The annual Chanukah events that Yad L'Achim organizes for Jewish women it rescued from Arab villages are particularly meaningful.
These women are often coping with very serious financial difficulties, without the benefit of supportive families. The opportunity to bring their children to a warm, enriching Chanukah celebration, where they can meet Yad L'Achim staffers and fellow survivors - who have become family in every sense of the word – gives them the strength to carry on throughout the year.
Last Monday, at the peak of the holiday, a special evening was held in Ramle, in central Israel, at the Darchei Meisharim girls' school headed by Rabbi Bartuv. The evening was for women and girls from Ramleh, Lod and the surrounding area, as well as for survivors of Arab villages that Yad L'Achim bused in from all around the country.
One survivor, who was rescued three years ago from Gaza together with her children, shared her moving story. Afterwards, she introduced a Yad L'Achim social worker as her mother.
The survivor spoke of the painful phenomenon of Jewish girls marrying Arabs, of Yad L'Achim's activities in this area and of the urgent need of girls to take precautions in order not to fall into these disastrous relationships.
During the event a raffle was held for the survivors, featuring prizes to help them cope with winter. These included a heater and a hand-held blender for making soup.
Last Wednesday, on the fifth night of Chanukah, an event was organized for women and children at the Ulpana girls' school in Tzafria. Transportation was arranged from all parts of the country – from Be'er Sheva in the south to Ma'alot in the north.
The main speaker was Rabbanit Tzviyah Eliahu, the widow of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, zt"l, who made a special trip from Jerusalem to offer support and encouragement to the survivors. She spoke of the role of the Jewish mother in the home and her powerful influence over her children. Her inspirational words included praise for the dedication of Yad L'Achim's activists.
At the conclusion of her lecture, she was approached by a number of women and children asking for her blessing that they draw closer to Torah and mitzvos. Mrs. Eliahu recognized one of the women, who had attended a similar event last year. With tears in her eyes, the Rabbanit said: "Look how far you've come since our last meeting. Today, you look like a Jewish woman in every way."
A candle-lighting ceremony was held with the participation of the children of the survivors. This was followed by an inspirational message from Yad L'Achim chairman Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz who connected Chanukah to the light of Torah that grows stronger each day, pushing away the darkness.
A quiz was held for the children, complete with prizes. It was particularly moving to see how children who until recently were living in Arab villages, unaware that they were Jews, are today learning in Torah institutions and capable of answering questions on halacha, customs and sources relating to Chanukah.
At the same time, Yad L'Achim ran programming for those it had rescued from cults since the start of the Jewish year. Last Tuesday, on the fourth day of Chanukah, some 30 people were taken to Jerusalem on a tour organized by Yad L'Achim's counter-missionary department.
Chanukah, which represents the victory of Judaism over Greek assimilationists, is an ideal time to hold an inspirational event for those who were saved from the missionaries, Yad L'Achim officials noted.
Chartered buses picked up participants from across the county and brought them to the Western Wall. They begin their afternoon with a guided tour of the Chain of the Generations Center, where they began to understand how they represent a link in a historic chain that the missionaries were trying to sever.
They then proceeded to the Western Wall where they offered heartfelt prayers of thanks to the Al-mighty for sending them "angels" from Yad L'Achim to rescue them from the idolatry of the cults and bring them back to Judaism.
A lavish meal was served, featuring a very special guest speaker: Rabbi Daniel Asor, a Yad L'Achim staffer who was a Christian priest in the United States for eight years before returning to Judaism. Rabbi Asor related details of his dramatic life story, from his time as a deputy squadron commander in the Israel Air Force till his days as a senior missionary until the present time, where he plays an active role in Yad L'Achim's counter-missionary department and has merited to save many from the clutches of the missionaries.
A candle-lighting ceremony was held during which one of the survivors, a senior scientist who was deeply involved in one of the famous churches in Italy, stepped forward to make the blessings and light the candles. His fellow survivors, Yad L'Achim staffers and restaurant workers freely shed tears at the sight.
Rabbi Lifschitz called on the survivors to adopt the motif of Chanukah – "add [to the number of candles] as you go along." Their mission is to continue to add light to their lives.
The evening closed with a open discussion among the survivors themselves in which they summed up their day and pledged to continue making progress toward becoming full-fledged Torah Jews.