A Special Passenger on an Exceptional Flight

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18 Feb 2021
A Special Passenger on an Exceptional Flight

Last Friday, a specially chartered flight sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem landed at Ben-Gurion Airport with 302 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants on board. Not only was it the ICEJ’s largest chartered Aliyah flight in over two decades, and not only did it arrive despite Ben-Gurion Airport being completely closed due to coronavirus. But this exceptional flight also brought a special young passenger in need of urgent heart surgery in Israel.

With the Aliyah flight on 12 February, the ICEJ has now sponsored flights for 502 Ethiopian olim (newcomers) since early December as part of the Israeli government’s “Operation Rock of Israel” airlift, which aims to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jews home to Israel. To date, 1,572 Ethiopian Jews have arrived in this emergency airlift, with nearly one-third of them sponsored by the ICEJ.

Last Friday’s flight was our largest chartered planeload of new immigrants to Israel since the massive influx of Soviet Jews in the 1990s. And despite the fact that Ben-Gurion Airport had been shut down for over two weeks due to the coronavirus, this flight from Addis Ababa was permitted to land. On board were over 300 new immigrants eager to reunite with their families and begin their new life in Israel. Yet one special passenger was especially fortunate to be on board – a young Ethiopian boy who is hoping that heart surgeons in Israel can save his life.

Six-year-old Benjamin was born with a heart defect. There is a hole in the partition between two chambers of his heart. This defect can only be treated by an operation in a country with modern medical services. Unfortunately, Benjamin’s family has been living in a run-down transit camp in Gondar, Ethiopia for some ten years now waiting to make Aliyah to Israel, and they did not have access to the medical technology there. But after Dr. Maurice Hartstein, an Israeli surgeon at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, examined the boy during one of his trips to the transit camp, he described Benjamin as “a ticking time bomb” and started pressing for him to be brought to Israel for surgery.

Because of Benjamin’s worsening heart condition, he was given special permission to come to Israel for medical care as a special humanitarian case. He was scheduled to arrive in Israel for surgery in January, but then Ben-Gurion Airport was closed down and the operation had to be canceled.

Yet soon after, the Jewish Agency for Israel was able to make special arrangements with the exceptions committee overseeing the airport for a charter flight bringing 300 Ethiopian Jews and sponsored by the ICEJ to land at Ben-Gurion. With help from the Save a Child’s Heart organization, Benjamin was allowed to board the flight. However, the situation was complicated because Benjamin's mother had no time to complete her own Aliyah eligibility process so she could come with him.

Despite all these difficulties, Benjamin arrived on the ICEJ-sponsored flight last Friday, accompanied by a very caring Jewish Agency representative, Shira Aman, serving as his temporary guardian. Shira made Aliyah from Ethiopia to Israel herself at age six as part of Operation Solomon. She remembers that experience quite well and helping another six-year-old in this way is completing a circle for her.

Today, Benjamin is staying at the Assaf Harofeh hospital children’s home in Holon, awaiting surgery once his quarantine period is over. Shira Aman has been at his side the whole time, giving up time with her own children to see Benjamin through this journey.

Benjamin is undergoing initial examinations which will enable doctors to determine an appropriate treatment and the next steps towards his full recovery. Please keep Benjamin and his family in prayer.

Hopefully, Benjamin’s mother will soon be able to join him in Israel. Indeed, there are many more Ethiopian Jews still waiting in transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa for their chance to finally reach the Land of Israel and reunite with their families here. Please consider a generous donation to help them, as well as many other Jewish families in other nations worldwide who are hoping to make Aliyah to Israel this year.
 

Give today at: on.icej.org/aliyah