Report at the International Public Forum-Conference
«Justice and Intergration. Big Aliyah – yesterday, today, tomorrow»
Tel-Aviv, 1-2 November 2005
We are grateful to organizers of this very important and timely Forum for invitation to take part in it and to present a Report. And although due to limited time we could not come to Forum physically we felt it our duty to submit this Report to the Organizing Committee.
“Pre-absorption in Diaspora” is not a new phenomenon. Soviet Jewish refuseniks learned Hebrew not in Israel ulpans but in their Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev etc. private apartments. And many of them after coming to Israel were capable to start the active life practically at once. This heroic pe-riod triumphantly resulted in Big Aliyah when question of “pre-departure” preparation was not even considered by thousands because departure was too swift.
However there were earlier and there are now many of those who are interested in such a prepara-tion. After 1990 14 thousands of graduates of friendly to us Ulpan Halom (Sanct-Petersburg) repa-triated to Israel, and nobody of them had any problems with language absorption. And it is not a chance that work of Ulpan Halom is supported by Jewish Agency for Israel. High estimation of this work was the invitation of Hebrew-language theater “Sfat-Halom” of Ulpan Halom to give in Knesset (on 5 January 2005) the performance dedicated to pioneer of revival of Hebrew Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and to difficult ways of revival of Hebrew in the former Soviet Union. The successful experience of Ulpan Halom in teaching Hebrew in Diaspora (including the preparation of Hebrew teachers for other towns of Russia) needs to be actively distributed.
Organization of “pre-absorption” is not only the studying of Hebrew. E.g. carriculum of Ulpan Halom includes course of Jewish self-identification (history, modern Israel, history of Aliyah, Jew-ish traditions), not to mention the optional classes “Jewish dances”, “Bible Hebrew” etc. The same pattern is the bases of work of Community “Shalom”, which Head is one of the authors of this Re-port. We were strongly inspired by “Ziut Ehudit” (“Jewish self-identification”) Program declared by Jewish Agency several years ago. In frames of this Program important and useful projects and ini-tiatives were realized in different towns of Russia. Unfortunately the work in frames of this Pro-gram, as well as all work of Jewish Agency in Russia, was essentially cut down in 2005. It is very sad since the meaning and importance of this pre-absorption work is much wider and deeper than just to satisfy the needs of those ones who already made personal decision to Go in near future. The organization of pre-absorption is evidently the good tool to increase the number of potential and real repatriates and is also the best remedy from assimilation.
The important dimension of this job is distribution of information, distribution of knowledge about Israel and Aliyah. With this goal we created the Web-site “Haverim” (www.haverim.ru), where in addition to the information chapters the Consulting Internet-Center “Aliyah” is permanently work-ing. And we are glad to have a possibility to share with participants of the Forum some really sur-prising results of this work. As it turned out there are plenty of Jews in Russian-language Diaspora (in future the work of Web-site “Haverim” may be distributed to the English-language area of the Planet, but this dream is a separate theme and it is not clear so far how to approach its realization) who do not know at all the simplest things about Jewishness, Israel and Aliyah. Although they would like very much to fill these gaps in their knowledge.
After it was developed and adjusted the Web-site www.haverim.ru works during 15 months. The number of its visitors during this time exceeded 35 thousands which perhaps is not a small figure with account that no special efforts were undertaken so far to make it popular. We may suppose that it drew the attention of Jewish public because it is perhaps the only public Zionist Web-site in Russia. The interest to this Web-site demonstrates (1) that potential of Aliyah in Russia and in other CIS countries is by no means exhausted, and (2) that there are great unsatisfied informational de-mands in this field. This last circumstance (easily seen from the heading “Question — Answer” of the Chapter “Post Box” of the Web-site) was the main surprise for us. The idea of creation of Zionist Web-site proves to be sound also because of general instability in Russia with its heavy social and political problems, flourishing xenophobia and other hatred-incitement tendencies.
During 15 months more than 300 news about life of Israel and about Aliyah were covered at the Web-site. The accompanying materials on history and culture of Jewish people stimulate the user to look into his/her roots and to find out the only salutary “Ariadne’s clue” to Promised Land.
The most significant chapters of the Web-site are “Aliyah”, “Live Israel!” and “Post Box”. “Live Israel !” gives the philosophy and political substantiation for repatriation, whereas “Aliyah” and “Post Box” present necessary information and answer the questions of potential repatriates.
Heading “Question — Answer” proved to be very popular since it gives quick and qualified consul-tations on juridical, political, cultural, etc. issues (we draw in the highly experienced experts to the preparation of “answers”). It is interesting to note that not only Jews living all over Russia address us with their questions. Russian-speaking Jews of “near and far abroad” – from the Ukraine, Re-public of Belarus’, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Germany… address the Web-site “Haverim”. We were strongly surprised to receive the questions even… from Israel. Those are Olim Hadashim who did not have time yet to understand sufficiently well the Israel realities. Perhaps they think that Web-site “Haverim” is just some free of charge Israel Information Service . In any case we try to do our best to answer any questions. However not all of them may be of interest for public and de-serve to be placed to the Web-site pages (now there are about 100 questions-answers at the Web-site).
There are many questions about complicated inter-family relations making problems for repatria-tion, about expected routine problems of moving to Israel and adaptation in Israel. The following two categories may be singled out from all the potential repatriates addressing our Web-site:
1. Those ones who want to Go but:
— are afraid of difficulties of adaptation because they do not know Hebrew;
— are fear of conscription (we see that they do not know differences between Russian and Israel Ar-mies – such an ignorance is really staggering);
— are concerned with the threat of unemployment (in their professional field in particular);
— are afraid of new climate and possible new deceases;
— are unsure in possibility to receive necessary nursing;
— are fear of isolation and loneliness;
— are concerned with possible problems because of their non-Jewish marriage;
— are concerned about possibility to receive good education.
2. Those ones who do not want to repatriate but would like:
— to get Israel citizenship just “to be on the safe side” (because of Anti-Semitic environment, finan-cial problems, etc.);
— to have possibility to receive treatment and to have a holiday in Israel;
— to study Judaism and Cabbala;
— to study better Jewish history and culture;
— to purchase in Israel some real estate...
Several words about difficulties in our work:
— 5 times Web-site “Haverim” was attacked by hostile hackers and survived only thanks to high qualification of our providers who were sincerely surprised of such a specific popular-ity of the Zionist Web-site.
— In attempt to widen the audience of the Web-site we recently made an attempt to organize the work of the open Internet-Forum dedicated to Aliyah. However the idea was quickly re-jected since we immediately (the next day after Forum was announced at the Web-site) be-gan to receive to Forum the dirty Anti-Semitic comments. Of course we do not have illu-sions about aggressive and hostile surroundings where we live in. But it was a surprise to find out that our Web-site is looked after so attentively. Thus we were enforced to restrict the freedom of expression – in any case at our Web-site.
In general the work of the Web-site “Haverim” demonstrated something which is not new for ex-perts – it showed that huge part of Jewish population in Diaspora is not “covered” at all by the work of Jewish Agency and national Jewish organizations. And it is not only the case of small towns and communities but it is true also for such a big cities as Moscow or Sanct-Petersburg. “To reach” this huge part of Jewish population the targeted versatile systematic work is demanded, with use of internet in particular – this we try to do. Web-site “Haverim” already proved that it is useful. But additional work must be done to support its image of serious friend of the potential repatriate.
We tried to show in this Report that organization of pre-absorption work in Diaspora (in studying of Hebrew, in developing of Jewish self-identification, in providing necessary information etc. – Ul-pan Halom and Web-site www.haverim.ru are the examples) may serve as a remedy from assimi-lation and as a tool to increase the potential of Aliyah. The important direction in developing of this work would be the establishing of cooperative partner relations with Israel State and Public bodies and organizations engaged in the problems of repatriation and absorption. That is why we were so glad to be invited to the Forum «Justice and Intergration. Big Aliyah – yesterday, today, tomorrow» and again express our gratitude to its organizers.
30 October 2005
Boris Altshuler, Edward Alexeev and Vladimir Isakov are members of NGO “Movement without Frontiers” which is working since 1992 in frames of the Russian Research Center for Human Rights (address: 11, Novyi Arbat st., suit: 19-18, 19-20, Moscow, 119019, Russia. Tel.: (7-095) 291-58-72; tel./fax: (7-095) 291-91-76). One of the authors of the Report (Edward Alexeev) is Head of Jewish Community Shalom of the Town of Borovichy of the Novgorod Region (address: 25/27, Sovet-skaya st., Borovichy, Novgorod Region, Russian Federation, 174400. Tel./fax: (7-8162) 738-024). In more detail about “Movement without Frontiers” and Cultural-Educational Center “Haverim” of the Community “Shalom”, and also about Ulpan Halom – see at the Web-site http://www.haverim.ru in the chapters “About us” and “Our Partners” (the English-language pages of the Web-site are hidden there under Israel Flag). There one can find also information about Nor-wegian organization Hjelp Jodene Hjem (“Help Jews Home”) which during many years supports the work of “Movement without Frontiers” and Ulpan Halom and which we cooperate fruitfully. At the same time main direction of work of Hjelp Jodene Hjem is the support of absorption projects in Israel.