An Orange County-sponsored "freedom flight" carried at least 200 Soviet Jews from Budapest to Tel Aviv on Sunday.
"It's very exciting," said Chelle Friedman, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Orange County. "None of us will ever have to answer to our children if they ask: 'What did you do in 1990 when the Soviet Jews could get out?' "
The chartered plane was part of a yearlong exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union.
Under a sense of urgency that exit visas could be cut off at any time, the local community launched an intense campaign that raised $1.3 million since fall, Friedman said. "There is such chaos in the Soviet Union. It still is not a democracy, and governments can change rapidly."
Although war threatens the Middle East, Friedman said the new arrivals to Israel had positive attitudes and planned to settle in that country. "Most of them feel as though they are coming home," she said. "They know they will be free."
Despite \o7 glasnost\f7 , or cultural openness in the Soviet Union, anti-Semitism is at an all-time high, she said. "It's very blatant. When countries loosen up totalitarian regimes, people seem to feel they have the right to say terrible things about others. Jews are dragged into the streets, beaten, harassed and robbed.
"People who have met flights (in Israel) before say the people who come off the planes are both euphoric and very frightened," Friedman said. "They literally have packed their world in a suitcase."
The Orange County Jewish Federation sent Beverly Jacobs, from the Women's Division, to document the trip. She is expected to return within the next two days.
Further Orange County-sponsored flights will not contain seats for local representatives at the request of donors who want to reserve every seat for Soviet Jews.
"There are probably another 100,000 or more Soviet Jews still clamoring to leave for Israel," Friedman said.