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Behind the Headlines Iranian Jews, Fleeing to N.y.c. Benefit from Federation Efforts

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The Jews from Iran who arrived in the United States by the thousands, some of them even before the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in 1979, needed help fast and received it from three agencies of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, according to Federation officials.

They said the first group of about 1,200 were youths brought here by the Agudath Israel and the Lubavitcher organization. Later they were joined by other students and families. As a group they were adrift in a strange land, cut off from homes, families and frequently lacking financial resources.

The Federation, in cooperation with the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York and the city’s Iranian Jewish leadership, started the funding of vital services for the Iranian Jews through the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS), the Jewish Community Services of Long Island (JCSLI) and Federation Employment and Guidance Service (FEGS).

The officials also reported that the Federation, in addition, created an Ad Hoc Committee on Iranian Jews to coordinate those programs, and to work closely with the federal Immigration Department, HIAS and the Washington office of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF).

HELP WAS CRUCIAL

This help proved especially crucial during the months following the Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, when the U.S. government was debating about whether to send Iranian students here back to Iran.

Working closely with the Immigration Department, Bobi Klotz, chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee, and Rabbi Isaac Trainin, the Federation’s consultant on Iranian Jews, were able to ensure that no Iranian Jewish students in this country would be sent back to Iran, where their lives would have been endangered.

Two years after the initial influx, the Federation remains deeply involved in helping the Iranian newcomers. Federation funding has provided scholarships for hundreds of Iranian students attending yeshivas and day schools throughout New York City. Interest-free loans have been made available to the Iranians by the Federation-affiliated Hebrew Free Loan Society. The Fund for Jewish Education foundations solicited by the Federation, and its Special Funds program, have also helped to finance vital programs and services for the Iranian Jewish refugees.

VARIOUS SERVICES OFFERED

The JBFCS and the JCSLI continue to serve the Iranian Jews in a variety of areas, providing help with immigration assistance, finding suitable housing and decent schools, helping with medical needs, language training, crisis intervention, and a variety of other services. Since 1979, the JBFCS has served some 2,000 Iranian Jews and the JCSLI more than 1,700.

Both are staffed by Persian-speaking para-professionals, as well as professionals who provide help in health care, housing, employment, language training, psychological counseling and other areas.

The FEGS has offered career counseling and placement opportunities to some 260 Iranian students and has found jobs for Iranian Jews in professional, industrial, clerical and sales areas. An outreach program to yeshivas, public schools and colleges has been undertaken by the FEGS to stimulate interest in career planning and to offer part-time jobs.

STILL FACE DIFFICULTIES

The officials said that despite the aid received from the Federation and its agencies, the Iranian Jews still face difficult problems. It has become impossible in recent months to send money from Iran to the United States, with the result that many Iranian Jews in New York, who had been managing financially, now find themselves without funds and in need of help.

It was reported that this is especially true for many Iranian Jewish students in yeshivas, day schools and colleges who no longer are getting money from their parents in Iran. Many Iranian Jews have become depressed by their inability to find suitable jobs and a high percentage of the students still report visa problems, it was indicated. The State Department recently eased its restrictions on Iranians and they now can get temporary visas. But the Immigration Department has not yet acted on this matter.

Trainin said that “despite the difficulties confronting them, the Iranians have a strong Jewish identity and pride in their heritage as well as a strong desire to succeed here. In cooperation with New York UJA and Iranian Jewish leadership, Federation will do what it can to help them realize this dream.”

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