Making aliyah—the dream of a Jewish family to return to Israel, the land of their forefathers—is an exciting event in the lives of new immigrants coming to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Haifa, Beersheva, and countless other communities across Israel. But such a drastic move also involves plenty of practical considerations. There’s only so much you can pack in your suitcase, after all, and though you might like to take the kitchen sink, airline baggage regulations limit how much you can put in your luggage!
If you’ve ever moved, you have a small idea how huge a life-change such a move as this is. But add to your move the fact that you can’t communicate with anyone because you don’t know the new language, and your arrival has just become much more complex. Everything you first need starts with filing paperwork through numerous governmental offices. Where are they located? How do you get there? Will they understand you? In the meantime, your family needs to eat, but you own not one pot to cook with. It’s winter, and though you might have a bed to sleep on, you may not have linen or blankets yet, or you may have one blanket but need five for the whole family.
Faced with all these practical needs, the euphoria of this move-of-a-lifetime quickly fades into discouragement unless a friendly neighbor (who hopefully speaks your language) or government official (who is unusually kind) provides some extra assistance…or if another new immigrant tells you about Bridges for Peace. Through our Welcome Program, generous Christian donors from around the world provide immigrants with some of the basics they need to start life over “from scratch” in their new homeland.
Each item of the gift package is important to them. Pots, pans, and kitchen utensils can be expensive in local stores, so receiving a starter set free is a great help in stretching a few shekels to meet so many needs. During the winter months, parents are relieved to receive blankets that will keep their children warm. Most immigrants are delighted to receive a Bible—the Jewish Scriptures (or the Tanach, the Old Testament)—which is available in Russian, Spanish, and English, alongside Hebrew. Children who arrive during a school session, of course, need a few basic supplies for their first days in school, so our school kits are eagerly received. Each gift includes a card with the name and country of origin of the sponsors who donated the item, giving the gift a very warm, personal touch.
“You don’t know how much this means to me,” said one immigrant from South America. “I live in an absorption center [special government-funded housing for new immigrants]. I’ve been in Israel for three days, and I had no idea where to buy pots and pans for my kitchen. I was crying because I didn’t know what to do, but then someone told me about Bridges for Peace. Now I have what I need to make a meal for myself and my children.”
“Thank you so much for giving this to us,” said Svetlana, an elderly lady who recently moved from Russia to Israel. “These gifts are such a big help to us, I can’t even explain it.”
Just over a year ago, distribution of most of BFP’s immigrant gifts moved to our assistance center in Karmiel, just 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Lebanese border. What a blessing it has been to serve the sizable immigrant community living in the North! In fact, the Karmiel center has seen the number of families receiving help through this program increase by 300% since October 2009! But this program is well-known throughout the country. Sometimes, we also receive groups of 15–20 from absorption centers in Beersheva and Ashdod far to the south.
Word about the program has even spread to Hebrew language classes in nearby cities. On several occasions, we have been thrilled to host immigrants who arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in the morning and stopped by our distribution center for their welcome gifts in the afternoon. Many times, these new immigrants are adopted by BFP sponsors for their first year in the Land through our Adoption Program. Long after that year is finished, the friendship established with Bridges for Peace is remembered because we cared during a very traumatic time in their lives.
Many Scriptures from the Old Testament address the needs of the poor: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother” (Deut. 15:7). Several proverbs give wise counsel concerning our relationship to the poor. “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy” (Prov. 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (19:17 ). “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard” (21:13).
Yeshua’s (Jesus’) heart was for the poor also. He expected His followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned (Matt. 25:34–46). James tells us, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (1:27). Many new immigrants fall into this category. We assist a large number of single mothers; of all immigrants, they must bear the heaviest load. Making such a big move is also very hard for the elderly. Greeting them not only with gifts, but a friendly smile and welcoming words is very encouraging to them…especially when Russian immigrants can be greeted in Russian by our bilingual staff!
Jewish people are very good at taking care of their poor, but they cannot handle all the needs of 1.6 million who live under the poverty line—many of whom are new immigrants. Though the government provides some generous benefits for new immigrants, they cannot provide everything that’s needed to start over. When you consider that many immigrants come with only a few suitcases of clothes, you can understand how needed and appreciated our practical gifts are to them.
If you would like to bless a new Israeli with blankets, kitchen sets, Bibles, and school kits, consider giving a donation of any size for our Immigrant Welcome Gifts fund. In so doing, you will be fulfilling God’s commands to help the poor. Let’s join hands with our Jewish friends and say to their newcomers, “Welcome! God cares…and Christians care too.”
In His Service,
Rebecca J. Brimmer
International President and CEO
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