Where are you for Seder? Website pairs Israeli hosts with new Ukrainian immigrants

Step is part of a government initiative to let citizens offer help to newcomers from former Soviet Union, though most offerings not yet functional

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Immigrants fleeing Ukraine arrive at the Israeli Immigration and Absorption Ministry offices at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022.  (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Immigrants fleeing Ukraine arrive at the Israeli Immigration and Absorption Ministry offices at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The government on Monday launched a new initiative to allow Israelis to host new immigrants from Ukraine for the Passover Seder, the ritual meal held at the start of the weeklong festival.

As of this week, over 10,000 people have immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, sparking a bloody conflict that has created a massive refugee crisis in Eastern Europe. Thousands more are expected to arrive before the start of Passover next month.

In an effort to help ease their integration into Israeli society and in response to many offers of assistance from Israeli citizens, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, along with the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank and Army Radio, launched its new initiative, in which Israelis offer to host new immigrants for the Seder meal by filling out an online form (Hebrew).

The program is called “Olim La’Hag” in Hebrew — literally “Going up to the holiday” — which is also a play on the fact that the Hebrew word for Jewish immigrants to Israel is also olim.

Alongside this initiative, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry also unveiled a new program to allow Israelis to offer various forms of assistance to the new immigrants from Ukraine, as well as those from Russia and Belarus, who have also been increasingly coming to Israel in the wake of Moscow’s war.

“In light of the requests from many Israelis to be brought in and to assist new immigrants, we at the Immigration and Absorption Ministry have launched a new website… the Coming Home portal,” Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said Tuesday.

“On the Coming Home portal, all of the rights of new immigrants will be put together, along with a database of people offering employment opportunities to immigrants, volunteers offering to assist immigrants with their medical appointments, and families looking to invite immigrants to be hosted for the Seder,” she said.

However, the Coming Home website was still largely not functional as of Tuesday afternoon, with nearly every button on the site leading to the same basic form.

The website, which includes information on the benefits offered by the state to new immigrants, is currently only available in Hebrew, though a dedicated Russian-speaking phone line is provided.

As of Tuesday morning, 10,485 new immigrants have arrived in Israel from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus since Russia launched its invasion on February 24, with another 250 Ukrainian immigrants due to arrive later in the day.

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