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A Little Boy’s Heart: For Such a Time as This

editor - 11 March 2021

As Israel releases a major study on the effectiveness of the vaccine, sharing some light and hope with the nations, there is yet much concern in Israel and so, the skies and borders have been put under lockdown. For weeks now, Israeli citizens cannot leave or reenter the country for fear of bringing in new strains of the virus. This is a harsh reality and one that caused us at The Jewish Agency particular concern, if Israelis cannot enter, what will become of Aliyah?

Since the day The Jewish Agency established the State of Israel in 1948, the skies and borders of Israel have always been open for Aliyah. Can it be that the pandemic will change this? Indeed it has.

Thousands of olim that were all set to arrive, that sold their property, left their jobs and were virtually at the door with their suitcases, were held back. And so our work revolved around finding ways to care for and assist them and of course, to reverse this government decision.

I am overjoyed to share, that although not a complete reversal has been achieved, a change in the wind indeed has and in these weeks, we have succeeded to break the blockade, bringing home to Israel some 1,000 olim from countries such as Ethiopia, France, Russia, Ukraine and Latin America.

We are accomplishing this mostly through special evacuation flights, chartered for this task. Of course this runs a significantly higher cost than our normal operation and involves many challenges.

To help make this big story real for you, I’d like to share with you one such story. It is that of a 6 year old boy named Benjamin and a woman named Shira that arrived, together, on the first flight that broke the blockade, arriving from Ethiopia.

Six year old Benjamin was born in Ethiopia with a heart condition that went undiagnosed until recently. It became clear that if he won’t undergo open heart surgery, his life is at grave danger.

This surgery is not available in Ethiopia but actually is in Israel. As a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community, his family has long awaited Aliyah.

Given the urgency of his condition, efforts were made to bring him to Israel in order to save his life.

Everything seemed to be in place – his visa and the hospital waiting to receive him in Israel – but then it was found out that the government of Ethiopia was not prepared to issue his mother a passport fast enough, she couldn’t come with him! We knew that if we didn’t get Benjamin on the flight, he could die.

Without his mother, how could six year old Benjamin board the flight on his own?

And so we struggled within 24 hours to issue a legal guardian status to a relative that was coming on the flight. Benjamin parted from his mother in tears and yet boarded the flight with a hopeful heart. What he didn’t know was that mid-flight, the relative had changed her mind.

She would not accept the role of guardian. Whatever could be done?
This is where Shira comes into the story.

Shira is a dear colleague working at The Jewish Agency. 30 years ago she made Aliyah from Ethiopia as a six year old child with her family on Operation Solomon.

Over two months ago, she left Israel on what was meant to be a 3 week mission to assist with the Aliyah from Ethiopia.

She left behind her husband and 4 children, the youngest one being only 8 years old, sharing with them that she is on a mission to bring members of their community home to Israel.

Due to the civil war in Ethiopia and the lack of flights, this three week mission grew longer and became over two months long. Her family was desperate for her return, concerned that due to the blockage, it might be months until they see her again. Imagine how overjoyed they were, learning that she will soon come home to them, on a special Aliyah evacuation flight.

When the legal guardian of Benjamin stated she will not go through with the plan, Shira immediately realized what could happen: Benjamin would not be allowed to disembark the plane, he would have to return to Ethiopia immediately.

Looking into the eyes of this child, she remembered herself at his exact age, coming on the “metal bird” she was told was actually “wings of eagles” of Operation Solomon and she immediately knew what she must do.

Shira volunteered herself to be guardian of Benjamin and came off the flight holding his little hand, being taken directly to spend 14 days in quarantine with him at the hospital.

Calling her family, her eight year old boy asked her: “Mommy, mommy, you landed? You’re coming home? Please hurry!” Shira replied with tears: “Honey, I am in Israel but it will take a little while longer.

You see a little boy here needs me, his heart is not as strong as yours, he needs urgent surgery and his mother is not with him. I must be with him in her place.”

And indeed Shira has spent this time with little Benjamin as he is leaving quarantine and preparing now for life saving open heart surgery.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the holiday of Purim.  We read from the book of Esther about the horrible edict of death and of the courage of one woman to bring forth life. A woman who knew, that she was not placed in this world, in this place randomly. She was placed in it “For Such a Time as This” Esther 4:14

Thanking you for your support of Aliyah, asking you to go strong in your support and prayers.


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