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Long Lines at Moscow Consulate Attest to Resurgence of Aliyah

April 2, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Thousands of Jews again lined up outside the Israeli Consulate here last month, as immigration to Israel began to bounce back to levels reached prior to the war in the Persian Gulf.

A total of 14,609 immigrants arrived in Israel in March, 13,336 of them from the Soviet Union, according to Israeli officials. That is double the rate in February and about the same as January, though significantly less than the record 35,000 Soviet Jews who made aliyah in December.

In New York, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry reported that the March total brings Soviet Jewish aliyah to 33,860 so far this year. That compares with a total of 17,717 Soviet Jewish olim during the first quarter of 1990.

Jewish Agency officials expect some 20,000 Soviet immigrants to arrive in Israel during April.

An Israeli official said that the consulate here issued about 900 visas a day last month, compared to between 400 and 500 during the war. To process immigrant visas, consular officials work from 9 a.m. until early evening or later–as long as it takes to handle the traffic on a given day.

The consulate is located on Bolshaya Ordinka Street, fairly close to the center of Moscow. The relatively new building used by the consulate stands next to churches and other buildings from the pre-revolutionary period, some of them occupied by diplomatic missions.

On the sidewalk next to the consulate, a bazaar has sprung up to serve the needs of prospective immigrants. Vendors spreading their wares on tables offer Hebrew teaching aids, Russian-Hebrew dictionaries and luggage for the trip to Israel. Books for learning Hebrew that once had to be smuggled into the Soviet Union now fetch good prices here on the street.

Some distinguished rabbis from Israel, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, visited the consulate early last month to get a first-hand report about procedures for validating claims of Jewishness by applicants for immigrant visas. The rabbis were satisfied that procedures had been tightened so that forged documents would be more easily detected than in the past.


A consular official said that visa applicants have to bring original copies of their birth certificates, which state the nationality of both parents.

Under Soviet law, a person whose parents are of different nationalities can choose to be registered under one of these nationalities when they reach 16. There are many people who are registered in their “internal passports” as non-Jews, but who have a Jewish parent. Such people may enter Israel, along with their spouse and children, under Israel’s Law of Return.

Likewise, a person whose only link with the Jewish people is a Jewish grandparent may also qualify under the Law of Return.

The rabbinical delegation was told that about 30 percent of the families receiving immigrant visas are of mixed nationality. In some of these cases, however, the mother is Jewish, so the children are as well, according to traditional Jewish law. The actual percentage of non-Jews entering Israel as immigrants is therefore not clear, as far as visa applications are concerned.

Consular officials have been worried lately about the sudden spurt in the number of Jews applying for immigration visas to Germany, which recently began issuing them to Soviet Jews on a selective basis. Once word of this leaked out, hundreds of Jews began lining up outside German consulates in various Soviet cities.

Moreover, synagogues in several cities, including Moscow and Kiev, have begun issuing certificates of Jewishness, for a substantial fee, that are required when applying for German visas.

Synagogue officials said that the German consulates would rather have the synagogues determine who is Jewish rather than make this judgment themselves.

In New York, meanwhile, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society reported that 2,477 Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States in March, up from 1,713 in February and about 1,300 the month before.

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