Helping Jewish people return to the land of their forefathers from Central Asia has always been challenging since Ebenezer – Operation Exodus began in Kazakhstan, the largest of the five republics, in 1994. Through our work, in cooperation with Jewish organisations and churches, many of God’s chosen ones have made aliyah in the years since from there and the other four countries – Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
The task is still a very big one. EEF has representatives working in all these lands except Turkmenistan, but even here the ministry is helping people go to Israel through co–operation with the Jewish Agency in Uzbekistan.
Long and hazardous journeys and extremities of temperature – ranging from +50C in desert regions to –35C and even lower in Kazakhstan’s steppe lands – are just two of the challenges faced by our dedicated workers. Much wisdom and sensitivity is continually needed, especially in the lands where there are especial political and religious difficulties. Through it all, as one worker explained, ‘Many Jews we meet say we come with something special, a light which causes them to believe that God is with them.’
Kazakhstan is probably most well known as the centre of the Soviet Union’s space research and nuclear testing programmes. Many space rockets were launched from Baykonur Cosmodrome, while 470 nuclear bombs were detonated in the Semey region in the north of the country between 1949 and 1989, two years before Kazakhstan gained independence following the demise of the USSR.
Ebenezer has its main Central Asia base in Almaty, which was the capital until the northern industrial and smaller city of Astana was proclaimed number one in 1995. Finding Jewish people in Kazakhstan frequently involves travelling long distances, especially overnight by train across the barren steppe, in a land over five times the size of France.
A frequent problem needing Ebenezer’s help in Central Asia, and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, is finding evidence of Jewish roots to satisfy the Israeli consul in granting them visas to leave for Israel. Parents and grandparents often hid their Jewish roots and changed their identity to Russian to avoid anti–Semitism and the archives holding the original documents, going back over 50 years in some cases, have long been destroyed. Ebenezer helps to find the necessary evidence for people to make aliyah.
Jewish Agency and local church co–operation is vital in finding Jews. From the office of one helpful pastor Ebenezer team members began phoning Jews. ‘How did you find me?’ gasped one lady down the line. According to her passport she was Russian. Later she met her caller, who told her: ‘We are the fishermen Jeremiah talks about and we came here to call you home to Israel. After us the hunters will come and you will not have the opportunity to ask them, “How did you find me?” One thing is sure: They will find you. Now is God’s time for you to go home to the land of your forefathers.’
Almaty airport is not only the departure point for Jews making aliyah from Kazakhstan, but also from Kyrgyzstan. Since 1997 we have been bringing them there by minibus from Bishkek, capital of this beautiful mountainous country, a 300 km journey over high winding passes. Over half the country, in fact, is over 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) high, with only about an eighth lying below 1,500 metres (4,900 ft).
Jews have been in Kyrgyzstan a long time. They first settled in Osh, today the country’s second biggest city, in the 16th century. Many Jewish families were resettled in Kyrgyzstan during the civil war (1918–22) that followed the Russian Revolution. Escapers from the pogroms and Nazi holocaust swelled the Jewish population. A 1989 census showed there were still about 6,000 Jews there, but there are far fewer today, Ebenezer – Operation Exodus playing a big part in this.
During the very violent political power struggle of 2010, Ebenezer’s office in Bishkek, the capital, was damaged by gunfire although our team members were not there at the time. It emphasised just how much the work there, and throughout Central Asia, needs much prayer covering. (There was good news, too, in the midst of this conflict: the Israeli consul in Tashkent, in neighbouring Uzbekistan, made an emergency visit to Bishkek, during which over 300 potential repatriates were interviewed by him over three days. Normally it would have taken nearly a year for all those appointments to take place!)
Intro, The Russian Federation, Siberia > > Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg > > Moscow, Pyatigorsk > > Rostov–on–Don, Ukraine > > Moldova, Armenia, Georgia > > Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan > > Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, The work of our bases in the former Soviet Union > >