Returning to Israel
From Novoye Russkoye Slovo
April 15, 2003
By Mikhail Nemirovskii
The majority of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants in the United
States emigrated from the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s with Israeli
visas. Now many of them intend to leave the US and permanently settle
Ronny Vinnikov, director of the Israeli center Sokhnut for the
Russian-speaking community in New York, has been surprised by the
number of people calling his office with questions about repatriation
Under the aegis of a policy known as aliya, the Israeli government
fully finances the resettlement of Jews in Israel.
Ronny Vinnikov: It was an eye-opener for me that Russian-speaking
Jewish immigrants in the US have decided to link their fate with
Israel, while that country is experiencing such hardships. Every
year, up to 3,000 American Jews undertake the aliya. That number
includes 40 to 50 immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
The main focus of my work in America is Jewish, Israeli education.
But during my first days of work here, Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants
began expressing interest in aliya. That surprised me. Just today
40 people called us from the New York metropolitan area. And another
20 called from Philadelphia, Boston, New Jersey and Miami.
I have identified three main motivations for aliya among Russian-speaking
Reuniting families: Jewry of the former Soviet Union have been
scattered as a result of emigration (to countries of the former
Soviet Union, United States and Israel). Massive emigration tore
apart almost all Jewish families. Today, many of these families
have decided that they cannot live like this any longer and plan
to spend the rest of their lives in Israel. For example, in Albany,
a mother and father have decided to go to Israel to be reunited
with their children and grandchildren, after a long separation.
Ideological reasons: I am not speaking about religious motivations,
but love for Israel. In particular, young people have grown to love
the country. Many of them have visited Israel under the auspices
of various programs and they have made a decision, fully understanding
the future consequences. Many of them want to serve in the Israeli
Army. Military service. That will enable them not only to protect
their homeland but it is also the most effective means of social
adaptation, particularly for men. Education is another significant
motivation. Young people have demonstrated a passionate desire to
study, particularly in Israeli universities.
Religious motivation: This is evident among that part of the Jewish
Russian-speaking community in America, who returned to their religious
origins. Today, these people do not want to live far away from Jerusalem,
far from the Wailing Wall. For them, a future without Israel is
On the last day of Passover, we always say: Next year in Jerusalem!
Over the course of the twenty-first century, the majority of Jews
will fulfill this covenant.
Q: Ronny, the motivations for aliya are understandable. What
can you say about the education level of those wanting to go to
Ronny Vinnikov: I think it would be premature to classify
immigrants according to their education level. However, I want to
point out that many of them are highly educated, have successful
careers and are unlikely to achieve greater professional success
in Israel than they have in the United States.
For example, we were contacted by the family of a wealthy businessman
who decided to settle in Israel. He has no plans to conduct business
in Israel. He bought a house in southern Israel and plans to relocate
his family there. His company will continue to operate in the United
States and Canada under the direction of experienced managers.
A highly skilled doctor manages a large clinic in the US. He told
us: I have seen what is taking place in Israel. I am transporting
my clinic to Israel so that Israelis can use my services.
He knows what to expect in Israel and he is going there with the
intention of offering his services where they are the most needed.
People come to our Brooklyn office, young people who have earned
bachelor degrees and graduate degrees in America and now want to
be educated in Israel.
Q: I have heard that Israel has changed the way it handles repatriated
Jews from various countries.
Ronny Vinnikov: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said for a long
time that the continuation of aliya is one of the priority tasks
of any Israeli government. As of January 2003, a repatriated Jew
from any country receives the same rights as a repatriated Jew from
the former Soviet Union. Sokhnut and the government have completely
financed the air travel of all members of the family and transport
of their luggage (up to 100 kilograms per person). Each person receives
For émigrés of the former Soviet Union, departing
from the US for Israel, we have a special gift: $500 in cash from
a fund established by the philanthropist Arthur Flauer. His name
is well-known in St. Peterburg. He helped many Jews from there.
All of the money given to the newly repatriated Jews is tax-free.
In that way, families have a financial support to help them become
established during the first period in the country. Dont forget
that upon arrival in Israel, you receive free medical care, and
pensioners receive a pension. From the minute you arrive, you become
a citizen of Israel and can put forward your candidacy for the post
or prime minister.
Q: I gather that Sokhnut has many other tasks aside from arranging
aliya. What are the main activities of Sokhnut?
Ronny Vinnikov: As I said at the beginning of the interview,
the primary goal of my work in America has been Jewish education
for Russian-speaking Jews. Today, we are creating educational projects
for groups of various ages, in order to connect people with Israel
spiritually. For us, every Jew, who is part of the Diaspora, is
an important resource for the support for our government and for
that reason, we are here. Jews should remain Jews, regardless of
where they live. In particular, we have many programs for young
Q: Do you operate independently or in cooperation with other
Jewish groups in the United States?
Ronny Vinnikov: Cooperation with organizations of the Russian-speaking
community and other Jewish organizations in the United States is
a priority of our work. We created a public committee of the branch
in the Russian-speaking community in New York, comprised of representatives
of different organizations. We support the community; we support
any constructive project, particularly in the area of education.
For example, after Passover, we organize a large Sabbath for 150
students in collaboration with the organization Hillel and three
other public organizations, including the youth synagogue Shaarei
Emun. Visitors come from Israel and Russia. We can accomplish a
great deal together. Interviews with Russian immigrants intending
to resettle in Israel:
Rakhmin Failyaev, a religious Bukharian Jew, arrived in America
in 1991 from Samarkand, Uzbekistan. He is a kosher butcher in Queens.
He lives alone in New York. Failyaev said: I decided to go
live with my sister in Israel. The dangerous situation
there doesnt scare me. Ive visited a few times. My relatives
have been waiting for me for a long time. I will definitely find
work there. Im sure of it. They love to eat there and they
are connoisseurs of meat products. How did I decide? Very simply.
I visited, looked around and worked a little. I can have a Jewish
lifestyle there. I am pleased about that. I am ready to leave. I
think I will leave in late spring.
Vera Muchnik and her husband Alexander Rudin live in Albany. They
came to America from Poltava, Ukraine and have lived here eight
years. Muchnik said: I am going to Israel with my husband.
Our daughter and grandchildren are there. I cant live without
them. My reasons? I feel at home there. I love America, but Israel
is my home. In Israel, I hope to return my profession, teaching
music. I hope that we will get our second wind there. And we will
have a good life there!
Boris Mullokandov: I am from Dushanbe [Tajikistan] and have
lived in the US for nine years. I am a student at Queens College
and will become a bio-chemist. I have wanted to go to Israel for
a long time. My parents approve of my decision. I am going to Israel
alone. My aunt and uncle live there. I will live in Beer-Sheva.
Most of all, I am going because I am a Jew. If I must, I will enlist
in the Israeli Army. I want to become a teacher some day. My dream
is to study at Ben-Gurion University. I hope to arrive in Israel
in time for the next academic year.
Translated from Russian by Elizabeth LeBras
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