JERUSALEM (Mar. 3)
Aliyah continued its downward slide in February, with only 4,233 Jews immigrating to Israel from the republics that formerly constituted the Soviet Union.
That is one-third fewer olim that came in January, which was already the worst month for aliyah from the republics in two years, according to the figures released in New York by the Soviet Research Bureau of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
There was also a slight dip in Jewish immigration to the United States from the former Soviet republics. According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York, a total of 3,789 came last month under the U.S. government’s refugee program, compared to 4,301 in January.
But the flow of refugees to the United States is proceeding at a much faster pace than last year. A total of 19,675 have arrived in the first five months of this fiscal year, compared to 6,750 who had arrived by that point last year.
Some 50,000 Jews from the Soviet successor states will be allowed to come to the United States this fiscal year, and if all show up, it will be the largest Jewish immigration wave by far in recent decades.
As for Israel, the good news is that the number of requests for official invitations to immigrate has quadrupled since December. Approximately 12,500 invitations were received in February and an equal number came in January, compared to just 3,000 in December.
Both the Jewish Agency for Israel, the body that coordinates aliyah, and the Zionist Forum, an organization of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, attribute February’s low aliyah figures in part to the lack of jobs in Israel.
“There is no doubt that Israel’s bleak employment picture is the key issue when people consider making aliyah,” said Jewish Agency spokesman Yehuda Weinraub.
“We’re very concerned with the effect unemployment is having on potential olim,” said Zionist Forum spokeswoman Debra Lipson.
“Fear of not finding a job has led many Soviet Jews to adopt a wait-and-see attitude,” she said. “Back there they have a job — something they know they won’t have here, at least not initially.”
CONCERN IN THE MOSLEM REPUBLICS
Another reason for the decline in immigration, say both, is the new privatization law that went into effect in Russia and some of the other republics. Under the law, individual citizens have the right to own personal property, such as land or apartments.
The result is that many potential immigrants have the opportunity to either sell or lease their property. The problem is such things take time.
According to Weinraub, ambiguities in the legislation have slowed down the process even further.
“As it stands now, the law is not well defined. The ordinances have not been mapped out. Consequently, people are waiting around, trying to get their apartments registered in their name.
“This probably explains the drop in aliyah from January to February,” he said. “People are very preoccupied with their property right now.”
While many potential immigrants have put their aliyah plans on hold, others — especially Jews from the heavily Moslem republics of Central Asia — have assumed a “better safe than sorry” attitude.
Ninety percent of the 200,000 Jews now residing in the Moslem republics have requested and received invitations to join family in Israel.
According to Weinraub, invitation requests are on the rise for two reasons: First, prices in the republics have skyrocketed since price controls were lifted in January. “Second, there is a fear that anti-Semitism could re-emerge stronger than ever,” he said.
Despite the upswing in invitation requests, Lipson does not expect brighter aliyah figures until Israel’s unemployment woes ease.
“As difficult as things are over there, Soviet Jews are afraid to leave their jobs to come here,” she said. “If we don’t do something to help the situation here, we risk losing the momentum.”