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An immigrant in Israel.

VLADIMIR Beilis's heavy eyelids drooped as he pondered another question. When I left his bare yet clean kibbutz flat at 8.30 p.m., I asked him what time he had to go to work the next day. |At 4 a.m..' |And when do you finish?' |4 p.m..' Perestroika and glasnost have dealt Vladimir Beilis a kind yet cruel blow. Just over a year ago, he was a top junior fencing coach in the Ukraine. Now he is working around 70 hours a week in a boot factory in Kibbutz Dafna in North Israel, a few miles from the Lebanese border. His average weekly wage is about 600 shekels (150[pounds]).

One of over 420,000 immigrants who have arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union since the beginning of 1989, he is, as he acknowledges, fortunate to have a job at all. Around 40 per cent of these new immigrants are still looking for work, out of a national total of about 250,000 unemployed.

Approximately one million Jews have applied for an invitation from relatives living in Israel and half a million actually hold exit visas. However, after peaking at 35,295 a month in December, 1990, the number settling in Israel has fallen to an average of 4,500 a month in the first six months of this year.

Vladimir, 39, emigrated to Israel last March with his non-Jewish wife Tatiyana and their two sons Vladislav (14), and Alexsandr (9). One year on. they live in a three-room apartment and are among over 1,000 new Soviet immigrants temporarily living on kibbutzim. Vladimir would have preferred to live in Haifa. But despite the 21,000 shekels (5,000[pounds]) he and his family have received from the Israeli government, he could not afford a flat there, and so filled out forms enabling them to move to a kibbutz.

His attempts to find a job as a fencing coach have, so far, been fruitless. Last summer, he went to the Israeli Fencing Championships in Kfar Saba, and approached a prominent fencing official. |He said he would see me when he had time. I waited for him the first day. At the end of the second, I again went up to him and said I must know what he thought about me. He asked me where I lived and said he would call my municipality (Kiryat Shemona) and I should call him'. Several phonecalls later, he was told that there was no money for fencing coaches in the area where he lived. Coming from a system where the State provided work and in which sport was well funded, his experience in Israel has left him disillusioned. |I feel very bad. Fencing is very important for my life. To change my profession at 39 is not easy. I had pupils who were champions of the Ukraine and the USSR. I got good results, but it does not interest anybody'. As he spoke, his hands leant on a portable radiator and his eyes occasionally flickered towards the television-- the two objects in his walk-through sitting room which he had bought himself. He wore a pair of blue tracksuit bottoms, an unmatching blue tracksuit jacket and a jaded check shirt.

|If it is possible to go to another country to work, I will go, because working in the factory for me is not interesting. I would like to prepare first class sportsmen and not to make boots. If I can't go to another country, I will have to train for another profession'.

A neighbour has given them some presents at Jewish festivals and said if there were any problems to let him know. Yet they have not been invited into any kibbutznik's flat for tea. |I feel I am strange for a kibbutznik', he said.

Vladimir's brother Felix, a former photographer now working in a restaurant in Haifa, had written to him telling him about all the food in the shops. |In Russia, I heard many things of Israel, but not the truth', he laments. |Food is easier to get in Israel, but for me', he says touching his heart, |Russia is more good'. Yet he is reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that returning to the former Soviet Union would not be a wise move. Apart from the problems involved in obtaining food and clothes and the mild antisemitism, |after Chernobyl we had bad ecology', he says. His wife, a PE teacher now working in the kibbutz hospital, began suffering headaches and had trouble going to work.

Dafna has 40 former Soviet citizens living on it. Of the 10 who work in the factory, there is a composer, Boris Pigovat, a language teacher and a few engineers. |Boris thinks as I think: it is not for all time. That makes it easier'. On the plus side, despite spending most of his waking hours in the factory, Vladimir spends more time with his children now than when he was in the Ukraine. |I spent more time with my pupils there. Now I get to know my sons better, which is good. The ecology is good here. My son goes to fish sometimes. In Russia, we had a river, but there were no fish because of pollution from the factories'.

In his former home city of Simferopol, the synagogue was |a little house', and was attended by elderly Jews. He had been there once. |Our tradition is killed in Russia, but now it has been born again'.

Some Jewish coaches from the former Soviet Union have found fencing jobs in Israel. A colleague, Yaakov Ferdman, whose nephew has progressed from the Byelorussian junior team to the Israeli national team, works part-time as a coach. And Vladimir Beilis knows of two Russians who have found full-time jobs.

According to a survey published by the Tazpit Research Institute during the surge of immigration last year, 29 per cent of the Soviet immigrants who have arrived in Israel since September, 1989, would like to live elsewhere five years from now. The other 71 per cent wanted to remain in Israel. The survey was conducted among 809 Soviet immigrants. Meanwhile the only fencing Vladimir Beilis does is to parry the hardships that beset many a former Soviet citizen in Israel.

[Lee Levitt is a journalist on the Jewish Chronicle.]
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Title Annotation:Soviet immigrants
Author:Levitt, Lee
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:1056
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