Ten Iranian Jewish families – 40 Iranian Jews in all -- began new lives Tuesday night when they came home to Israel. "How they were brought to Israel and information about who they are is classified information, " Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelovitch said in an exclusive interview with Israel National News.Update: About 40 Jews who left Iran in secret arrived in Israel yesterday — one of the largest such defections — and got a Christmas present of $10,000 per person from U.S. evangelicals.
"This is a new initiative," said Jankelovitch, "a joint project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the Jewish Agency for Israel."
A total of 200 Iranian Jews made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) this year, triple the number from just a year ago, when only 65 Jews made Aliyah to Israel from Iran. According to Jankelovitch, the majority of the Jews who left Iran permanently this year came to Israel.
One million dollars – fully half of the budget for this year's project, came from the Fellowship, said Jankelovitch, adding that the entire sum has been exhausted. "The organization is now embarking on a new campaign to raise funds to continue the work for 2008," he added.
Why Iranian Jews, and why now?
"Because their lives are at stake," answered Jankelovitz simply. "They are in a unique situation because of the regime. There are increased cases of discrimination. Learning the Hebrew language has been banned. Jewish day schools have been closed down – all of them. There are no more Jewish day schools in Iran," he said.
Jewish children have to go to school on Shabbat, and on all Jewish holidays including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
"They come with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small suitcase with almost no money at all," said Jankelovitch. "Their money is worthless because of the exchange rate. People live in a beautiful house which they sell and it is not even worth $10,000."
In order to balance that hardship, each new immigrant from Iran, including the children, receives a grant of $10,000. A family of five thus receives a total of $50,000 with which to begin their new lives in addition to the usual basket of new immigrant benefits received by everyone else who comes to make Israel their home.
To whomever those Christians are, I want to personally thank you. May G-d Bless you and your families.