The Israeli Response to the Russian Immigration

In the last year, 200,000 new immigrants came to Israel, most of them from the Soviet Union. In one week during December 1990, 12,000 new immigrants arrived, more than in all of 1988! It is estimated that another one million Russian Jews will emigrate to Israel within the next three to four years.

Israelis accept the new immigrants with mixed emotions. The people are happy to see their brothers and sisters coming back to Israel, but it is very hard to hide their fear of the future—economically, militarily, and politically.

Israel had nine to ten percent unemployment before this new wave of immigrants arrived. Our economic situation is bleak; therefore, these newcomers face a difficult economic trauma as a welcome. (They feel, however, that our bad situation is better than remaining in Russia.)

The government is importing modular housing for the immigrants, and new neighborhoods are popping up everywhere. However, the flow of incoming people far exceeds the government’s ability to provide shelter for them.

This wave of immigrants includes many young families and some very well-educated people (both technically and academically). They need jobs, but we have few to offer. Each family receives money from the government to rent a flat or a room, but housing prices have risen sharply because of high interest rates and the small number of places available. After they pay the rent, most families have only a little money left for food and other necessities. The majority of these emigrés will accept almost any type of work just to be able to feed their families and stand on their own feet. This situation causes the Israelis to worry about the security of their own jobs. Also, because of the Intifada, many Arabs have lost their jobs to immigrants. Today you can see doctors, engineers, and other highly trained people sweeping floors and cleaning streets.

Hopefully, this situation is only temporary; otherwise, it will become a social time bomb. The government is planning to invest in industry and create new jobs, but this process will take time (which we don’t have). The government turns to the populace and asks them to help the new immigrants by donating money, furniture, clothing, and other necessities. In addition, taxes are being raised, so every citizen feels the immigration in his pocket.

The TV news reports now have Russian subtitles, and there are four new Russian newspapers being published daily. Hebrew newspapers carry ads in Russian, and the Russian language is heard everywhere.

Additionally, this new wave of immigrants holds the potential for great political changes. It is estimated that in about three to four years they will become a strong political force. Most of them are nonreligious; therefore, the religious parties are concerned about their influence. The Ministers of Education, Absorption, and Interior Affairs are religious and do everything within their power to see that the immigrants are taught Judaism and brought into their religious system, but that may not be enough. It is interesting to note that the immigrants are sent mainly to towns other than Jerusalem. This is done to maintain the religious character of Jerusalem.

The new immigration may also cause security problems. The Palestinians are witnessing the influx of newcomers with sorrow and fear. They see the emigrés filling their jobs and, more importantly, “their” land. They don’t like what is happening, and it may make them even more radical.

In our neighborhood there are quite a few new immigrants. Our local supermarket has hired a Russian-speaking cashier to overcome any language problems, and many of the grocery products carry printed explanations in Russian. The community center for our area is currently conducting ten Hebrew language classes, and the Absorption Center at the end of our street is conducting four more classes.

Please pray for Israel as we attempt to deal with this mixed blessing. Most importantly, pray that those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus will have opportunities to witness to these new immigrants and that many of them will be brought to salvation in Him.

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