Problems of Soviet Immigrants to the U.S. Discussed at Nyana Meeting

Recent developments in the Soviet Union and their affects on Jewish migration, resettlement of Soviet Jews in the New York area, and prospects for their active participation in Jewish life were discussed yesterday at the 28th annual meeting of the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) at the Harmonies Club. NYANA, which provides initial resettlement assistance to Soviet Jewish immigrants in the metropolitan area, receives its funds from the United Jewish Appeal.

Prof. Allen Pollack, featured speaker at the dinner, said that the Soviet Union was using the Jewish people to test President Carter’s seriousness on the human rights issue. “To the extent that the government of the United States will forcefully express its commitment to freer emigration, the number of Jews permitted to leave the Soviet Union will increase,” Pollack said. “Whether stated explicitly or not, the issue of freedom of migration must be tied to those issues in which the Soviet Union has a direct interest, such as trade, credit, scientific exchange.”

Dr. Herbert Bernstein, NYANA’s executive director, focused on the situation of Soviet Jewish immigrants in the United States, especially in the New York area where 50 percent of the immigrants settle. He emphasized that the newcomers, by and large, were gradually making a successful adjustment here. But he called upon the American Jewish community to help them, spiritually, in finding their own particular Jewish identity.

“There is strong ambivalence within the Russian Jews on that matter,” Berstein said. “Their voluntary act of emigration forced them to face their Jewishness.” Yet choosing the West, in preference to Israel, created a feeling of guilt, according to Bernstein, whose training and major field of concentration, before assuming NYANA’s leadership, was psychology. Their choice has also created ambivalence within the American Jewish community vis-a-vis the Soviet Jews settling here, he observed. “The Jewish community, traditionally, has responded magnificently in terms of its financial support for this ever-increasing resettlement program,” Bernstein said. “We now must help them spiritually.”

Mrs. Blanche Ross, NYANA’s president, reviewed her experiences during her first year’s tenure in terms of the agency’s multiple services to the Soviet immigrants. “I watched arrivals at Kennedy Airport,” she reported, “sat through a NYANA orientation session, visited families in their temporary hotel lodgings, observed interviews with caseworkers and vocational counselors, went to a class where Russian newcomers learn English and to a day care center where their children learn Hebrew. I saw their first Chanukah, their first Purim and Passover through their eyes. Here is the whole spectrum of the human adjustment process, reaffirming the Jewish philosophy of life.”

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