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Nation of Israel Opens Campaign to Lure Its People Back : They Can Go Home Again, but Many Opt to Live Abroad

January 18, 1987|DAVE LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

Both places have oranges--but after that the similarities quickly dwindle.

And therein lies the challenge facing Israel, getting its former residents who have resettled in Greater Los Angeles to come back home to stay.

Some have heeded the call, many haven't.

After seven years here, Malka Romano left last week to resume life in the Mideast. On the other hand, people such as Gail Shani, who moved here 17 years ago, have adapted to American life and have no inclination to return to what is sometimes a harsher life.

A National Irony

They are part of a national irony. Twenty years after what was perhaps Israel's greatest military triumph--the Six-Day War--the small nation is having to deal with one of its most crucial problems.

A silent foe, emigration, has been succeeding where other opponents have failed. For the last two years there has been a negative balance between the number of people leaving the country as residents and those arriving to settle.

"Ours is an immigrant society, and people have always been coming and going," said Yitzhak Eldan, Israel's deputy consul general in Los Angeles. "But what is happening now is a new thing with us, and it concerns us."

Israel's lower standard of living compared with many Western countries, high taxes, terrorism and a constant state of defense preparedness, lower salaries than in some other places--these are some of the reasons given by those who are part of the outflow.

There are about 50,000 to 75,000 of these former Israeli residents who have moved to Greater Los Angeles, and three months ago the new consul general here, Eytan Bentsur, decided that it was a pool that warranted special attention.

By the thousands, letters have been going out from Bentsur: "Israel beckons you. . . . There is no substitute for a home. No substitute for a homeland. No replacement for a country to which you belong. . . ." Along with the letter come special inducements, such as reduced air fare and the promise of help with housing and employment.

At Jewish gatherings, booklets are being handed out. The cover shows the orange, which is synonymous with the Middle Eastern state, together with a message in Hebrew: "We Expect You Home."

"I am going back to Israel because I was feeling too alone here, and life here was becoming too boring," Malka Romano explained a few days ago.

By now the 33-year-old woman is back in the homeland she left in September of 1979, back in the home of her parents, after having tried Los Angeles for more than seven years.

"I suppose I'll miss it sometimes, and I'm sure I'll come back to visit," she said. "But perhaps life will have some meaning now."

While here, the sabra (native-born Israeli) worked as an assembler in an electronics company, then as a sales clerk in a gift shop. Almost annually, however, she would go back to visit her parents, brothers, sister and other relatives.

"Every time, my mother would ask when I would be coming back to stay. I would say perhaps next year.

"I was hoping to maybe get married, maybe open a clothing store of my own. But it was just a constant battle to pay the bills, and at the end of the month I had nothing left."

So Romano, having read about the new campaign in the local Hebrew newspaper Israel Shelanou (Our Israel), heeded the call that now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the country.

"I'll join my father's clothing store business," she said before leaving Los Angeles. "Once I had made the decision to return permanently, it wasn't difficult to actually do it."

Gail Shani, 37, is a Los Angeles resident and a friend of Romano. She knows about the program but can't see herself returning permanently right now.

"I moved here because my former husband wanted to, and now after 17 years, I don't know if I would be comfortable in Israel," she said. "You need a lot of money over there to be as comfortable as you are here."

Shani, occasionally a manicurist, said she has visited Israel four times since moving, still owns an apartment there, and is always asked by her family to return permanently.

"But," she admitted, "I have become used to America."

Consulate officials hope for a different reaction from the other expatriates.

And so far so good for the fledgling campaign locally. "In terms of inquiries, requests for applications, people visiting the consulate, telephone calls--the reaction has been beyond all anticipations," Bentsur said.

In the United States, his deputy explained, there are basically two centers of former Israelis (although he feels the word former is incorrect). Greater New York has 75,000 to 100,000, followed by the 50,000 to 75,000 here. In New York, a similar come-home program is being administered through the Ministry of Labor.

A look at some numbers, some of them supplied by Eldan, is in order here:

--The approximate world population is 4.7 billion, of which about 13 million are Jews.

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