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November 23, 1990 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-11-23

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Soviet Jews line up in
Warsaw for the final leg
of their journey to Israel.


Special to The Jewish News


dded to the general
gloom that has
descended upon Israel
since the Temple Mount in-
cident last month is a grow-
ing sense of doom about an
issue that just a year ago
was cause for great elation.
As the first anniversary of
the latest wave of Soviet
immigration rolls around,
feelings about it range from
mild depression to near
panic, depending on how
closely one is following the
details. Last winter Israelis
were literally greeting the
new Soviet newcomers with
bouquets. Doctors, scien-
tists, engineers all, they
were expected to rein-
vigorate the economy, revo-
lutionize the work ethic, and
— by attracting foreign in-
vestment — transform Israel
into a technological super-
power: the Japan of the Mid-
dle East.
Today that whole glowing
enterprise is stuck deep in
the mud. The envisioned in-
vestments have not mate-
rialized and, far from saving
the Israeli economy, the
immigrants are beginning to
look like a fearsome burden
on it.
Indeed, the statistics are
staggering. No less than
142,000 immigrants
(130,000 of them from the
Soviet Union) entered Israel
in the first ten months of
1990. That translates into a
new resident joining the
population every four-and-a-
half minutes, with 200 more
children entering the school
system each day.
To settle the one million
Soviet Jews who are ex-
pected to arrive over the
next three to five years,
Israel will have to scare up
an additional $10 billion
each year — and that in a
country whose GNP is cur-
rently less than $50 billion,
whose foreign debt is al-
ready $23 billion, and whose
location in such a volatile
part of the world is hardly a
drawing card for investors or
an assuring feature for for-
eign banks.
Israelis have been warned
that higher taxes are on the
way to help cover the costs of
absorption, but most

A House
Of Cards

Soviet Jews, still coming to Israel in record
numbers, are optimistic about the future.
But the economy can't take the strain.

economists dismiss these
hikes as a mere drop in the
ocean — and no one seems to
have a clue about where the
money really will come from.
Typically, the government
and opposition have lapsed
into trading recriminations
about what some politicians
are already calling the
"impending fiasco." Squab-
bling between the finance
and housing ministers
delayed the onset of con-
struction for months, so that
despite the influx of over
140,000 people, there were
actually fewer building
starts in the first 10 months
of 1990 than in the same
period of the previous year.
Meanwhile, the rental
market has virtually dried
up, and in some places two
and three families are
crowding together in stan-
dard four-room flats. One
Galilean town has become so
crowded with immigrants
that the school system is
buckling under the strain,
and the mayor can no longer
guarantee an adequate

supply of drinking water — a
sore subject, by the way, that
is beginning to concern the
population as a whole.
Yet housing and an over-
burdened infrastructure are
only half the problem. It is
the sore lack of jobs that

The government
and opposition
have lapsed into
about what some
politicians are
already calling the

worries officials most. Even-
tually apartments will get
built, but without decent
jobs the hundreds of
thousands of immigrants
will not qualify for mor-
tgages to buy them. And

neither will they provide the
revenues to expand the
country's school, sewage,
electric, transport, and
communications systems.
The government carries
the immigrants through
their first year with a grant
that averages $9,000. After
that, they're on their own —
which is why, in some min-
istries, panic has now set in.
The State Comptroller, a no-
nonsense ex-Supreme Court
judge, summed up the situa-
tion in scoring the govern-
ment for its "short-
sightedness, inaction, and
blunders" in dealing with
the flood of immigration.
What do the immigrants
themselves have to say
about this sad state of af-
fairs? Unexpectedly, outside
Jerusalem's Labor
Exchange, the mood is strik-
ingly upbeat, even among
people who arrived a year
ago and are now losing their
government stipends. Immi-
grants must regularly check
in at the exchange to be kept
abreast of available jobs.

They duly turn up every
week; the jobs do not.
Yet there's an oddly
carefree aura about most of
these people. Even after a
year, they continue to live in
a bubble and are still more
attuned to life in Russia
than in Israel. They barely
watch television. They cer-
tainly don't read the Hebrew
press, which offers an even
more chilling picture of the
situation than does the
state-run electronic media.
Above all, perhaps, they
sense something which other
Israelis fail to fathom: that
life in this difficult, rough-
and-tumble country is
nevertheless far better and
more conducive to hope than
it could ever be in the
hostile, stifling environment
they've left behind.
"I've never felt as good as I
do here," says Jan
Schneider, a 27-year-old
electrical engineer who must
vacate his flat and will lose
his stipend in two weeks.
"I'm able to breathe in this
country," echoes Moisiev
Lev, a 40- year-old economic
historian whose prime prob-
lem at the end of his first
year in Israel is to find a new
career, since the history he
taught "isn't history, and
the economics aren't econ-
"Sure there are problems,"
Mr. Lev is the first to admit,
"but life here isn't a series of
And the problems can be
dealt with one at a time. Mr.
Schneider, for example, has
taken a temporary job as a
security guard that brings in
$550 a month (the mean
monthly income in Israel is
$1,150), and he is confident
that he will be able to
squeak by until something
better comes along. Mr. Lev
is working as a moving man
and is leaving Jerusalem for
a nearby development town
where rents are substantial-
ly lower. Neither is put off



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