31 May 2022
Last week, I traveled to Israel with a cross-denominational rabbinic delegation led by our local Jewish Federation. On the first morning of our short, three day trip, we met Visily and his 16-year-old son Mikhael. They are among 20,000 Ukrainian and Russian Jews who have come on aliyah since the outbreak of the war. This also means that in 2022, Israel will double its average annual number of new citizens!
A year ago, Visily’s wife, who was adopted as a child, was contacted for the first time by her birth mother. The woman lived in Yerushalyim, and was Jewish, which meant that Visily’s wife and children suddenly became aware that they were all Jewish. Over the past year, mother and daughter corresponded, and finally arranged a reunion. Mom flew from Israel and landed in Ukraine on February 22. It was an instant connection. Two days later, the war broke out.
The family all managed to escape across the border in a nightmarish journey that took days. They decided to leave everything behind – their jobs as university professors, their friends, and their property. They felt called to Israel – a country that was now a place to call home. Today, Visily’s wife is reunited with a mom and a sister she has never known, Mikhael is a proud Jew, sporting his new kippah, and Visily told us that they have no intention to go back to Ukraine.
It has not been an easy journey since February 24, but they are settling in, and incredibly now a part of the miraculous story that is Israel.
This Sunday, we will celebrate another miracle in the 1967 reunification of Yerushalyim. As we raise our voices in Hallel, I will be thinking of the reunification of Visily’s family in the Holy City, and the beacon of light and hope Yerushalyim represents for all the 20,000 new olim, and so many more.
Rabbi Uri Topolosky, Kehilat Pardes