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September 15, 1989 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-15

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CLOSE-UP

Soviet Jews

Continued from preceding page

on the number of their brethren who can

enter as refugees presents a painful dilem-
ma that conjures up images from nearly a
half-century ago when many Jews fleeing
Hitler were denied refuge here. They assert
that despite Gorbachev's reformist
rhetoric, today's Soviet Jews are victims of
what Pamela Cohen, president of the
Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry, calls
"cultural genocide." She says "there is
serious anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union"
and that limiting the number of Jews who
can come here sends a signal to Moscow
that the Unitd States is satisfied with its
treatment of Jews.
Nevertheless, after months of anguished
debate, the new reality gradually is forg-
ing a consensus among many U.S. Jews. lb
a growing number of them, the existence
of Israel, which offers immediate citizen-
ship to all emigrating Jews, eliminates the
old fears. No longer would Jews denied en-
try here be stranded. Besides, there is a
growing awareness that neither the federal
government nor American Jewry can foot
the bill indefinitely for the vast wave of im-
migrants who might sweep ashore. The
United Jewish Appeal's "Passage to
Freedom" campaign to raise $75 million for
resettling the immigrants has been slug-
gish; who is going to pay the estimated
cost of $7,000 per refugee for first year ex-
penses of transportation, resettlement and
social services? And privately, some
Jewish leaders complain that many of the
Soviet Jews who settle here are seeking on-
ly economic opportunity and soon lose

their ties to the organized Jewish
community.
"The numbers are changing the discus-
sion dramatically," says Mark Talisman,
director of the Washington office of the
Council of Jewish Federations. With the
prospect that unlimited Soviet Jewish im-
migration could crowd out other needy
ethnic groups from Asia and Latin
America, talk about "freedom of choice"
now is being replaced by talk about "equi-
ty" and "fairness." Says Talisman, "It
would be unjust and downright piggish to
expect 100 percent of those numbers" to
be allotted only to Soviet Jews."
Other Jewish leaders also speak of the
moral and ethical issues involved in press-
ing for more American visas for Soviet
Jews while mindful of the needs of other
refugees around the world. Shoshana Car-
din, who heads the National Conference of
Soviet Jewry, acknowledges: "it's a tough
call." Cardin said she advocates "trying to
secure the maximum number (of visas for
Soviet Jews) that is equitable and fair,
given the growing sense that more people
are being displaced in China, Ttirkey and
other countries. The difference is that there
is another country (Israel) willing to accept
our (Soviet Jewish) refugees."
Carl Zuckerman, president of the
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said his
organization is unhappy with the ad-
ministration's move to curb visas, but
understands Washington's dilemma. It ap-
pears that American Jewish organizations
will not voice public criticism of the ad-

A Soviet Jewish family in a Jerusalem absorption center: Israel sees the emigres as vital replenishment stock and wants them to come
home to help insure the survival of the Jewish state.

26

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1989

ministration, but will concentrate its ef-
forts on raising additional funding for
Israel to help meet the high cost of hous-
ing and resettlement there.
In a clear sign of the changes underway,
the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai
B'rith last June became the first major
American Jewish agency to urge the
American Jewish community to direct its
"priority and resources" toward resettle-
ment of Soviet Jews in Israel. The group
said, "Recognizing that entry visas to the
United States and resettlement funds are
both limited, the American Jewish com-
munity's first concern must be to assist
those Soviet Jews Wishing to settle in
Israel."
And a letter circulated this summer in
Congress and sent by lawmakers to Gor-
bachev praised recent Soviet liberalization
and called on the Soviet leader "to in-
stitute as quickly as possible" direct
flights between Moscow and Thl Aviv, and
to take other steps to enhance the pros-
pects that Soviet Jews who wish to leave
will go directly to Israel.
The warming of East-West relations is
rapidly removing other obstacles to Soviet
emigration to Israel. Earlier this month,
Hungary joined Romania to become the
second East bloc nation to permit Soviet
Jews to fly directly to Israel.
Although the changes still produce some
ambivalence in the American Jewish com-
munity, the shift in U.S. Jewish attitudes
that appears to be underway pleases
Israelis. Israel has adamantly maintained
that there is no Soviet Jewish refugee
problem.
"Using words like stranded and
homeless to describe these people is just
nonsense," insists an Israeli official. "The
State of Israel was founded with the shed-
ding of a lot of blood in order for people
like this not to be homeless."
Indeed, many American Jews would like
to see the vast majority of Soviet Jews set-
tle in Israel if for no other reason than to
make the current problems go away.
"Almost everyone believes that the ideal
condition would be that all Soviet Jews
would wish to go to Israel to settle," says
Stanley Horowitz, president of United
Jewish Appeal.
But what is shocking about the current
wave of Soviet Jewish emigres is their
`stridently anti-Israel feelings. Most Soviet
Jews leave Russia with Israeli visas and fly
to Vienna, Austria, the closest destination
in the West for Aeroflot, the Soviet airline.
But in Vienna, more than 90 percent drop
off and travel to Rome, Italy, where there
are U.S. immigration processing centers.
An earlier generation of refuseniks wore
their Zionism on their sleeves, enduring
years of deprivation and often jail to go to
the Promised Land. But in Ladispoli, Ita-
ly, a Mediterranean resort town outside
Rome where several thousand Soviet Jews
await processing, the anti-Israel attitudes
of the latest generation of emigres are
palpable.
Helena Malin, 30, a pediatrician from
Leningrad, says Israel is "too religious" for
her. Victor Kurashov, 19, from the Ukraine
says it is too difficult to learn Hebrew, and

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