Zionism in Action Absorbing University-trained Jews from the USSR
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Zionism in Action Absorbing University-trained Jews from the USSR

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Jews comprise one percent of the total population of the Soviet Union and five percent of the university-trained population. They hold ten percent of the Ph.Ds and 30 percent of the doctorates in the hard sciences. These statistics are of vital importance to the absorption of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, according to Yehuda Dominitz, deputy director general of the Jewish Agency’s immigration and absorption department.

“With some 500,000 university-trained Jews in the USSR, it is obvious that one should plan the absorption of Soviet immigrants with special attention to the university graduates because it is the university-trained Jews who have the strongest motivation for emigration,” Dominitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview. He said that when these immigrants of high academic background arrive in Israel, the question of providing them with appropriate jobs arises not only because it is essential to absorbing them but because the inability to find employment in their fields was one of the chief reasons they left Russia.

“There is reason to believe that one of the primary motivations of Jews leaving the USSR is because the authorities there no longer let them concentrate on education as much as they used to,” Dominitz said. But conditions in Israel are difficult for these people simply because their training is in fields in which Israel’s economy presently does not have many openings. “Of course, you can re-train them,” Dominitz said, “but how many will agree to re-training? The higher their skills, the less motivation immigrants have for re-training,” he noted. And there are other factors that make the absorption of university-trained Soviet immigrants more difficult than other immigrants, Dominitz said.


He pointed out that university training in the USSR is much more specialized than in the West and therefore it is almost impossible to find a newcomer exactly the same job he had in the Soviet Union. As a result, many immigrants are simply not trained broadly enough to cope with the demands of Israel’s employment market which expects a professional to have diversified skills within his field. For example, dental technicians from the USSR must take extensive courses here to qualify to practice dentistry in Israel.

Another problem is that the general academic standards of university-trained Russian immigrants is higher than that of the Israeli society as a whole and it is unavoidable that some newcomers would feel that they have come from a center of culture and science to a rather provincial environment, Dominitz said.

Between 1971-1975, about 110,000 Russian Jews immigrated to Israel of whom 43.3 percent were university-trained professionals or had other occupations that required very high skills. “If the State is not prepared to absorb university-trained people at all levels there will be no immigration. Doctors will not become farmers,” Dominitz said. But generally he is satisfied with the standard of absorption here. Israel, believe it or not, is competitive with the United States as far as its ability to absorb Russian Jews is concerned, he said. He observed that in the U.S. nobody helps a Russian physician establish a practice but in Israel every attempt is made to find work for doctors despite the difficulty of finding positions for 2000 physicians who arrived in less than five years.


“We compromise between the needs and the possibilities,” Dominitz said. The main problem with emigre physicians is to find a job that carries status. “A person who was considered a specialist in Moscow in a specific field is of little value here if he is not well trained in additional fields,” he said. He noted however, that there are several solutions to the problem or at least attempts to solve it, some of which are already in practice.

For example, the State subsidizes the first year and sometimes the second year of work in Israel in cases where the employer has a job to offer but cannot afford to pay a full time salary under existing conditions. The employer commits himself to employ the immigrant after a trial period provided that the employe meets professional standards. Until the trial period ends, the immigrant’s salary is paid by the Absorption Ministry, Dominitz said. This practice has been relatively successful. Up to now, 85 percent of the immigrant workers receiving subsidies have been absorbed.

However, at the moment, many employers hesitate to commit themselves to future jobs because of uncertain economic prospects, Dominitz said.

Another solution which has had considerable success has been the establishment of loan funds that enable an immigrant to establish his own private business, usually a science-based industry. In general, Dominitz said, the entire economy of the nation is becoming more science-oriented in order, among other things, to provide jobs for scientifically trained immigrants. He noted that Prof. Yirmiyahu Baranov of Beersheba University, an internationally prominent hydrodynamics expert, has received a research project contract from the U.S. Navy, which has already provided jobs for Russian immigrants.

But at the top of the list of university-trained scientists from the USSR is a group of “elite” professionals for whom re-training is not possible and for whom it would be a waste of their skills. In the case of these people, the science absorption center of the Absorption Ministry provides funds and projects that enables this group to develop their skills to the maximum, Dominitz said.

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