WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL -- When Tanya Bernstein left Leningrad to come to Israel four months ago, she knew she was coming to a country threatened by war, but she was more concerned about the problems she was leaving than the ones she was going to. "I don't know about my parents, but I didn't worry about it much," the 24-year-old said last week. Like most of the other Soviet immigrants -- who have been arriving here at a rate of eight airplane-loads per night for the last year -- Bernstein came to Israel because of the prospect of material and educational opportunities not available in the Soviet Union, especially to Jews. She is one of 40 new immigrants working and learning Hebrew here on Beit Haemek kibbutz, a collective settlement an hour outside of Haifa. The Soviets, most of whom are in their early 20s, receive a $35 stipend plus room and board. Most said last week that this is an adequate living, but nothing like the bright future they dreamed of when they took flight for Israel. "Sometimes I ask myself, 'Why did I come?' " Bernstein said. "But that's because I left my boyfriend and my friends -- for personal reasons." Many said the normal sociological pressures of finding jobs, making friends and missing those they left behind are made worse by the psychological pressures of living in a country at war. Julia Tikhanova divorced her husband so she could come to Israel. The couple planned to reunite here on the kibbutz, but the 19-year-old said her ex-husband cannot obtain a visa because he is not Jewish and cannot prove he is being sponsored by relatives in Israel. Now, Tikhanova said last week, he has stopped studying Hebrew and may have decided not to come. While some of the students on the kibbutz emigrated with their families, many left their parents when they left their country. All were uprooted from their daily lives. Now, like all local residents, the Soviets are becoming used to the frequent air raid sirens. Even though the kibbutz is far from any densely-populated area, and far from where Iraqi Scuds have landed, locals carry their gas masks at all times and listen anxiously for sirens at night. Tikhanova said that during the day, she finds her life routine and unaffected by the war. But at night, she said she stays closer to home than usual in case an alarm sounds. Even in a time of war, most said, Israel offers opportunity and security the likes of which the Soviet Jews have never experienced. Schoolyard taunts and quotas at schools or jobs were facts of life for Jews in the Soviet Union. But now, young Jews here from Leningrad, the Ukraine and the Caucasus Mountains tell stories of anti-Semitic television broadcasts and anonymous letters that blame them for the growing problems in the country in the last few years. Now, Bernstein said, her fellow students marvel at the number of Jewish surnames in their classes. She added that in Leningrad, universities rarely have more than three Jews in a class. After they leave the kibbutz next month, the Soviets said they will start fulfilling their dreams. For the most part, they are not big dreams -- a chance to study architecture, open an art studio, or buy new tapes to replace a music collection left behind. Bernstein, a former English teacher, said she wants to travel if she can find the money, but added that whatever she does, at least her success will depend on her own abilities. "At least I know that it depends on me. I couldn't say that in Russia," she said. "This is a free world."Comments powered by Disqus
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