Jewish Agency Plans Program to Urge Soviet Jewish Aliyah

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency adopted a special program Thursday to encourage Soviet Jews in Ladispoli, Italy, to emigrate to Israel.

Some 7,000 Soviet Jewish emigrants are in Ladispoli, awaiting clearance to settle in the United States and other Western countries. Of Jews leaving the Soviet Union over the past year, some 90 percent have chosen to live in countries other than Israel.

Under the new program, Soviet immigrants who now live in Israel will serve as emissaries, or shlichim, and short-term workers in Ladispoli in an attempt to motivate Soviet Jews to identify with Israel and to make aliyah.

The program, to be implemented with the cooperation of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, will focus on educational and cultural activity and on information about absorption opportunities in Israel, including housing and employment.

The noshrim, or drop-out, problem is a source of frustration for Jewish Agency officials. Even though Israel offers safe and immediate haven for Soviet Jews, most emigrants nonetheless wish to enter the United States as refugees.

On Wednesday, Uri Gordon, head of the agency’s aliyah department, said the Ladispoli “facility” should be closed down to “stop the embarrassment.”

Gordon’s comments were based on the hope that the Soviets will change their emigration policy to allow emigrants to apply from the Soviet Union, and not Italy, for entry visas to countries other than Israel.

What the impact of a pro-aliyah educational campaign would be on Soviet Jews is unclear.

Last month, Sylvia Hassenfeld, president of the Joint Distribution Committee, estimated that a pro-aliyah campaign would encourage only an additional 10 percent of Soviet Jewish emigrants to settle in Israel.

In New York, Karl Zukerman, executive vice president of HIAS, said a pro-aliyah effort is important beyond numbers.

“First, it takes away some of the disinformation about Israel that the Soviet Jews have been fed over the years,” he said. “In addition, it says to all that world Jewry is deeply committed to Israel and wants Jews to live there.”

The Jewish Agency hopes to establish a school for Jewish studies and a clubhouse for dialogue about life in Israel.

“We have an historic opportunity to reach thousands of our Soviet brethren with a positive message about Israel. We must do this efficiently and rapidly,” said Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Agency’s Board of Governors.

Kaplan did not provide details of the costs of the new program.

Meanwhile, State of Israel Bonds announced that bond buyers will be asked to buy additional bonds to assist the Israeli government in providing absorption opportunities for Soviet emigrants.

The call is a response to a request by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

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