers, work together to fill the many needs amongst the refugees, Holocaust survivors and new immigrants – from providing food and clothing to delivering hot meals to those who cannot leave their homes. Music lessons are also being given to young students daily at the ministry center which is the hub for all congregational and humanitarian activities.
During the Shabbat worship services I was intrigued to see how the meetings were not just a group of disconnected people gathering for a few hours on Shabbat. They were a spiritual family gathering together to worship the LORD in fullness and joy.
During my time in Haifa, I was privileged to witness the engagement announcement of a newly-betrothed couple, a wedding, and a Bar Mitzvah. There were special evenings when I was welcomed into congregants’ homes for Erev Shabbat family meals. I was also present during the celebration of Purim, and I wish I could have been there for Passover. These events highlighted to me the importance of friends and families celebrating significant biblical feasts and life occasions together.
If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit Shavei Tzion and join their celebration of Biblical feasts. All are welcome, and every effort is made to provide a translation into your native language.
I am grateful to the LORD for bringing me in as a co-laborer with Leon Mazin and Shavei Tzion. I can rightfully call them my Israeli family. We are one in the Body of Messiah Yeshua.