Ort Replies to Charges Against Its Teaching Program for Soviet Jewish Emigres in Rome

Paul Bemick, executive director of the American ORT Federation, expressed surprise today over charges made against ORT’s English teaching program in Rome for Soviet Jewish emigres waiting to come to the United States. The claim that the program was inadequate and the implication that it contributed to the “drop-out” problem — Soviet Jews who opt to come to the U.S. rather than go to Israel after leaving the USSR — was made by Prof. David Korn of Howard University, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in Rome last week.

Korn, who teaches Russian studies at Howard, said the people teaching English in the ORT program in Rome have lived outside the U.S. for many years and “even if they had come yesterday but weren’t experts in resettlement, they wouldn’t be able to help. Most teachers are not even Jewish and do not understand the problems of the Jewish community in America,” he told JTA’s Rome correspondent Lisa Palmieri-Billig.

Bernick told the JTA here, “We are running and have been running for a long time, English language classes in cooperation with HIAS and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)” in Rome. He noted that 99 percent of the program is financed by the U.S. government and its task is to give the emigres “some knowledge” of the English language sufficient to help them in their first few weeks in the U.S. He said the time for this instruction is limited because the emigres are also undergoing processing during the 3-5 weeks before they leave for the U.S.

HIRES EXPATRIATES

Bernick said that ORT hires expatriate Americans living in Rome as teachers because it is economical inasmuch as they are paid local salaries. He said some of them are non-Jewish but suggested that this was an advantage for the immigrants because they would be meeting all kinds of people in their new lives in the U.S.

Bernick noted that ORT works closely with HIAS and the JDC. HIAS handles visas and travel arrangements, the JDC is responsible for maintenance and ORT conducts the English classes. He said ORT and the JDC jointly conduct classes for emigre children where the teachers are Jewish and the content is Jewish. He said he could not comprehend what prompted Korn to make his charges.

Korn is chairman of the Resettlement Committee for Soviet Jews in the Greater Washington area and a member of the board of directors of the Jewish social services agency there. He is traveling in Europe as part of a study mission on “foreign issues” headed by Rep. Jack Kemp (R.NY) on behalf of former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California in connection with the Republican Party platform.

Korn claimed that the high drop-out rate among Soviet Jews is due to lack of realistic information as to what problems they will encounter in the U.S. “They think they will be met by someone in New York who will be ready to give them a job,” he said. He claimed that several emigres told him that if they had been better informed they would have gone to Israel or stayed in the USSR. “But there is no one here (in Rome) to tell them the true facts about unemployment, retirement, pensions, jobs or medical problems in the U.S.,” he said.

Korn said the JDC and HIAS are both doing excellent jobs and “the accusation that HIAS is stealing people is not true.” He said he felt the main problem lies with the ORT program. He said the English teachers for the Soviet emigres should be Jews from the U.S. who would go to Rome for six months or a year and who were familiar with resettlement problems.

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