PATH TO FREEDOM
who could talk to the people about the
benefits of life in Israel, offer lectures,
films and literature in Russian, and
generally take advantage of a captive
audience to make Israel's case.
The board of governors of the
Jewish Agency voted to have three
shlichim in the Rome area by mid-
March but a month later that had not
"Israel needs to send people here
to show that the state is serious about
aliyah," says Uri Ben-Tzion. "We
have good potential here, but Israel
has not made use of it."
Ben-Tzion explained that because
he is Israeli and perceived by some of
the transmigrants as "an Israeli
agent sent here to make them come
to Israel," he takes a decidedly low-
But all of that changed on the day
of our visit, during an emotional ex-
change that underscored the clash
between Zionist ideology and human
It began when Paul Borman, a
Campaign co-chairman of the Jewish
Welfare Federation of Detroit, ad-
dressed an audience of about 50
transmigrants at lunch at the com-
munity center. He explained that our
group of six leaders of the Detroit
Jewish community and one journalist
had come to Vienna and Ladispoli to
learn about the transmigration pro-
cess and to help expedite it. "We
believe in your freedom of choice,"
Borman said, "but we would like to
see more of you going to Israel."
Almost immediately, a man
sprang up from the audience to
challenge Borman's remark. "I don't
understand how Americans can tell
us to go to Israel," he said. "We will
go together with you, but why don't
Borman responded by explaining
that he and the transmigrants were
not in the same position in terms of
looking for a place to live, and he
asserted that there are more
economic opportunities for a Jewish
refugee in Israel today than there are
in the United States, where so many
newcomers are competing for jobs and
dollars. He added that American
Jews will continue to raise funds for
resettlement, no matter where the
emigrants choose to live.
It was at that point that Ben-
Tzion took the microphone and of-
fered an impassioned plea for aliyah.
"We, all of us, need Israel more than
Israel needs us," he said. "You tell
me that you suffered every day in the
Soviet Union because you are Jewish,
but I promise you that you'll face
discrimination in every country in
the world except Israel."
He said that Israel is a vital
democracy, a young country of oppor-
tunity founded by Jews and welcom-
ing Jews from all over the world.
"Our future is in Israel," he asserted.
The audience was stunned for a
moment by Ben-Tzion's emotional ap-
peal, but then a young man rose to
say that while American visitors "are
the system, we have to deal with the
people who are already out, in the
transit camps," said Blumenstein.
"You can't leave them there. We
have to do all that we can to make
their new lives successful, including
giving them a more positive Jewish
communal experience when they ar-
Joe Orley was particularly
moved by the despair he saw in the
faces of the hundreds of emigrants
in the small park in Ladispoli.
Families gather there every after-
noon to socialize and tell each other
their stories about their harrowing
experiences. Orley said he sensed
how fearful it must be to have given
up one's past life and live with
uncertainty about the future. "It
was overpowering," he said. "I had
to walk away!'
For Bernard Stoilman, president
of the Jewish. Resettlement Service,
the trip presented an opportunity to
better understand the plight of the
emigrants before he meets them in
Detroit. "Last year we had about 90
Soviet Jewish refugees, but this year
we expect at least 150;' he said, ad-
ding that he found the visit "an im-
portant, eye-opening experience"
that should prove beneficial in help-
ing emigrants in their transition to
Jane Sherman, left, and Paul Borman, kneeling, co-chairs of
life in America.
Detroit's emergency resettlement campaign, visiting a classroom
Martin Kraar, executive vice presi-
at the Joint Distribution Committee school in Ladispoli Italy.
dent of the Jewish Welfare Federa-
tion, said he was moved by the fact
that "we are dealing with people
without a country," and impressed
with the accomplishments of the
American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC) and Hebrew Im-
migrant Aid Society (HIAS). "They
have established a working system,
Most of the participants in the relatives or friends here, they speak a functional school, and are deliver-
Detroit Jewish community's six- some English, and they have heard ing real services" despite the
person mission to Vienna and countless- stories of America as a makeshift conditions and serious
Ladispoli acknowledged that they land of opportunity.
"I'm more intense about the
set out with a predisposed bias,
Sherman and Borman, who led
now;' he said. •
believing that the emigrating Soviet the mission, are chairmen of the
have to undo the misinfor-
Jews should be going to Israel.
1989 Allied Jewish Campaign and
But they returned with more em- are heading the local community's mation these people have been get-
pathy for the personal plight of the emergency effort on behalf of Soviet ting about Israel as quickly as possi-
ble," said Kraar, who feels that the
refugees and more determined to Jewry resettlement.
help in any way they can to achieve
The Detroit Jewish community Jewish Agency should intensify its
the primary goal: making sure that has taken a leadership role in "Pas- efforts in Vienna and Ladispoli to
as many Jews as possible are al- sage lb Freedom," the national UJA provide more positive information
lowed to leave the Soviet Union for campaign to raise $75 million for about Israel.
A journalist who traveled with
freedom in the West.
the resettlement effort, and has
"What changed my attitude," ex- pledged to raise $2.5 million in the mission came away impressed
with the level of commitment of the
plained Jane Sherman, "was hear- Detroit.
ing a young woman in Ladispoli ex-
Penny Blumenstein said that ef- participants, who traveled at their
plain that her decision to come to forts should be made to "improve the own expense and were tireless in
America was the first major decision system" so that Jews still in the their efforts to find out as much as
in her life that she could make on Soviet Union can receive more possible about the transmigrants
her own, and she was committed to positive information about Israel and the Jewish organizational
it. I found that understandable and from Israeli shlichim, or emissaries, network.
Jane Sherman said "it will be
and from Soviet Jews who have
to raise the allotted $2.5
"My views changed absolutely:' made a successful aliyah. Until now,
for the local emergency
said Paul Borman. "I would still like virtually all of the reports Soviet
but "we'll do it because
to see more emphasis on encourag- Jews hear about Israel is negative,
ing the emigrants to go to Israel, but primarily from propaganda that this is a compassionate, respon-
now I understand why they want to Israel is a war zone with poverty sive community and this is a real
come to America." He noted that conditions.
many of the emigrants have
"But while we work on changing
FOR DETROIT LEADERS,
A CHANGE OF HEART
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS