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U.S. Communities Asked to Absorb Much Larger Numbers of Soviet Jews

October 13, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Bracing for the arrival in the United States of some 18,000 Soviet Jews by Dec. 31, leaders of the major Jewish philanthropic agencies have asked local Jewish community federations to resettle dramatically higher numbers of Soviet Jews than they have so far this year.

On average, the participating federations will be asked to absorb three times as many Jews per month in the next three months as they had for each of the first nine months of the year.

By taking some of the absorption burden off of the New York Association of New Americans, which is funded through money raised around the country for international needs, the move is designed to channel a higher share of the Jewish philanthropic dollar to Israel for the purpose of settling Soviet Jews there.

That is also the motivation behind an announcement Wednesday that the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations have begun planning a sequel to this year’s $75 million Passage to Freedom campaign on behalf of the emigres.

The new campaign will earmark a greater proportion of funds for Israel’s resettlement needs than the current campaign’s 50-50 split, UJA National Chairman Morton Kornreich said Thursday. The plans were announced at a meeting of some 125 UJA, CJF and local federation officials Wednesday at New York’s La Guardia Airport.

The latest moves are partly a response to a major change in U.S. immigration policy that took effect Oct.1.

Since that date, Soviet Jews and others seeking to enter the United States have had to apply at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. U.S. authorities no longer grant refugee status to those who leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas.


In a development related to the new visa regulations, three officials of Jewish agencies have been invited to travel to Moscow on Sunday with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh to observe the visa process first hand.

Thornburgh extended the invitation to Carmi Schwartz, CJF executive vice president; Mark Talisman, its Washington representative; and Karl Zukerman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Wednesday’s meeting in New York, attended by federation professionals and lay leaders from 40 cities, was planned as an overview of the Soviet refugee issue.

Federation executives say they have agreed to and are even enthusiastic about a 1990 special campaign, as well as the new resettlement goals for each of their communities.

Fund-raising officials say that in recent weeks there has been increasing community enthusiasm about the once-stuttering Passage to Freedom campaign, which has raised $40 million to date toward its $75 million target.

The officials say that debate over U.S. refugee policy has removed some of the accusations that American Jewish community aid to immigrants was funneling Jews away from Israel.

In addition, the sheer number of Soviet Jews expected to arrive in the United States this year has changed minds formerly opposed to a major effort to resettle the Jews here, said Rabbi Daniel Allen, assistant executive vice chairman of the United Israel Appeal.


CJF, UJA and the resettlement agencies agreed on the community goals based on the size of the community and its previous experience in absorbing new immigrants.

By directing immigrants away from New York, they hope to reduce costs at NYANA, which so far this year has resettled 52 percent of all those arriving in the United States.

Chicago has been asked to absorb 1,648 additional immigrants, the highest number after New York. Chicago has absorbed 2,326 this year.

In MetroWest, N.J., the Jewish federation’s goal for resettlement has been set at 462, nearly four times the number who have settled there so far this year.

“We held an emergency meeting this morning with federation and UJA leadership, and their recommendation is that we accept the challenge without hesitation,” said Howard Charish, executive vice president of the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest.

Cleveland has been asked to absorb 360 Soviet Jews over the next three months, after absorbing 243 for the first nine months of 1989.

“We feel we have a challenge, an obligation to take care of these people, and we’re gonna do it,” said Max Friedman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

Some questions remain unanswered about the arriving Soviet Jews. Officials wonder not only how many Soviet Jews will actually come to the United States, but also whether those headed here will agree to resettle outside the largest cities like New York.

But fund-raising and resettlement officials do not seem to be concerned.

Said a HIAS spokesperson: “These people are refugees. I don’t see what possible objection they might have to living anyplace in the United States, if they don’t have relatives in the New York area.”

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