c.1997 The Boston Globe
BOSTONIt's not exactly Moscow on the Hudson, but if you stopto chat with a half-dozen people on Harvard Street in Brookline,chances are good that at least one of them will be a Jewishimmigrant from the former Soviet Union.
Estimates are that from 1988 to 1994 alone, 11,000 Russian Jewssettled in the extended Boston metropolitan area. Combined JewishPhilanthropies of Greater Boston says, since the 1970s, it hashelped 15,000 Russian Jews relocate to the Boston area.
That immigration has created large enclaves of former SovietUnion or Russian Jews in Lynn and on Massachusetts' North Shore,and, more immediate to Boston, Brookline and Brighton.
The story of the Russian immigration is a remarkable tale onseveral counts.
One is the way the Boston area Jewish community has worked tohelp the Russian Jews make it in America.
Another is the sociological study it presents of the hurdleseven well-educated immigrants face.
Finally, the Russian experience provides an interesting look atthe subterranean tensions between two groups who share a commonidentity in the public mind but in real life have had verydifferent formative experiences.
The Russians who have come to this state have one largeadvantage over some other immigrant groups: Because education wasnear universal in the Soviet Union, most tend to be highlyeducated.
But for many, the lack of English skills has, at leastinitially, worked to negate that advantage, making it difficult toresume their old professions in the US at least until they speakreasonably fluent English. That's particularly true if theimmigrant is olderand about 40 percent of the population thathas come to Massachusetts is age 55 and above, says Dale Stahler,director of the New American Program of the Jewish Family andChildren's Service.
Take, for example, Mary Alfisher, 67, who came in 1980 fromUkraine. Though her husband Mihkail had been a boiler engineer, hewas never able to find similar employment here, she says.
``He worked hard to get licensed, but he couldn't get a job inhis profession,'' she says, in broken English. He ended up cuttingflowers and cleaning before he finally retired. Today the couplesurvives on a slim Social Security check.
For many of the older refugees, who grew up under the Sovietstate, the American private-enterprise system has proven a culturalshock. ``They are very hard-working, but totally bewildered by oursociety,'' said Judy Patkin, executive director of Action forPost-Soviet Jewry, a Waltham, Mass. organization. ``All the thingswe take for granted, they never had to deal with.''
The list of mysteries ranges from crucial skills likejob-hunting to checking accounts and credit cards, and even themonthly billing cycle.
The Jewish community's various Jewish charities, under theauspices of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, provide an array ofservices to help them adjust. CJP president Barry Shrage says thatin two early resettlement campaigns, the Jewish community raised$20 million directly to help Russian Jews immigrate to Israel andthe United States. The organization currently spends about ahalf-million dollars a year for its resettlement efforts, withindividual temples, synagogues, and Jewish agencies also providingfunding of their own.
Newly arrived immigrants can expect help finding, paying for,and furnishing apartments, aid with vocational training andjob-hunting, and money for day school. Almost all immigrants arematched with counselors who help steer them through the maze ofAmerican social-services programs, and they are given initialmembership at local Jewish Community Centers.
Still, it can be a very difficult transition.
``It is tough for everyone if you come to a country with noknowledge of customs, language, or culture,'' said VladimirShekhel, 55. ``It is very difficult, particularly if you want tocontinue in your professional job.''
Shekhel knows that struggle first hand. A mechanical engineeer,he couldn't speak a word of English when he arrived in Dallas fromthe Ukraine in 1978. That inability meant 80-hour weeks working atminimum wage as a machine operator before he made his way to abetter job in Allentown, Pa., and finally a job at Stone & WebsterEngineering Corp. in Boston.
Laid off and rehired with the vagaries in the nuclear powerindustry, Shekhel decided he wanted more regular employment, and in1987 he and a partner bought Berezka an eastern European food storein Brighton, now a focal point for the Russian community.
Artist Michael Lenn, 34, who came from St. Petersburg (thenLeningrad) in 1990, says re-establishing oneself is particularlydifficult for those without computer, science, or engineeringtraining. Lenn says he thinks of Russia and America as twobuildings that face each other.
``You reach a certain floor in your own building, but you can'tjust jump across'' to the other, he said. ``You have to go down andstart from the first floor up. It's tough.''
Meanwhile, some of the cultural differences between Russian andAmerican Jews have led to tensions and hurt feelings over the issueof religious participation and membership.
Some immigrants, such as Kava Lapato, 80, who came to the US in1980 from Moscow, have reveled in the freedom to practice religion,after the persecution they grew up with.
``In Russia, you can't use religion,'' said Lapato, a member ofCongregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. ``Here, our children,our family, everybody, uses religion.''
For others, worship hasn't proved as central to their experiencein America. Inessa, 70, formerly of Moscow, who has been in thiscountry for four yearsand who tells in faltering English of herfather's execution during the brutal tyranny of the Stalin years _said: ``In Russia, it was Communist, so I don't practice Jewishreligion. But now I practice a little, little.''
Other, younger Russians feel the American Jewish community haspressed them too hard to take up full participation in thereligion.
``The American Jews tend to get annoyed about the fact that theRussians don't know basic things about the religion, about whatJews are supposed to do,'' said Tatyana Khaikin, 36, a travelagent, interpreter, and former Moscovite who has been in the USsince she was 16.
As Khaikin, who is nonpracticing, sees it, the American Jewishcommunity had high hopes that Russian Jews would be equallyobservant, and have been disappointed that they are not.
``The Russian Jews are not saying we are not Jewish, but somedon't actively participate in Jewish affairs,'' she said.
At Berezka, Shekhel says he thinks the American Jewish communityexpected too much of Russian Jews, and paid too little attention tothe difference in their upbringings.
``We were raised by an atheist society,'' he said. ``If you aretold from the very beginning there is no God, you start thinkinglike that. You can't switch in a second from being almost anatheist to an acceptance of God.''
Asked about those sentiments, Rabbi William Hamilton ofCongregation Kehillath Israel, says they don't strike him as uniqueto Russian Jews. ``There are plenty of American Jews who have beenhere for many generations who might make that observation as wellabout organized Jewish communal life that tries to encourage themto become more deeply involved with their religious heritage,'' hesaid.
If some American Jews feel the Russians stick to themselves,some Russians feel they have been treated a little standoffishly bythe American population. Walter, 48, who came to the US from Moscow18 years ago, cites a different hospitality mindset between the USand Russia for some of the difference.
``In Russia, when someone visits, it is a must to take them tothe table for food and drink,'' he said. ``But here, they veryseldom do that. They treat you very cool.'' But in general, he haspraise for the reception he's received. ``The American Jews accepteveryone,'' he said.
Leonard Zakim, executive director of the Anti-Defamation Leagueof New England, says he sees tensions as a challenge rather than anobstacle.
``I believe a lot of the problem could be solved by educationabout the cultural differences,'' Zakim said. ``I think it isimportant for American Jews to be a little more informed about whyRussian Jews feel the way they do, and what their experiences havebeen,'' he said.
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
Dr. Joana Mendes, the daughter of a disgraced Portuguesediplomat who devoted her life to winning recognition of his role inrescuing Jews from the Holocaust, died on March 20 at a nursinghome in Mangualde, Portugal. She was 77.
Her son, Aristides Mendes, said the cause was a stroke.
To Mrs. Mendes it was a matter of family pride that during threefateful days in June 1940, her father, Aristides de Sousa Mendes doAmaral e Abranches, then the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux,France ignored Lisbon's orders not to issue transit visas to Jewstrying to flee the Nazi occupation of France.
From June 17 to June 19, 1940, he personally issued visas to anestimated 10,000 Jews and 20,000 other refugees seeking to flee theNazis.
For his defiance of the Portuguese dictator, Antonio de OliveiraSalazar, Dr. Mendes was arrested, hauled back to Lisbon, strippedof his pension and barred from practicing law. The once-wealthyaristocrat was left to descend into poverty before his death in1954.
Although it has since been widely recognized that Dr. Mendessaved more Jews from the Holocaust than anyone except the Swedishdiplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the record was clouded because Salazarrejected Dr. Mendes' appeal for reinstatement in 1945 and gavecredit for the rescue of Jews to diplomats who, in fact, had obeyedthe orders not to grant them visas.
As a later, long-suppressed Portuguese Foreign Ministry reportfound, Dr. Mendes, who said he had acted as a Christian, had beendisparaged because he was a descendant of Jews forced to convert toCatholicism in 1497.
By 1967, largely because of the efforts of Mrs. Mendes, whomoved to New York after the war, her father's story had been sowell documented that he was honored in Israel as a RighteousGentile, with a tree planted in his name at the Yad Vashem memorialto Holocaust victims in Jerusalem.
But even after the death of Salazar in 1970 and the overthrow ofthe remnants of his regime in 1974, Dr. Mendes remained withouthonor in his homeland.
After her return to Portugal in 1979, Mrs. Mendes stepped up hercampaign, but it was not until she enlisted the support of abrother in the United States that American pressure led Portugal toacknowledge her father as a hero in 1987.
In addition to her son, who lives in Rome, N.Y., Mrs. Mendes issurvived by four brothers: Pedro Nuno of Sintra, Portugal; JohnPaul Abranches of Mesa, Ariz.; Sebastian of Scottsdale, Ariz., andCarlos of Los Angeles, and a sister, Teresa Swec of Rippon, Calif.
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