November 14, 2014

Soviet Jewish Refugees are Coming…

"Soviet Jewish Refugees are Coming...and They Need You to be a Friend" brochure, 1989

Front of “Soviet Jewish Refugees are Coming…and They Need You to be a Friend” brochure, 1989

In a subject file on Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) that is part of the Joseph Langer material, UJA-Federation’s Director of Community Development and Neighborhood Preservation, I found a packet of material that was provided to volunteers in the Friendly Visitors to Soviet Jewish Refugees Volunteer Program. The program helped train volunteers to visit and accompany refugee families to stores, businesses, tourist attractions, and synagogues. Through these and other activities, the volunteers aided families with their resettlement and adjustment to the New York area.

From the late 1980s well into the 1990s, many UJA-Federation-affiliated agencies, including JBFCS, were developing and offering services to cope with an influx of Soviet emigres finding a new home in the metropolitan New York area. Federation services and programs included assistance with housing, job placement, education, and child care. As Director of Community Development and Neighborhood Preservation, Langer would have received the packet—proof of his assistance with the coordination and funding of services and programs through neighborhood-based Jewish community councils in Crown Heights, Canarsie, Brighton Beach, the Rockaways, and other neighborhoods.

"Almost Everything You ever Wanted to Say in Russian" booklet, circa 1989

“Almost Everything You ever Wanted to Say in Russian” booklet, circa 1989

In the packet, there is also a very basic booklet to guide a volunteer in the JBFCS program with English to Russian transliterated phrases. For instance, if a volunteer was late meeting up with a refugee family, the volunteer could offer an apology, “prostite chto opozdal” (forgive me for being late) and then “rad vas videt” (I am glad to see you). If a volunteer preferred the New York Mets to the Yankees, the volunteer could remark to a Yankees fan that “ya ne soglasen s vami” (I don’t agree with you). Although the phrase booklet is very basic, it would likely have been very helpful for facilitating some communication between the volunteer and the newly arrived Soviet Jewish refugee family.

And if the phrase booklet was not, in fact, very helpful, perhaps the volunteer could explain that “ya ne vinovat” (It’s not my fault), “ochen zhal” (I am very sorry), “ya ne govoryu po ruski” (I don’t speak Russian).

In addition to the Joseph Langer files that I am processing, another project archivist is concurrently processing a large chunk of archival material related to special funds procured by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for Russian resettlement. Within these files, there should be some additional details about the services and programs that Federation provided to Soviet Jews before Federation’s merger with United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York.

After more archival material has been processed, described, and made available through our finding aid, we want to invite researchers and those interested in the UJA-Federation of New York Collection to “prihodite pozhalusta k nam” (please come and see us).


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