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With ‘boots on the ground,’ Bridges for Peace helps Ukrainian Jews flee war-torn country for a new beginning in Israel

President and CEO of Bridges for Peace sits down for an interview with Christian journalist Paul Calvert

Illustrative - Jewish Ukrainians who fled war zones in Ukraine, arriving on a rescue flight at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, March 17, 2022. (Photo: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

With a network in Ukraine and all throughout the former Soviet Union even prior to the Russian invasion last month, Bridges for Peace – a Jerusalem-based Christian organization that supports Israel – was able to quickly step in and offer assistance immediately when refugees began heading to the Jewish state.

“We’ve helped 86,000 people make aliyah in the last 25 years, so we already had boots on the ground with our Christian partners there,” said Rev. Rebecca Brimmer, international president and CEO of Bridges for Peace. “So immediately, as soon as we heard the news of the first shots, we got in touch with our network and asked them exactly what they needed and how we could help.”

Bridges for Peace is well known throughout Israel due to its relationships with 23 different municipalities and its work with many NGOs and government agencies.

Brimmer said some of the Bridges for Peace staff are Ukrainian and have been in touch with their networks on the ground in the war-torn country early on during Russia’s initial invasion.

“When the first bombs were going off, we were on an outing with our staff to see the beautiful flowers down near the Gaza Strip,” Brimmer explained. “And we had some Ukrainian people on our staff and all of a sudden, they're coming to me with their phones and showing me live videos, friends. And immediately, I got in touch with our head guy, Viktor, in Kyiv and with a guy Mel that’s overseeing the whole operation. We call it Project Rescue. And I was amazed because none of our workers – we call them fishers because of Jeremiah 16 – none of them left.”

“In fact,” she continued, “they were all offered to go to safety – go to another country – and not a single one left because they said, ‘You know what? This has been our calling from God; to help the Jewish people come home. And why would we leave now, in the hour of greatest need?’”

Rev. Rebecca Brimmer, international president and CEO of Bridges for Peace (Photo courtesy)

Bridges for Peace is helping Jews get out of Ukraine and into Israel, but Brimmer said it has been difficult.

“The railway seems to be one of the most secure ways to get out because bridges have been bombed. If you try to get out with your car, you sometimes can't even get from one city to the next. People have fled from cities into the country. Some of the people that we've been hearing stories about have ended up walking. People are arriving at the borders with hungry hypothermia, many, many problems because not just are they traumatized – which they're all traumatized ­–  but they're hungry.”

Brimmer became emotional as she described the hardship the refugees are facing, which reminded her of what she once learned as a child about the Holocaust.

“Most people are coming with a small bag because they had to get into those trains…there's no room. They are telling people there's no room for luggage, so people are coming with a backpack. People with babies…they don't…there's no room for strollers. You know, they're carrying them in their arms. And one person that I heard from said that the train trip was something like 18 to 20 hours and they were jammed so closely together they can hardly move.”

Bridges for Peace is partnering with major Jewish organizations, including Keren Hayesod, to provide air transport for Ukrainians who are trying to flee the war. She said of the 140 passengers that arrived recently, there were almost no men because the Ukrainian government said anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay and fight. Instead, there were lots of mothers with young and middle-school aged children, as well as elderly people.

“And as they walked off of that plane, there was just a real weariness,” Brimmer continued. “I felt like they were just so exhausted. And then there was this whole feeling of sadness, because all of these women with the responsibility of children arriving in a new country, leaving a war-torn reality. None of them know if or when they'll see their husbands again. I imagine there will be many, many widows that Israel will be caring for in the coming years.”

Brimmer was encouraged to see that several people brought their pets.

“They’re fleeing for their lives, but they didn’t abandon their furry friends,” she noted mentioned the four dogs, three cats and one chicken on board.

The Bridges for Peace office in the northern city of Carmiel recently welcomed 300 new Ukrainian immigrants, but lacks the needed supplies to give them.

“We are getting quotes for blankets and sheets and towels. And the place that they’re going to put them is apparently a five-story building. So, they've also asked for five microwaves, five vacuum cleaners and five computers because they want people to be able to continue to communicate with people outside of Israel,” Brimmer stated.

Russian Christian Friends of Bridges for Peace reported that life there is also becoming increasingly difficult. Planeloads of Russian Jews are apparently also landing in Israel, despite President Vladimir Putin’s reported steps to limit the exodus of Jews.

“I have heard that [Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett], when he went to Russia, that one of the things he asked Putin was to let the Jewish people come out freely. But I’m hearing mixed messages. I’m not sure what’s going to happen there,” Brimmer said.

With Passover on the horizon, the parallels between Ukrainian Jews fleeing Russia and early Jews during the times of Moses fleeing Egypt are undeniable, Calvert suggested.

“You know, let my people go! People are leaving the land to come back to Israel at this particular time,” he said.

Brimmer believes that Jewish communities – Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Burma – are at risk and that current events are a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

“I have really had a sense of importance for the hour that we couldn’t save the Jews of the Holocaust era. I wasn’t alive. You weren’t alive. But what is God saying to us now? What is our responsibility now when there are again Jewish communities at risk?” Brimmer said.

“We see the prophecies about the Jewish people coming back. We see God promising them that they would have their state again and that He would bring them back and He didn’t want to leave any behind. That’s in the Book of Ezekiel.”

“He’s giving us the opportunity to partner with Him to bring about the promises that He said He would do.”

“We’re one of a chain of things that God is using. I believe that our work is important, and I believe that it's God-ordained. And I believe that He placed us in a position to be able to meet needs for such a time as this.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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