At the height of the war in Ukraine, the children of the Alumim orphanage in the city of Zhytomyr escaped to Israel. They left Ukraine through the Carpathian Mountains to Romania on a voyage that took a week and a half. From there they made Aliyah to Israel with the assistance of the IFCJ and Chabad and settled eventually in a facility in Ashkelon.
Now, after the start of Operation Shield and Arrow, the children were evacuated from Ashkelon to the Ohr Simcha Children’s Home in Kfar Chabad, in central Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, the Rabbi of Zhytomyr who has accompanied the children of the orphanage since they made Aliyah from Ukraine, related: “On Tuesday, we woke up to the news about the elimination of the three commanders of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the missile attacks that were expected on the south of Israel. The situation reminded me of what we experienced on the morning of February 24, 2022, when the war began in Ukraine. We received an announcement that the educational institutions in the south were closing. We decided that we cannot wait until the missile attacks begin. These children have gone through so much hardship and in the last year we have done everything to help them cope with the trauma and surround them with love and attention.”
“We decided to take them to a place in the center of the country that will be quieter than in the south,” Rabbi Wilhelm continued. “The first place we contacted was Ohr Simcha, which the children have visited in the past and with which they are familiar. We tried not to arouse fear and anxiety. We told them we are leaving for a long trip. They know that there’s a tense security situation, but it’s an indirect awareness. They see it as a trip and a vacation from school. Unfortunately, our administrative staff already knows how to cope with situations such as this one. We are planning to stay here for a few days, hoping that the situation in the south will improve and we can return to our routine.”
Moshe Leib, one of the children from Zhytomyr who made Aliyah with the assistance of the IFCJ, noted the similarity between the children’s experiences in Ukraine and the missile attack on southern Israel: “I am afraid that there will also be shooting and bombs here. I am afraid that soon there will be a war against Gaza. I am afraid that once again I will have to fly to another place because there will be a war. I don’t want any more war.”
“It’s wonderful for me in Israel,” Moshe Leib said. “I play all day. I learned a little bit of Hebrew. I live in Ashkelon, which is near the sea, and I love to go to the sea once a week. Now we are in Kfar Chabad because in Gaza they want to kill us.”
Yael Eckstein, President of the IFCJ, said: “At the outset of the war in Ukraine, we were able to help 100 orphans relocate from the town of Zhytomyr and find a new life in Ashkelon. Tragically, the winds of war continue to follow them and this week we have moved them all to a safer place. These are children who have stared trauma and fear in the face for so much of their lives, but they remain hopeful for better days ahead. Throughout this difficult time, we have promised them that they will never again be alone and in these challenging days we are making good on our commitment.”