Information on the assistance available to former Soviet immigrant organizations [ISR21647.E]

The following interview was conducted with the Coordinator of the Project for Technical Assistance to Organizations of ex-Soviet Immigrants. This project is managed by an organization called Shatil. The interview was held in Jerusalem on 2 May 1995.

Shatil works to advance democracy in Israel by providing individual consultation, training, written materials, and referrals to non-profit organizations working for social change. Shatil provides assistance tailored to the needs of each client organization, and is committed to empowerment. Shatil provides organizational training and consulting to Ethiopian and Soviet immigrant organizations in their own language and geared to their cultural needs. Shatil also provide assistance to advocacy groups in absorption centres and caravan sites(1).

The idea was to use the technical knowledge of Shatil in order to provide training to new non-profit organizations wishing to assist new ex-Soviet olim. The Project for Technical Assistance to Organizations of ex-Soviet Immigrants deals exclusively with non-profit organizations, not with individuals. The project provides training on how to manage an organization effectively.

When we started three years ago, the objective was simply to reach out to organizations already in the field. At the beginning it was difficult because the concept of a non-profit organization was not developed in the former Soviet Union. These people were not used to organizing themselves to improve their situation. One of our first tasks was to translate all of our Hebrew material into Russian. For example, we tried to translate the concept of "volunteer". In the former Soviet Union the Russian word for "volunteer" means a person who must be a volunteer, that is, forced to be a volunteer. It was hard for us to overcome such cultural and social obstacles.

When we met with the existing organizations, we realized that many of them were duplicating their services. Several of these ex-Soviet organizations had long lists of thousands of members but only one or two volunteers workers. They usually had no money, no office location, no administrative structure, no office materials, etc. We tried to gather information on the objectives of their organizations. The usual answer was that they wanted to help new olim on the issues of housing, employment, language, education, social and medical care, and culture. Our first task was to assist them to focus on two or three specific issues and to build the organization on the success of small projects, not to try to resolve all the problems. In general, our main task was to make them understand how the system works.

We decided to focus our assistance in three main directions: develop training sessions on how to manage a non-profit organization, help the organization itself in its administrative work, and provide information on how to lobby the public decision-makers and the media. This last issue was especially challenging because people in the former Soviet Union were used to dealing with problems indirectly, under the table, without making noise. In Israel, they had to learn that it was not an effective way to focus public attention on certain problems. However, in the last three years they have learned to such an extent that last year 15,000 olim from the former Soviet Union took to the streets to demonstrate about their situation in Israel. This was an important event.

The main problem faced by new ex-Soviet olim is employment. A significant number considered themselves "professionals" in the sense that they had status in the former Soviet Union. Therefore, in the first years there was several cases of doctors, scientists and teachers doing manual jobs such as washing dishes, cleaning the streets, etc. This situation was psychologically very difficult for them to accept. Combined with the material need for better employment, this "psychological" factor helps to understand why employment is so important for new olim.

Another important problem is education. When olim's children started school in Israel, they faced many problems. Two years ago there was a serious drop-out problem with new immigrant children at the intermediary and secondary levels. These students were disoriented, did not understand the need to go to school, and were experiencing problems with other Israeli students. New immigrant children did not communicate their problems to their parents mainly because they thought the parents had enough problems of their own.

There were also problems of cross-cultural integration. New olim were very proud of their great cultural background and were inclined to compare it to what they considered to be an inadequate Israeli culture. Israelis did not appreciate this judgement. The same situation also arose in the schools.

Among the immigrants arriving in Israel, there were disadvantaged people such as invalids, sick, and single-parent families. This group of people had more difficulties adapting to the new society.

For non-Jews, the problems were related to personal status, such as marriage, burial, divorce, etc., and not to their civil rights as citizens. It is important to stress this point non-Jewish immigrants who come under the Law of Return face difficulties only with regard to religious matters. For example, there is no civil marriage in Israel. If Israelis wish to marry under civil laws they must go to Cyprus. In our work with ex-Soviet immigrant organizations we have not come across problems of civil rights for non-Jewish immigrants. However, it does not mean that there are no civil rights problems. Also, I do not know of any non-Jewish organization assisting non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. If a non-Jewish immigrant organization is interested in providing services to non-Jews who immigrated to Israel, it can come to Shatil for technical assistance. Shatil provide assistance to both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations.

Our project helps immigrant organizations such as the Israel Tchernobyl Organization, the Association of Immigrant Teachers, Himkha (for single parents), the Veterans of World War II, and many more. We also work with group of pre-retirees (55 and up). Shilouv (Integration) is an organization that disseminates information on civil rights to new ex-Soviet immigrants. We help them as well. Shatil is involved with an organization called Roof for the Needy which provide services to disadvantaged immigrants by providing them with adequate housing.

Shatil's existence and services are well known among the new olim immigrants. We are currently working on a series of radio programs. Since there will be election in Israel next year, Shatil is preparing a seminar designed to inform immigrant organizations on how to take advantage of this opportunity in order to push for their agenda publicly.


(1) For additional information on Shatil, please consult the attached copy of the official brochure.

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