NEW YORK (Oct. 2)
The gates of the Soviet Union opened wider last month than at any time in memory, unleashing the largest wave of Soviet Jews to emigrate in a single month.
A total of 8,442 Jews left the Soviet Union in September, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. That is the highest monthly figure recorded since the conference’s Soviet Jewry Research Bureau began tabulating emigration statistics in 1968.
While the vast majority of the emigrants came to the United States, 1,042, or 12.3 percent of the total, arrived in Israel, a slight increase over the previous month. So far this year, 5,031 Soviet Jews have made aliyah.
Based on the numbers who have left so far this year, it is expected that 1989 will top 1979 as the benchmark year of Soviet Jewish emigration. In 1979, 51,320 Jews left the USSR. The cumulative total to date for 1989 is 41,886.
The September emigration figure is nearly double the July total and exceeds by nearly 2,000 the number for August, which until now had been the largest monthly figure ever.
One factor that helped swell the September total was the arrival on Sept. 28 of 1,356 Soviet Jews at Kennedy International Airport in New York. It was the largest group of Jewish refugees to arrive in the United States in a single day since the end of World War II.
The unprecedented airlift was designed to enable a large number of Soviet Jews to celebrate the Jewish New Year in complete freedom and reduce the crowds of emigres waiting near Rome for permission to enter the United States.
LONG LINES AT EMBASSY IN MOSCOW
The massive arrival was geared to coincide with an Oct. I change in U.S. regulations governing the admission of Soviet citizens as refugees to the United States.
Those who wish to go to the United States, and not Israel, are no longer able to leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas and then “drop out” and apply for American refugee status in Rome.
As of Sunday, those Soviet citizens seeking to live in the United States have had to apply directly at the American Embassy in Moscow. According to reports from the Soviet capital, the line Monday morning snaked around the embassy.
Soviet Jewry activists in this country are clearly excited about the massive emigration, what they dreamed of and agitated for in over 20 years of advocacy. But while recognizing progress, they speak of remaining problems.
Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference, welcomed “the substantial increase,” but said in a statement, “We remain very much aware that serious problems still exist in Soviet emigration procedures.”
She cited “the continued refusal of permission to certain long-term refuseniks.”
The president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Pamela Cohen, was delighted by the large numbers of emigres, but clearly worried about the new U.S. policy. “I almost feel this is the last train,” she said in a telephone interview.
Cohen believes “the United States is really undermining its own human rights policies.”
“I’m scared to death that at a time when we should be evacuating people, we’re stuck with all kinds of bureaucratic delays,” she said.