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Soviet Jewish Families Emigrate To the US in Increasing Numbers

MARINA GUTAROV smiles as she tells of her husband, Dimitry, and his new interest in cooking.

The couple and a young daughter live with Marina's parents in a Boston apartment. Ever since the five moved to the United States from Moscow more than two months ago, Dimitry has virtually taken over the kitchen. Ms. Gutarov's mother, Zoya Kurilchik, is a little surprised but undeniably pleased. "He prepares all the food for us. I help," says Ms. Kurilchik with a chuckle.

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Lighter moments like these help this refugee family get through a difficult time. Living in a new country is rarely easy. No one has yet found a job, while Marina is the only family member who speaks English fluently.

Every year, thousands of Soviet Jews migrate to the US. Many seek religious freedom and a better life. Most are well-educated and come to be near relatives already here. Many are refugees. A 1989 law authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey eases standards for Soviet Jews to gain refugee status. To become a refugee in the US, an individual must face religious or ethnic persecution back home.

Immigration of Soviet Jews to the US has increased dramatically, particularly over the last five years. In the late 1970s, improved relations between the US and the former Soviet Union helped prompt the first wave.

A second wave came during Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's reign. That was when emigration regulations were loosened as part of perestroika. In 1987, 3,695 Soviet refugees settled in the US, up from 744 in 1986, according to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. The numbers have steadily increased, with 38,740 arriving in 1991. More than 80 percent are Jewish.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York City expects that about 47,000 Soviet Jewish refugees will move to the US in fiscal year 1992, says Roberta Elliott, the organization's spokeswoman. Many end up in metropolitan areas with large Jewish communities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Franciso, and Boston.

Acculturation takes time. Although many refugees come here to escape religious persecution, not all embrace religion once they arrive. "These people have come from a background that may be culturally Jewish, but may in some instances be secular," says Jerome Levinrad, director of refugee-resettlement services for the Council of Jewish Federations in New York.

The first wave of refugees was an older group and "was closer to the tradition and more connected to the religion," he says. But second-wave newcomers are eager to have their children get involved in religion, he adds.

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The refugees are provided with an array of services when they arrive. Under a special matching-grant program funded by the US government and the Jewish community, the Soviets are given cash benefits and services that last about four months. Such services include language- and job-training programs sponsored by Jewish community organizations around the country.

Dale Stahler, director of the New American Program for the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Newton, Mass., says her office will help resettle 1,300 Soviet Jews in the Boston area during fiscal 1992. She says it takes refugees up to a year to find work. Many are highly skilled professionals, such as engineers, physicians, or computer programmers. But they are trained and educated for the Soviet system and jobs here are not comparable. In economically depressed regions such as New England, it is esp ecially difficult to find work.

Marina was a Russian professor. Now she takes accounting courses. "I have to change my profession because my English is not so good," she says.

Due to the language barrier, Dimitry has had to change careers as well. Although his field is civil engineering, he hopes to become a chef. Marina's father, Vladimir, is a mechanical engineer, but he may have to switch also. "I am not sleeping well. I have no job yet," he says.

Many refugees start off at entry-level jobs. Later, they may find jobs that better utilize their skills. One psychologist became a shoe salesman while training in yet another field, says Ms. Elliott. She says a sculptor worked as a state-sponsored artist in the former Soviet Union. His new American career? A hairdresser at "Barney's," an exclusive New York hair salon. "He went from sculpting marble and other mediums to sculpting with hair," Elliott says.

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