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September 25, 1987 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-09-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UPS

THE RUSSIAN COMMUNITY

Continued from preceding page

Michael anal Maya Kreynin, Gita Derbandiner, Julie and Mark Shapiro and Alexander Kreynin are reunited in Oak Park.

"There were always
rebels. They exist in
every society. America
was built by them."

Partners Michael Kuchersky and Oleg Slutsky opened the Sunrise Cafe chain.

24

FRIDAY, SEPT. 25, 1987

of the immigrants' immediate needs,
Dr. Berton and the Jewish Communi-
ty Center's Russian Acculturation
Program which she directs help
familiarize the newcomers with
American and American-Jewish life.
For the older immigrants who face an
ongoing language barrier, the depart-
ment serves as an interpreter to the
Outside world. For them the Center
has organized two social groups, the
New World Club and a group for
World War II veterans, and a monthly
Russian-language newspaper,
Fonarik, or Torch.
The Acculturation Program was
established by a grant from the
Jewish Welfare Federation in 1980.
The grant ran out in 1982 and the
program was incorporated into the
Center's budget. Dr. Berton . now
volunteers her time. "I got hooked on
it. I can't seem to give it up," she says.
Daily English-language classes,
which are conducted at the Center's
Jimmy Prentis Morris Branch, are
funded through the Ferndale-Oak
Park Community Education program.
Dr. Berton remembers trying to
steer the newcomers through their
culture shock. "We had to explain
what are American holidays, voting,
the basic composition of government.
They were kind of surprised that they
had no [identity] papers here, no sur-
reptitious listening."
Then there is the supermarket,
that great symbol of American abun-
dance. For a people used to shortages
and long lines for even the basics,
American shopping often posed a for-

midable challenge for the Russians.
"Coffee, coffee, coffee," says one, his
mouth dropping open in imitation of
his confused first visit to a super-
market. "You don't know what to buy.
You can't imagine how much garbage
we bought in our life!'
More serious was the Highland
Towers bribery scandal. Last fall, the
Metro Times reported that all but
three of the Southfield apartment
building's 70 Russian tenants had
paid building manager Mary Ed-
wards and rental agent Bernice Stone
between $300 and $1,000 to secure
their apartments.
Edwards and Stone subsequently
resigned and the case was never pro-
secuted, but the affair underscored
the danger inherent in the cultural
gap between the Russians and their
new. American home. _ Bribery is
customary in. the Soviet Union and
the Russians thought they had done
nothing wrong, Dr. Berton said at the
time, adding that she believed only 30
or 40 of the Russian tenants had
given bribes.
There was also the rude awaken-
ing which comes to all immigrants,
that gold is not laying in the streets
of America. Another Russian
repeated the greeting the immigrants
expected to hear from Uncle Sam:
"Hi. How are you? Here's a million
dollars for you?'
If the Russians had misconcep-
tions about America, American Jews
had mistaken notions about the Rus-
sians. This made fOr friction between
the two communities. "Everyone ex-
pected refugees like in the old pic-
Cures [from the turn of the century],"
Kuniaysky explains. In reality, the
newcomers were "a group of rather
sophisticated people who were
sometimes offended by the patroniz-
ing attitude" of local Jews.

-

M

ost- immigrant groups set up
landsmanschaften upon their
arrival in the United States to
deal with community needs. Russian
Jews in their 30s and 40s show very
little interest in such an organization.
One group, the Jewish Heritage
Organization, flourished for a year or
two after it was established four years
ago. Young Russian Jews have shown
increasing indifference to the group
recently, according to its founder, Sam
Valk.
Valk is unusual among the Rus-
sians with his interest in institu-
tionalizing ties between the Russians
and the established American Jewish
community in order to give the Rus-
sians an organized voice in the com-
munity. He is the Heritage Organiza-
tion's delegate to the Jewish Com-
munity. Council.
Valk sees the erosion of interest in
the Jewish Heritage Organization as
a natural outgrowth of the Russians'
steady acculturation. "The language
barrier is disappearing. They feel

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