I just returned from a quick trip to Israel where I had the opportunity to visit Sderot, an Israeli town which is located about a mile and a half from the Gaza border. This little city of almost 30,000 people has been hit hard over the years by rockets and missiles unleashed by Hamas. The citizens of Sderot are primarily Russian Jews who emigrated during the last couple of decades from the Former Soviet Union. Many are elderly and moved to Israel after the fall of the USSR, as they wanted to live out the rest of the years in a Jewish country.
The lives of Jewish people living in the Former Soviet Union were marked by difficulty and discrimination. The move to Israel for many of these Russian Jewish people was an opportunity to finally live someplace where they could no longer be mistreated for their Jewish heritage and to find some peace and security for the rest of their days.
However, this has not been the experience of the Russian Jewish immigrants living in Sderot. For more than a decade their lives have been anything but stable. The small town of Sderot is known for having bomb shelters 10 seconds apart because there is so little time between the launching of a rocket and the moment of impact. Over the last number of years, the government of Israel has retrofitted most of the apartment buildings with its “safe rooms.” So as long as these elderly residents remain in their apartments they are safe.
However, if they happen to be walking around outside of their homes then they are often in harm’s way, especially during seasons of intensive attack as was just experienced during this past summer. There were days when 30–40 rockets fell on Sderot. During this time, the elderly Russian Holocaust survivors stayed in their apartments isolated for days and weeks on end.
During my brief visit I spent quite a bit of time with two Holocausts survivors. One of these elderly ladies left her village in Ukraine for Russia where she was safe from the Nazis throughout the rest of World War II. The other was only five years old when the Jewish people in her village were massacred. She survived and was taken care of by a Gentile woman who raised her. After Perestroika, both women, one in her late 50s and the other in her early 70s, left Ukraine and moved to Israel.
Sderot was a good option for them since it was inexpensive and had a strong Russian speaking community. Moving to Israel at an elderly age, these women felt it was better to be around other Russian speakers as they knew it would be very difficult to learn Hebrew.
Both of these remarkable women are part of a network of Holocaust survivors in Israel. There are currently fewer than 200,000 survivors and unfortunately tens of thousands of these dear people are passing away each year. Many are poor and living on government assistance, some are receiving repatriation funds from Germany and quite a few – especially if they do not have children living in Israel – are very lonely and in great need of companionship.
For so many of us, including myself, they remind me of my grandma and grandpa – my bubbe and zayde (a little Yiddish!). Our ministry has supported these Holocaust survivors by taking them on trips within Israel and to other countries, giving them opportunities to celebrate the Jewish holidays, providing substantial amounts of food staples and much more.
It is also understood that it is against Israeli law to try and “persuade” those we are providing with material support of a different religion. We easily abide by these rules as eventually once relationships are built, these precious people ask a lot of questions about our faith in the Messiah and we are free to speak to them – as long as it is not during a time when we are distributing foods or other types of goods to them.
Many of the survivors have become moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas for so many on our ministry team. These relationships have become quite close and we have developed a very deep sense of love for one another over the last 10 to 15 years, as we have gotten to know one another.
While driving one of these elderly women from Jerusalem to Sderot we had a long conversation in the car about God. This very bright, 90+ year-old woman, who has participated in many of our trips and local events told me that she believes that Jesus is the Messiah in her heart, but is struggling to understand this with her mind. I was a bit stunned by her telling us this since I had not really asked her the question – she took the initiative. We had a great discussion about the meaning of faith and I do hope and pray that she will continue in her pilgrimage. Personally, I believe she is much closer than she thinks!
We have invited one of our Israel staff members to come to New York City and join us for a Hanukkah-Christmas Fellowship Banquet on Saturday night December 6 at the beautiful Canoe Studios on the West Side of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. We will be raising funds that evening for the work we are doing to help these elderly Holocaust survivors in Sderot and in other cities in Israel. I could use your help in getting the word out and so please feel free to send the website along to both Christians and Jewish people you believe might want to attend.
If you live close by, I hope you will consider attending. This will be an especially wonderful evening as Marty Goetz, a well-known Messianic Jewish recording artist, will be performing his original songs as well as traditional Hanukkah and Christmas music. It is going to be a spectacular evening and I hope that we are able to continue to raise considerable funds to help improve the quality of life, both physically and spiritually, for these Holocaust survivors.
Please visit: chosenpeople.com/holidaybanquet for more information.