Reclaiming Soviet Jews
Continued from preceding page
Soviet Jewish arrivals at the offices of NYANA (New York Association for New Americans) applying for assistance in finding housing, schools for
their children and other essential services.
the Columbus Jewish Community
Center. As part of learning English, the
students, youths and adults, study sub-
jects including American Jewish history,
Russian Jewish history, Shabbat obser-
vance and kashrut. They take field trips
to sites as diverse as the State Capitol and
a kosher meat market. In the process,
they learn about the United States and
The Center in Columbus also puts
together holiday baskets for the immi-
grants. The Passover basket contains a
Haggadah and holiday foods. There are
religious programs for Russian children
during vacations, and preschoolers learn
about Judaism at the Center.
"We try to make acculturation as ap-
pealing as we can in every respect," says
Susan Tanur, director of planning and
budget for the Columbus Jewish Federa-
tion. "Only by covering every base can we
assure that there's a good fit within the
existing Jewish community."
In smaller areas, attempts are made to
create a nurturing Jewish atmosphere.
Two new Soviet Jewish families are the
toast of Hamden, Conn., near New
Haven. Thirteen members of Temple
Mishkan Israel drove 150 miles round
trip to pick them up at New York's Ken-
nedy Airport and bring them back to
Hamden in time for kiddush. The syn-
agogue is providing them with apart-
ments, cars, resumes and job leads.
Rabbi Herb Brockman of Temple
Mishkan Israel is delighted with the ac-
"With our encouragement the immi-
grants got interested in services," he
says. "It's a powerful statement about the
allure of Judaism. They realize that the
synagogue members are doing things for
FRIDAY, AUGUST 31, 1990
them because they're Jews and we're
Jews, that there is almost a magnetic at-
traction between us and them. The Jew-
ish connection makes them more re-
In San Francisco, among the handiest
vehicles for acculturation are chavurah
study groups. These began with discus-
sions on topics like Jewish history, the
philosophy of the Jewish religion, Jewish
life cycle traditions and Jewish commu-
nal organizations. They have since evolv-
ed into more intensive talks including
Middle Eastern politics.
"It was very interesting to hear what
the group had been officially told about
Israel in the USSR," says Gayle Zahler,
director of emigre services for the San
Francisco Jewish Family and Children's
Services. A translator is present for those
with weak English skills, and the groups
are increasing in number.
Faced with an overflow of immigrants,
some relatively small Jewish com-
munities have resorted to unconventional
In Jacksonville, Fla., this means farm-
ing out basic services, such as shelter and
jobs, to the Lutheran Social Services
Agency. As a result, the Jewish commun-
ity can better concentrate on accultura-
tion, with the aid of a full-time staff
member who coordinates volunteers and
In Atlanta, acculturation is viewed as
only one part of the resettlement process.
"I give us a B on acculturation," says
Steve Gelfand, assistant executive direc-
tor of the Atlanta Jewish Federation.
"There are just other priorities right
In Phoenix, the local Jewish day school
offers free tuition for one year to Soviet
"Their idea of religion is
different from ours. By
upbringing, they are not
joiners, so it's enough to get
them to join a shul."
Jewish youngsters. About half of last
year's newcomers are expected to return
to the school.
Seema Liston of the Jewish Family Ser-
vice notes that the original wave of Soviet
Jews who came to Phoenix "never really
connected to the Jewish community," to
the extent that many people were sur-
prised the Soviets were still in town when
they came forward to volunteer to help
with the new immigrants.
She says she is "a little optimistic" that
the newcomers will become a part of the
Jewish community. Ms. Liston believes a
correlation exists between material
success and an interest in things Jewish.
Next year, she says, efforts will be made
to encourage bar and bat mitzvahs.