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SOVIET IMMIGRATION

SOVIET IMMIGRATION. The growing community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is becoming a palpable presence in Cleveland. The influx of newcomers turned into a noticeable phenomenon in the city during the 1970s with its peak in 1979 when, among the 51,000 Soviet Jews (see JEWS AND JUDAISM) that arrived in the U.S. that year, a considerable number of refugees settled in Cleveland. Thus, Cleveland played a significant role as a "safe haven" in one of the most successful nonviolent movements in modern history--the Soviet emigration.

This courageous fight for a passage to freedom emerged in the 1970s in one of the most oppressive totalitarian police states. By virtue of international pressure and behind-the-scenes agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, thousands were emigrating from the country that only too often had demonstrated to the world its willingness to suppress those who challenged any aspect of Soviet authority. However, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the resulting deterioration in U.S.-Soviet relations almost stopped the immigration by the first half of the 1980s. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring) had lifted the iron curtain, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the decade turned the emigration into mass exodus. The Soviet immigration to Cleveland, until recently, was mostly Jewish and was concentrated in the east side of the city. However, since 1989 this movement has been supplemented by waves of refugees of other ethnic groups, such as UKRAINIANS, ARMENIANS, and ethnic RUSSIANS, arriving to the west side of Cleveland from the former Soviet republics.

The Soviet Jewish immigration to Cleveland, like to the U.S. in general, has 3 distinct periods: the 1970s, with the culmination in 1979; the 1980s, when the movement had almost ceased by 1984, and was gradually taking force toward the end of the decade; and from 1989 to the time of this writing (1994). The statistical data kept by the Cleveland Jewish Fed., shows that from 1972 until July 1984, 2,436 Soviet Jews (or 863 families) were resettled in the city. The immigration picked up in 1989, with 1,060 arriving that year, slowed down to 332 people in 1991, the year of the Gulf War (see PERSIAN GULF WAR), but afterwards kept steady with an average of 500 newcomers annually, reaching a total of 3,470 from the beginning of the new wave until the end of fiscal year of 1993.

According to the data from the Resettlement Office of the Jewish Family Service Assn. (the organization that provides assistance for the Soviet Jewish refugees), newcomers arrive as multigenerational families, where ages range from newborns to grandparents in their late 90s, though the majority of immigrants are in their 40s. Usually, they are highly skilled professionals with advanced degrees arriving from the urban industrial and scientific cities, though the last wave brought an increasing number of blue-collar workers and small businessmen from the peripheral towns in Russia and from former Asian and Caucasian republics. As tradition had developed over the years, the newcomers settled in CLEVELAND HTS., mostly around the Coventry Village area (see COVENTRY BUSINESS DISTRICT). The beginning of the 1990s, however, saw the shift toward MAYFIELD HTS., near the Golden Gate and East Gate business centers. As years move on, the majority of the Soviet immigrant Jewish community has become an integral part of the suburbia on the east side of the city: LYNDHURST, Mayfield Hts., BEACHWOOD, and, lately, SOLON, HIGHLAND HTS., and ORANGE.

The Cleveland Jewish Fed., and the community in general, have been extremely supportive of the plight of Soviet Jews: in the 1960s, Louis Rosenblum established the CLEVELAND COUNCIL ON SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM; Clevelander Mark Talisman, while being a key aide to Congressman Charles Vanik, helped develop the Jackson-Vanik Amendment that linked human rights policies and U.S. trade agreements; Louis Stokes, a Congressman from Cleveland, served as a head of the Congressional Coalition on Soviet Jewry. In addition, Cleveland Jewish Family Service Assn. spends annually 1.8 million dollars from the federal and private sources for the resettlement program.

In their turn, the Soviet Jewish immigrants are becoming an increasingly important asset in Cleveland business, industry, science, medicine, and arts. The Soviet-educated engineers, scientists, and academicians work for the key industrial, business, and research organizations in Cleveland, such as British Petroleum (see BP AMERICA), GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., General Motors, and NASA LEWIS RESEARCH CENTER. Many have become faculty members or research fellows in most of the local colleges and universities. Major Cleveland hospitals employ Soviet medical graduates who confirmed their M.D. license. There are opera singers from the Soviet Union at the CLEVELAND OPERA, and the Soviet-trained musicians constitute a sizable part of the world-famous CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA.

According to the studies undertaken by Jewish organizations, Soviet Jews who were deprived of their traditions and heritage and forced to live through spiritual genocide, have begun to follow Jewish traditions and rituals. The former "Jews of Silence" have found their new voice and new identity in their new country. Though the majority had no religious background (96%), they provide Jewish education to their children (79%); many also regularly give to Jewish charities (82%). The significant part of the congregations of the orthodox synagogues Zemarch Zedek and Betham are comprised of Soviet immigrants.

The Soviet Jewish immigrants of the older generations formed their own social organizations as part of the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER. The JCC Club, named after its founder, the late Jacob Alter, met weekly in 1993 and had a few hundred members and published its own newspapers, the bi-monthly Za Novou Zhizn ("For the New Life") and the monthly Ritmy Klivlenda ("The Rhythms of Cleveland"). Another organization is the Veteran's Society. More than 100 World War II veterans met weekly in the JCC. They formed their local chapters in every Senior Citizens' apartment building where they lived, and published their own columns in the Russian newspapers. There is also the Singer's Group directed by a former head of Riga's (Latvia) Radio and Television.

If the Soviet Jewish immigration to Cleveland is already in its third decade, the influx of Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Armenian refugees is a comparatively new phenomenon that has become noticeable since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The organization that provided assistance to these newcomers was the Catholic Social Services with its Immigration and Refugee Department formed especially for this mission. According to their statistics, the year 1993 saw the arrival of 10 ethnic Russians, 9 Ukrainians, and 77 Armenians. Sixteen Russians, 19 Ukrainians, and one Byelorussian family came in 1992. The resettlement of these refugees was sponsored by federal programs, various churches, CATHOLIC CHARITIES CORP., UNITED WAY, and relatives of the newcomers. The Russians received help from the Russian Orthodox churches; Ukrainians from the Catholic Ukrainian Diocese. Especially active is St. Josephat Cathedral. Armenians, who are Pentecostal, are sponsored mostly by their American families. If they do not temporarily settle with relatives, the newcomers rent apartments, mostly around W. 32 St.

The social and educational status of these refugees varies from blue-collar workers and people with elementary educations to jewelers, artists, and computer specialists. It seems premature now (in 1994) to analyze or predict any specifics or patterns within this new movement. If the majority of the Soviet Jews fled an anti-humane, anti-semitic country, likewise other Soviet refugees are escaping religious persecution, lawless anarchy, and civil wars. The shift toward democracy resulted in more intolerance and violence. All of these people create a history of courage and determination, being part of one of the most dramatic fights for freedom and human rights in our time--Soviet emigration.

Irene Shaland