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Soviet Jewish Emigration at Highest Level Since 1980

Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union continued to rise last month, reaching the highest level since April 1980, when 2,469 Jews left the USSR.

A total of 2,051 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate last month, 190 of whom, or 9.3 percent, went to Israel, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry reported Thursday.

The September figure represents an 18.5 percent rise over the August total and brings emigration for the year so far to 11,238 Soviet Jews, the National Conference said.

That would make 1988 the highest Soviet Jewish emigration year since 1980, when 21,471 Jews were permitted to leave. Emigration this year is already 38 percent higher than last year and more than 12 times the total for 1986.

Most Jews leaving the Soviet Union on Israeli visas are still passing through Vienna, where the vast majority decide to emigrate to countries other than Israel. Only 76 Soviet Jews decided last month to fly directly to Israel by way of Bucharest, Romania.

The Israeli Cabinet decided in June that Soviet Jews leaving on Israeli visas must come to Israel through Bucharest. But the direct flight policy has not yet been implemented.

In addition to Soviet Jews, 320 non-Jews were allowed to emigrate last month on Israeli visas, at the Soviet Union’s request.

Earlier this week, the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jews in Tel Aviv and the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry in New York reported slightly lower figures for September. But they apparently did not include the last few days of the month.

Shmuel Ben-Zvi, secretary-general of the Israel Public Council, also reported that of 2,300 refusenik families in the USSR, 500 have been waiting more than 10 years for exit permits, and 1,600 have been waiting between five and 10 years. Another 200 families have been waiting fewer than five years.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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