End of a perilous journey from Zhitomir to Romania to Tel Aviv
A group of 140 refugees from FJC’s ‘Alumim’ children’s home in Zhitomir, Ukraine, —including 90 young children—arrived at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, where they were greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other cabinet ministers, ending a grueling, five-day journey through Ukraine.
The children, ages 2 to 12, were evacuated from Zhitomir’s Chabad-run Alumim children’s home – supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews – on Feb. 24 as sirens began to wail and missiles exploded near the children’s home. They fled westward to the Carpathian Mountains, where they found refuge from the constant shelling until March 1, when they escaped the war-torn country for the safety of Romania. There, they were assisted by Chabad of Cluj-Napoca (Klausenburg) in finding temporary accommodations while they planned their flight to Israel.
During their stay in Romania, the children recovered from their difficult ordeal with Chabad arranging local children’s entertainers to perform for them, and taking them to various playgrounds and attractions in the city.
On Sunday, March 6, the 140-person group—led by Chabad of Zhitomir’s directors, Rabbi Shlomo and Esther Wilhelm, and which included several dozen parents and staff members—boarded a charter flight to Tel Aviv, where they received a hero’s welcome from dignitaries and elected officials.
At the airport, Bennett acknowledged the people who helped ensure the children’s safety. “For a week and a half now, they have been moving on the roads, fleeing battles and shelling, without parents, but with the wonderful and dedicated Chabad emissaries who accompany them here,” said the prime minister.
“Thank you to the Chabad emissaries and all those involved in the sacred work of saving lives—the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Absorption, the Friendship Foundation and the Jewish Agency. “Anyone who saves one soul is as if he had saved the whole world,” Bennett concluded, quoting the Talmud.
“I’m simply overwhelmed,” Malka Bukiet, the director of the children’s home who led the evacuation, told Chabad.org shortly after landing in Israel. “We’ve been welcomed by a loving embrace from people of all walks of life. It feels incredible to be here.”
Bukiet says that while the children were traumatized by the evacuation from Zhitomir, they’re thrilled to be in the Holy Land. “This is their life’s dream, for the entire children’s home to visit Israel together. Sadly, it had to be under such circumstances. G‑d willing, next time we’ll visit for happier occasions.”
In Israel, the group will be hosted by the JNF in the Nes Harim Field and Forest Education Center.