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Aliyah עליה is the Biblical term for ‘going up to Jerusalem.’ It especially referred to the mandatory ‘going up’ to the Temple for the three pilgrim feasts of the Lord’ – Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot) and Tabernacles (Succot).
In these modern times aliyah refers to the return of the Jewish people from their dispersion to settle in their own land, Israel. For nearly 20 years Ebenezer – Operation Exodus has been helping Jewish people, mainly from the former Soviet Union, to make aliyah – to ‘return’ to the land of their forefathers.
The British withdrawal from their mandatory responsibility in what was called Palestine on 14 May 1948 provided the Jewish people with the opportunity to establish their state. Under the leadership of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the first legislation enacted by the State of Israel was the Law of Return whereby all Jewish people were not only welcomed, but encouraged to settle in their ancient homeland.
Traditional Bible interpretation teaches that any prophecy regarding the return of the Jewish people to their homeland was fulfilled in the Jewish return from Babylon in the middle of the sixth century BC at the instruction of the Persian king Cyrus. Such thinking fails to recognise the ‘forever’ of the covenant promise of land that God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. It also ignores the detail spoken by Isaiah that God would ‘reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people’ and this time ‘He … will gather the exiles of Israel … from the four quarters of the earth’ (Isaiah 11:10-12, NIV). The return from Babylon is immediately disqualified – it was only from a north-easterly direction and that was only the first re-gathering.
Isaiah also specifies that this second re-gathering of the exiles will claim global attention as a ‘banner.’ That is indeed the case today: the whole world is aware of this small nation bordering the eastern Mediterranean. However, ‘banner’ is translated from the Hebrew nes, which can also be translated ‘miracle’: an excellent statement of what God is doing.
By the outbreak of World War I, 65,000 Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe had made aliyah to the land of their forefathers. As Europe darkened in the 1930s aliyah escalated. Following the Holocaust, survivors flooded to ‘Palestine’ although few were permitted entry until the gates were opened wide in 1948.
Michael Elkins, a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, described this miracle:
“They came from all of Europe, they came from Russia, from the United States, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Tunisia, from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. They came from places where most people hardly imagined that there could be Jews – from India, from China, from the Hadramaut of Aden, from the mountains and jungles of Ethiopia. They came from 42 countries; from Western cultures, Eastern cultures, from tribal cultures as primitive as those of the Stone Age. They were monogamous, polygamous. They were doctors, lawyers, merchants, goldsmiths, witchdoctors, goat-herders. They hunted with blow-pipes, with clubs, bows and arrows. They were Jews, all of them Jews.”
Since 1948 over three million Jewish people have returned to Israel. During the 1990s one million of them left the former Soviet Union to make aliyah. Since being founded in 1991, Ebenezer has helped many thousands of them to reach the Promised Land and continues to be a key instrument in this miraculous movement as the God of Israel fulfils His promise not to leave any behind: ‘Then they will know that I am the LORD their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind’ (Ezekiel 39:28, NIV).