During the late 1970's and early 1980's, the Biblical cry "Let my people go!" was increasingly sounded by Jews and Christians alike for the Jews of the then Soviet Union.

Thousands of Soviet Jews, whose identity and faith had been systematically suppressed by decades of communist dictatorship, had - like the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 - suddenly come alive after the Six Day War with a desire to identify as Jews and to go home to Israel. The Soviet machine, however, disagreed.

Many of these Jewish pioneers (called "refuseniks" for being refused exit visas) were dismissed from employment, physically harrassed and even imprisoned for expressing their newly born desire to return to their Biblical homeland.

As their numbers increased, those allowed to leave were reduced to a trickle. In 1986 the lowest point was reached, when 202 Soviet Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel. One of them was Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, who had become world renown for serving nine years in a Soviet prison as a "spy". Since then the miraculous has happened. For in speaking of God's promises to bring back the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth, the prophet Isaiah declared that God himself "will contend with him who contends with you (Isa. 49:25)." He "will say to the north, 'Give them up!' ". As the great Soviet empire has crumbled, about 650,000 Jews and their relatives have followed Sharansky to Israel.

In the May 1996 election, Sharansky was elected to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) as head of a new political party, which joined the governing coalition. He now holds the position of Minister of Industry and Trade.

Today new immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) constitute about 13 per cent of the population. And their coming has generated the longest and strongest period of economic growth in Israeli history.

Nonetheless, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold, among them would be "the blind and the lame" in disproportionate numbers, who would come "with weeping and with supplications," (Jer. 31).

Most have not come due to Biblical faith or Zionism. Many have not particularly wanted to come, being fearful of the many problems they would face coping with a totally different culture and language.

Yet they keep coming, often with little more than a few suitcases and bundles. For it is God who promised to bring them, and "to plant them in this land with all My heart and all My soul," (Jer. 32:41). Moreover, He has promised to raise up from among the Gentiles those who, as foster fathers and nursing mothers, would lend their arms and shoulders to help bring them home and to support them (Isa. 49:22-23).

This newsletter is about this ongoing miracle. In it, you will read about our efforts in the former Soviet Union and in the land of Israel to affirm the promises of God to the Jewish people, as He brings forth the gifts and calling which can never be revoked (Rom. 11:29).

The "miracle" of the aliya from the former Soviet Union has many aspects. One of them is the way it has been used to bring together Jews and Christians for a common Biblical purpose. We see this happening with new immigrants and veteran Israelis alike. The important thing has been the turning of hearts - on both sides - which does not depend upon prior agreement of every theological conviction, but rather upon a willingness to humble oneself before God and man and let God be God. .

As Christians turn from their historic ignorance and arrogance toward the Jewish people that Paul so strongly warned against in Romans 11 and embrace the purposes and love of God for them, it enables Jewish people to respond in a new way. Then, the two peoples of God, affirmed in the New Testament, can be drawn together like the two sticks of Ezekiel 37.

When Natan Sharansky addressed Christians at the Feast of Tabernacles celebration in 1990, he spoke of how his prison experience had brought him together with a believing Christian, who became his best friend. Sharansky, who the Book of Psalms had helped bring him to faith in God during his ordeal, also became convinced that the two of them were in the "same battle" against the forces of darkness. Truly, the battle for the restoration of Israel in all its fullness is the same battle as for "life from the dead" for the whole world (Romans 11:15).

Yaacov Yulis (pictured right) is an extremely knowledgable orthodox rabbi, born in Mea Shearim, who is also an optician. We have learned much from him. His life was radically changed when he met Christians who had a heart for Israel and the Jewish people.

Now he claims that he was blind himself - that despite all the verses in the Jewish Bible which speak of God using Gentiles to restore Israel, he had never realised that it was happening before his eyes. For years now, he has dedicated his own practice to help thousands of new immigrants - with the help of Christians.

In Yaacov's words: "Seven years ago, my life was revolutionised! Then I was an old man, now I am seven years younger. Even my wife says she fell in love with me again. Before she used to ask me when I came home from work how much money I had made, whether I had problems with customers... Now she asks how many people I helped".

In February Yaacov had a dream about Islamic terrorism. "I saw that behind this terrible, awful thing, something wonderful was actually happening. This common enemy in my dream was being used to help Jews and Christians overcome the seemingly impossible division between us. It gave me such a beautiful feeling."

Usually sceptical about dreams, Yaacov felt this was from God and that he had to share it with us. Two days later the spate of horrific suicide bombings began which changed the course of Israel's history. That same week the Third Christian Zionist Congress was held in Jerusalem, which brought together Jews and Christians in a remarkable way over the issues of aliya and Islamic fundamentalism.

Not long ago, he was interviewed by a television crew and asked whether he believed we were living in the "last days" written about in the Bible. Upon saying yes, he was asked why. "I answered, that the greatest miracle which convinces me, is that Christians from around the world are giving themselves to help the Jewish people."

For this, we give the praise to God. And for Yaacov and other Israelis like him whose hearts have been drawn toward ours, we give much thanks. NEWS REVIEW Former refuseniks move up to Knesset Less than one year ago, former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky founded Yisrael ba'Aliya, a political movement giving top priority to the ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel and the absorption needs of new immigrants. Exceeding most predictions, the party won seven Knesset seats in the recent Israeli elections and two of its members were appointed government ministers. Party head Sharansky was given the powerful Ministry of Industry and another former refuseniksYuli Edelstein received the Ministry of Absorption. For years Sharansky had resisted pressure to seek a Knesset seat, preferring instead to advance new immigrant interests as a non-politician. He also opposed the idea of a party that was essentially new immigrant oriented, not wanting to encourage a separatist mentality. But the times have changed. Russian speaking olim now constitue a sizeable voting block. Moreover, many have been deeply disappointed in broken promises of both Likud and Labour governments. Yisrael ba'Aliya actually has a double meaning: "Israel on the rise" and "Israel for immigration." According to party leader Roman Bronfman, the phrase is intended to convey the sense of Israeli fourishing, thanks to the aliya--to take advantage of the great potential of the new immigrants for the benefit of all Israel. "Although the party was created by immigrants and its basic interests are to protect new immigrants, this is not the whole picture," Bronfman insists. Needless to say, the election results gave new hope and a sense of dignity to multitudes of olim from the FSU. But numbers of Israelis rejoiced as well. Immigration and absorption facts & figures Immigration to Israel from the FSU (former Soviet Union) for the first six months of 1996 totaled 28,755, which is almost identical to figures for the same period during the last four years. From September 1989 through June 1996, FSU immigration amounted to 139,161. The remaining Jewish population of the FSU has dropped significantly due to immigration to Israel. Following are the percentage of Jews in each region who have left for Israel since 1989, along with the approximate numbers of immigrants: Russia - 20.0 % (184,000), Ukraine - 24.0 % (174,500), Belarus - 23.5 % (53,200), Moldova - 47.4 % (39,600), Baltic Republics - 26.7 % (16,400), Central Asia, Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia - 43.8 % (125.400), Unknown (16,700). The aliya from the FSU is the most educated in Israel's history. More than 40% of FSU immigrants have 13 or more years education, compared to 24% of veteran Israelis. 1989-1995 saw the arrival of 68,100 engineers, 14,590 physicians, 1,575 dentists, 15,500 musicians and artists, 14,231 nurses, 1,831 para-medicals, 1,606 pharmacists, 10,950 scientists and 30,900 teachers. The immigration from the FSU is older than the Israeli average: 35,5 % are age 24 and under, as compared to 44% of the veteran population. 13,5 % are 65 or older, as compared to 10,9 % of veteran Israelis. (source: Keren Hayesod - United Israel Appeal - Hotline ¹ 360 & 361) How many Jews still remain? According to a senior government official, there are 1,130,000 individuals remaining in the FSU who are eligible for aliya under the Law of Return. Of that number, about t 700,000 are from families in which both parents are Jewish; 100,000 from families in which the mother is Jewish. The rest are eligible under the Law of Return as the grandchildren of a Jewish grandfather, though they themselves are not Jewish. The official also predicted that the rate of emigration in coming years will not go beyond 50,000 annually. As most Jews in the peripheral countries have already emigrated, the main emigration would be from Russia and the Ukraine. He pointed out that, in the past year, there was a 34 per cent rise in requests for emigration visas, and estimated that more than 25,000 Jews possess exit visas. Since the Jewish community in Russia is rapidly ageing, it it feared that it will cease to exist as a nationale entity within 25 years. (source: Keren Hayesod - United Israel Appeal - Hotline ¹ 362) Bomb damages Moscow synagogue On 22 August a bomb shattered windows, dislodged bricks and knocked over scrolls in a recently rebuilt Moscow synagogue, fueling fears that antisemitism in Russia is on the increase. This was the second bombing of a Russian synagogue this year. According to Rabbi Berel Lazar, the bomb "was obviously the work of someone trying to send us a message that they don't want us around." Many hardliners and nationalists openly blame Jews for the political and economic instability that followed the dismantling of the former Soviet Union. 40,000 unemployed Russian Jews in Germany Since the doors opened for Jews to leave the FSU in 1989, 50,000 have gone to Germany, drawn by cultural and climactic similarities and generous welfare benefits. For the great majority, however, the new life has not been very good. Eighty per cent are unemployed and they are for the most part alienated from society, including the German Jewish community. The Jewish Agency is now launching a new plan to attract them to Israel, where the great majority of new immigrants express satisfaction with their new lives in Israel, despite their problems. Renewing of security restrictions According to an Israeli senior government official, Russia recently tightened the restrictions on the departure of Jews who serve in the army or in security-connected institutions and also began to put obstacles in the way of young Jews of draft age who want to make aliya to Israel. This new Russian policy has for the time being not been given official publicity. Reports received by the Israeli government state that regulations barring army officers and sucurity personnel from leaving Russia before a cooling-off period of five years have passed, are being implemented more strictly. In the past, the Russians did not insist upon the strict implementation of these regulations. The source also noted that the Russians have even begun again to restrict the emigration of Jewish youths of 17-18 who are on the verge of being drafted into the army. Israel is monitoring the situation carefully. During the 1980's, security and military duty were often given as reasons to deny exit visas to Jews. (source: Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry 35's - circular ¹ 15, June 16th 1996)

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