Aliyah from Former Soviet Union Decreased Substantially in 1998

When economic conditions worsened in the middle of 1998, some Russian Jewish officials spoke about a possible exodus of Jews to Israel.

That exodus failed to materialize, but emigration from Russia did increase during the last few months of 1998, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Some 46,020 immigrants arrived in the Jewish state from Russia and the other former Soviet republics in 1998, according to the bureau, compared with 54,621 in 1997.

But while this rate represents a decrease of 16 percent, the number who emigrated to Israel from Russia is down by only 6 percent, to 14,450.

The wave of emigration that started in 1989, when restrictions were eased in the former Soviet Union, has brought a total of about three-quarters of a million people to Israel. But the influx has tapered off during the past few years.

If the rate of emigration that occurred at the beginning of 1998 remained constant, aliyah from Russia would have been down by 15 percent for the year, said Alla Levy, head of the Russia office of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Those regions where the rate of aliyah increased — the Samara region in central Russia, where aliyah increased by 18 percent last year; the central part of Siberia, where the rate of immigration to Israel was up by 9 percent; and the formerly autonomous region of Birobidzhan, where the rate increased by an astronomical 101 percent — are places where the economic downturn is particularly acute, said Levy.

“People generally tend to postpone finalizing their decision [to emigrate] if they feel a relative stability,” said Levy, who added that most of those who made aliyah last year are people who already have families in the Jewish state.

Levy added that most of last year’s emigres had already tentatively decided to leave, and that Russia’s economic crisis and fears of anti-Semitism helped the potential emigrants finalize their decisions.

“We often hear from those who are leaving that they have lost hope for a better future,” said Levy.

According to polls of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union conducted last year in Israel by the Jewish Agency, 52 percent of respondents cited a concern over their children’s future as their main reason for aliyah.

By the end of 1998, Levy said, increasing numbers of Russian immigrants were citing anti-Semitism as their major motivation.

Levy added that the increase in aliyah Israel witnessed during the last part of 1998 is expected to continue.

If so, 1999 could be the first year since 1990 to show an increase in the number of Russian Jews emigrating to Israel.

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