Reaching out to local Israelis after decades of neglect, Jewish community officials Thursday announced a $180,000 grant intended to help bring the immigrants into the larger Jewish community of Los Angeles.
The Israeli government once frowned on this sort of thing, hoping that emigres would feel like strangers in a strange land and decide to return to the Jewish state, said Consul General Ran Ronen.
Indeed, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once raised a storm of protest by referring to the emigres--known in Hebrew as yordim , meaning those who descend--as "the weakest of the weak."
But times have changed. With the number of Israelis living on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley estimated at anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 out of a total Jewish population of 600,000 to 700,000, "We can't afford to lose them," Ronen said.
"If we don't take care of them, we will lose their children as Israelis and Jews in one generation," he said.
Funded by the Jewish Community Foundation, the three-year grant will allow the Jewish Community Centers Assn. to provide special programs for Israelis, including summer camps, teen evenings, singles dances, student clubs, an information hot line, holiday celebrations and other activities.
"At this moment, we have a unique opportunity to offer a convincing alternative to assimilation and dissolution within an important segment of our Los Angeles Jewish community," said Martin S. Appel, president of the foundation.
The foundation is a charitable arm of the Jewish Federation Council, an umbrella organization made up of most of the Jewish organizations in the city.
Although some Israelis are already involved in B'nai B'rith and other groups, this is the first coordinated effort to bridge the gap between the established Jewish community and the Israeli immigrants, said Elaine Albert, a staffer with the Federation's Council on Jewish Life.
While immigrants from unfriendly environments such as Iran and the Soviet Union tend to fit in quickly because they have no intentions of returning, Albert said, many Israelis come to the United States with plans to go back someday.
"But most of them stay, and there's a growing recognition that as the years pass, their children are not Israelis, which is hard to accept for some, and there's a growing realization of 'Where do we go from here?' "
"It is their children that are the problem," she said.
Indeed, with Israel's economy in trouble and housing at a premium because of the flood of Soviet immigrants, it would be hard to make a case for Israelis who are doing well in America to return home now, Ronen said.
"First, we must keep them as Jews and Israelis, and if we improve the economy of Israel, maybe then we can get them back," he said.
To some Los Angeles Israelis, the new outreach effort is no less welcome for being overdue.
"Ignoring the fact that we were here didn't do any good for anybody," said Dr. Victor Gura, who immigrated 12 years ago.
Morrie Avidan, a businessman who came to the United States in 1972, said that in addition to their numbers and potential charitable contributions, Israelis could make other useful additions.
"We come from a mentality that is a majority in the country, not a minority," he said. "Israelis are more aggressive, more open, more believing in themselves.
"They say, 'I want to live where I want to live, but I don't want to sever my ties to Israel. Israel is like my mother and I can never cut that tie. This country is like my wife. I can only divorce her, but I love her too."'
Other federation projects aimed at Los Angeles Israelis include a recently launched after-school program to teach religious subjects and Hebrew literacy to the children of immigrants, many of whom can only speak the language.