Congregants from the Reform synagogue Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, in New Jersey, met with Alexei, a Ukrainian refugee who was brought to Israel on an emergency flight arranged by United Hatzalah and sponsored by the congregation. The emotional meeting happened last week at United Hatzalah’s headquarters in Jerusalem.

As part of United Hatzalah’s Operation Orange Wings, the synagogue had sponsored a charter flight from Israel to Moldova, full of EMTs, medical supplies, and equipment for field hospitals in Moldova. On its return trip to Ben Gurion Airport in April, it carried 156 refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Last Sunday, as part of the congregation’s trip to Israel, the congregants visited United Hatzalah’s headquarters in Jerusalem and met with Alexei, who is originally from Odessa and was one of the 156 refugees on the flight. Alexei told the congregation members his story, from the moment the war broke out until the rescue flight to Israel. 

He recounted how as the war started, he had volunteered for a month providing humanitarian aid to Odessa residents until he had come to the realization that there was no future for him in the country and called United Hatzalah after seeing information online about flights to Israel from Chișinău. He got on a bus to Moldova and from the border headed to the city where he was met by United Hatzalah volunteers who took care of food and accommodation until the flight the next morning. Thanking the congregants and the organization Alexei said: “The feeling that someone loves you and cares about you without even knowing you is beyond words. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made all of it possible. God bless you.”

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun Senior Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz said: “It’s always great to come here and visit United Hatzalah’s headquarters, but it was particularly moving for all of us to meet with Alexei and hear his story. He thanked us but I believe that we must thank him for coming to tell us his inspiring story. Everyone was very touched.”