ICEJ Year in Review 2023
By: ICEJ staff writers
Modern-day Israel turned 75 years old in 2023—what was supposed to be a year of celebration for Israel. Internal divisions, however, dampened the festivities, and then, in one day, all joy dissipated when Hamas terrorists poured into southern Israel on October 7.
Nonetheless, as we reflect over the past twelve months, we see that the ICEJ—thanks to our faithful supporters worldwide—was able to stand strong and bring hope and comfort to all sectors of Israeli society while also helping thousands of Jewish immigrants reach the promised land. We are so grateful for your partnership in this mission and are amazed at what we accomplished together in 2023.
The surge in Aliyah in 2022, largely due to the war in Ukraine, rolled over into 2023. Throughout January, the ICEJ continued to support this urgent wave of ingathering in many innovative ways, such as assisting with Aliyah winter camps for Ukrainian Jewish youth in the safety of the nearby Baltic States. The youth, aged 12 to 17, quickly established friendships, embraced their heritage, and learned all they could about making Aliyah from Israeli counselors.
January 27, 2023, marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and at an event held in Haifa, the ICEJ was recognized in the presence of Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, with an award for our work with Holocaust Survivors. Several dozen residents from the ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors were present—several even took to the stage to perform a special song together.
Meanwhile, our annual Envision Pastors and Leaders Conference drew 100 delegates from 25 countries to Jerusalem, while another 130 joined online. Envision 2023 featured prominent Christian and Jewish speakers from Israel and abroad giving rich biblical teachings and informative briefings on current events, along with visits to key sites in Israel.
On February 1, there was an air of expectancy at Ben Gurion Airport as two flights from Ethiopia arrived carrying Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, young and old. The ICEJ assisted 120 of these new Ethiopian immigrants with pre-flight arrangements and transport to Israel. This occurred even while the ICEJ was still helping hundreds of Ukrainian Jews make Aliyah to Israel one year after the Ukrainian war broke out.
Also in February, shocked by the devastation caused by a massive earthquake in Turkey, Israel rushed to Turkey’s aid. The ICEJ, demonstrating Christian compassion, quickly rallied behind an Israeli relief organization to bring aid—warm clothing, first-aid kits, oxygen tanks, defibrillators, and other emergency medical equipment—to some of the hardest hit areas.
We were busy with Aliyah this month! Recognizing the urgent need to continue helping Ukrainian Jews immigrate safely to Israel, the ICEJ began sponsoring life-saving Aliyah seminars, giving desperate Ukrainian Jewish families a glimmer of hope and a path to safety. And Ben Gurion Airport was a hive of activity again on March 30, as the Christian Embassy welcomed 155 Ethiopian Jews arriving on an ICEJ-sponsored Aliyah flight!
Meanwhile, ICEJ staff were busy preparing and distributing nearly 800 beautiful holiday gift packages ahead of Passover in early April. These gift parcels included towels, soaps, gift cards with voucher coupons, and many other food and household items. Many recipients were new immigrants from Ethiopia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics, as well as Holocaust Survivors, pensioners, single mothers, and families living below the poverty line.
In April the ICEJ supported a weekend Aliyah seminar for young Jewish families in the Baltic States, held at a hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Aliyah seminar drew 52 potential Olim (immigrants) who enjoyed Shabbat together and listened to teachers from Israel sharing about Passover, Shavuot, and the central theme for the weekend: life in Israel.
In addition, the ICEJ assisted a family of five from eastern Ukraine in flying to Israel as part of a medical rescue. The grandfather needed regular dialysis treatment and required special help on this flight. The ICEJ covered the flight costs for all five family members and the urgent medical care and housing needed upon their arrival.
Meanwhile, our ICEJ Homecare team encountered special moments as they visited the elderly immigrants in their care, taking along thoughtful Passover gifts for them to enjoy during this special holiday season.
Israel celebrated turning 75 in May! But sadly, more than 800 rockets and mortars also rained down on southern Israel from Gaza in May—in only three days. As the rocket barrage began, the ICEJ was quick to respond by delivering a mobile bomb shelter to a youth center in the Hof Ashkelon region that first afternoon. During this same time, the ICEJ hosted our annual global leadership conference: 30 ICEJ leaders from 18 nations participated in person in Jerusalem, and another 130 delegates from 50 nations joined us online.
The ICEJ also delivered life-saving equipment to one of Israel’s top medical centers. Thanks to your generous donations, the ICEJ was able to donate a blood warmer and three defibrillators to the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.
Thanks to generous donors, the ICEJ was able to renovate two underground bomb shelters in Kibbutz Dorot, located just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from northeast Gaza. Over the years, these shelters had become unusable; contractors renovated the bathrooms, added a small kitchenette area, gave the shelters a fresh coat of paint, and installed ventilation systems with special pumps that remove moisture from the air to prevent dampness and mold.
The ICEJ also brought relief to an elderly Ukrainian Jewish immigrant by purchasing an air conditioner for her when she was finally able to move into a small one-room apartment. Her long journey began the previous year with a special ambulance from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine to a nearby former Soviet republic, where she needed to update documents to enable her to travel further to Israel. This process took over a month, but she finally flew to Israel accompanied by a medical doctor on an ICEJ-sponsored Aliyah flight.
Also in June, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was recognized for our humanitarian work at a special celebration held by the Joint Distribution Committee and the Felix M. Warburg Society. ICEJ USA National Direction Dr. Susan Michael was on hand to receive the prestigious annual Warburg Award at a gala event held in New York City.
As of July, the ICEJ had sponsored Aliyah flights for over 1,000 Jewish immigrants in 2023, including 180 from Ukraine, 200 from the Baltic States, and 270 from Russia and other former Soviet republics, plus another 375 from Ethiopia. On July 12, ICEJ staff were on the Ben Gurion tarmac, eager to welcome the arrival of 130 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants who were making Aliyah on a flight sponsored by the ICEJ.
Over the summer months of June to August, the ICEJ also sponsored three Baltic Summer Camps in Latvia and Lithuania for Jewish children. In all, over 1,000 Jewish youth participated in the camps, many of them Ukrainian Jews. These camps are essential for helping young people learn about life in Israel and establishing building blocks for future Aliyah.
When Israeli authorities asked the ICEJ to help rescue Ethiopian Jews from fighting in Gondar, we did not hesitate. The Jewish Agency took care of a group of 61 Ethiopian Jews eligible for Aliyah, and the ICEJ helped fund their Aliyah flights to Israel and absorption costs once in the land.
Over the past decade, the ICEJ has donated nearly 200 mobile bomb shelters to vulnerable Israeli communities, most going to towns along the Gaza border area—but by August of last year, we had already placed some 50 shelters in northern Israel. Thanks to the generous donations of a Swiss Christian family, we delivered six new bomb shelters to the town of Shlomi, right on the border with Lebanon, which had been hit by a barrage of Hamas rockets at Passover.
Meanwhile, the ICEJ also sponsored recertification courses for licensing new immigrant doctors to practice medicine in Israel. When hearing about the well-worn conditions of the living quarters of new immigrants at Kibbutz Merchavia, we also stepped in to help renovate the homes to make them more comfortable for these newly arrived Jewish families.
The ICEJ’s staff welcomed 26 Jewish high school students from war-torn Ukraine to Israel, who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in September on a flight sponsored by our supporters worldwide. With these latest arrivals, the number of ICEJ-funded Aliyah flights rose to 813 Jewish immigrants who had left the former Soviet republics for safety and the hope of a brighter future in Israel. Also in September, it was an extra joy for the ICEJ to partner with local Arab Christians to remember and bless Holocaust Survivors with 110 Rosh HaShana gift baskets to start the fall High Holy Days.
Then on September 29, the ICEJ welcomed over 3,000 Christians to Israel for our annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, while several thousand more joined us on our online streaming platform to celebrate under the biblical theme “King of All the Earth.”
October to December
Our weeklong Feast celebration concluded on October 6, and the very next morning, the nation of Israel was shocked and appalled by the treacherous mass infiltration of Hamas terrorists from Gaza on the Jewish high holy day of Simchat Torah. The ICEJ’s response was immediate, with an ongoing three-pronged approach to helping the Jewish nation, which we sustained over the final three months of 2023.
This three-pronged approach included:
- Prayer: A daily online Global Prayer Gathering to pray for Israel that thousands joined each day, plus a 24/7 Rosh Chodesh prayer chain and recurring Esther Fasts
- Solidarity: Public rallies and prayer events to stand in solidarity with Israel hosed by ICEJ branches worldwide
- Relief Aid: Numerous activities and projects to bring war relief aid to Israelis still reeling from the events of October 7 – see list below.
Relief Aid (October – December)
Food and Support for Needy Families
The ICEJ helped with urgent food distribution and humanitarian efforts to assist evacuated Israeli families, the elderly, new immigrants, and other needy families nationwide, including:
- Packing over 14,000 food boxes for evacuated families
- Leasing two delivery trucks to distribute food packages to evacuated and disadvantaged families
- Providing food and water to first responders near the Gaza border
- BBQ cookouts for those defending the country
- Sponsoring a mentoring program and aid basket for 40 vulnerable families from the heavily impacted areas of Ofakim, Ashdod, and Ashkelon
The ICEJ assisted scores of Israeli evacuee families with housing, emergency aid, educational needs, and emotional support, including:
- Providing respite days for 450 evacuees, hosted at Yad HaShmona, for new immigrants living near the Gaza border and other families from the South
- Providing gift cards for 440 evacuee families from Kfar Aza and Sderot
- Hosting 18 evacuees, including providing food and emergency items
- Providing children with basic needs like toys, games, mattresses, first aid kits, food, etc.
- Sponsoring activities, therapy and/or emotional support for some 1,000 evacuee children, some with disabilities
- Supplying computers for children in 10 evacuee families
- Establishing 11 classrooms for evacuated children with equipment and books
- Giving 250 bags packed with toys to children of evacuated families in Haifa.
- Funding the printing of 4,000 books to help traumatized children in evacuated families, published by the already reopened print house in the hard-hit community of Kibbutz Be’eri
The ICEJ made a special effort to assist Holocaust Survivors during this crisis by:
- Purchasing emergency food supplies and a back-up generator for Holocaust Survivors at the Haifa Home
- Providing Survivors with mattresses, toiletries, etc.
- Supplying food for Survivors across northern Israel
Medical and Emergency Equipment
The ICEJ donated medical and emergency equipment, including:
- Protective helmets and vests, search and recovery tools, first aid and medical intervention equipment, and other emergency supplies for 30 paramedics and search and rescue workers
- Four new ambulances, including one for Kibbutz Be’eri
- One new Medi-scooter
- Four medical packs and four defibrillators for security officers in Hof Ashkelon.
- Four new fire-fighting ATVs to combat fires ignited by Hamas rockets hitting the western Negev
- Warm clothing, tents, and other outdoor equipment for those on the frontlines
- More sets of special radio transmitters—like those that helped save thousands of lives on October 7—for communities along the Gaza border
The ICEJ placed more portable bomb shelters and renovated existing underground shelters in the North and South of the country, including nine new above-ground mobile shelters. We also helped renovate 120 existing underground shelters, including 73 shelters in Shlomi, 41 in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, and 6 in central Israel.
The ICEJ sponsored trauma training, counseling, and care for hundreds of Israelis severely shaken by the conflict, such as:
- Providing leadership and resilience training and support for 120 doctors and nurses responsible for over 1,500 medical staff
- Providing trauma therapy and emotional support to evacuated teens and at-risk young adults
- Providing horseback riding therapy sessions and equipment for traumatized children.
- Helping with a PTSD trauma center in the North for IDF veterans and others
- Helping with a treatment center renovation in Jerusalem that cares for hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians suffering from PTSD
Hands-on Volunteer Work
The ICEJ staff engaged in hands-on volunteer work to help Israelis in several areas, including:
- Packing food boxes for over 14,000 evacuees, as well as 4,900 toiletry kits for IDF soldiers
- Visiting wounded IDF soldiers and civilians and giving out 19 gift bags
- Visiting evacuee families from Kfar Aza and sitting shiva (mourning) with them.
- Visiting dozens of elderly and disabled Israelis needing physical and emotional support
- Harvesting fruit trees and crops for farmers in the western Negev.
- Volunteering to drive pregnant women to the hospital to give birth
Many of these urgent war relief efforts over the last few months of 2023 have continued into 2024. We want to thank you so much for your incredible support throughout the year of 2023. It is only because of your generosity that the Christian Embassy achieved all that it did, reaching out to many people to bring hope and comfort to a nation still stunned by the hatred and terror surrounding it. We look forward to continuing our partnership with you in the coming year to meet the needs of the nation and people of Israel.