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Media : Rise in Russian-Language Newspapers Mirrors Change in Israel : Some say the publications, with ads geared to new arrivals, will slow the use of Hebrew.

June 25, 1991|DANIEL WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — The rush of Soviet Jews arriving in Israel is being greeted by a burst of Russian-language newspapers--a phenomenon like the immigration itself that is unmatched in the country's 43-year history.

There have been--and still are--newspapers in German, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian and English published in Israel. But never before here have so many publications catered all at the same time to one linguistic group. There are now three dailies, seven weeklies and at least four regular supplements to Hebrew papers published in the Russian language. Most have been created during the last two years of the immigration boom, while longer-established Russian-language publications have sharply increased circulation and page volume.

As stacks of papers printed with Cyrillic script jostle aside Hebrew publications on news kiosks throughout the country, there is even concern among Israelis that the newcomers from the Soviet Union will be slower to learn Hebrew and otherwise integrate into society than would be the case with a smaller Russian-language press.

"There is no doubt that we had to learn Hebrew quicker because there wasn't this kind of service for us," said Avraham Segev, an Israeli who emigrated from the Soviet Union 17 years ago and who now edits the Russian-language Novosti Nedyeli, or News of the Week. (Despite the title, Segev's newspaper is published daily.)

The oldest and biggest of the papers is Nasha Strana, or Our Country, which was founded in 1974 and forms part of a minor conglomerate of Eastern European-language dailies. Nasha Strana also circulates in the United states, Australia and--yes--in the Soviet Union to reach potential migrants.

The pool of Russian-language readers here is already large and is still growing. Almost 300,000 Soviet Jews have arrived here in just the last two years. That compares to an estimated 150,000 English readers in the country and a minuscule immigration of Jews from English-speaking countries. Up to a million more Soviet Jews are expected to settle in Israel during the next few years.

It's not only language that separates the Russian papers from the mainstream Israeli press. The content also reflects the backgrounds of the newcomers, their problems and potential.

Soviet readers are accustomed to long articles, for example. And the new immigrants get them in Israel's Russian-language press. The tale of a family separated in World War II during an odyssey that took them from the Soviet Union to China and finally to reunion in Israel filled a full page in each of two issues of Nasha Strana.

The new immigrants also like detective stories, editors say, so Russian-language papers routinely publish long mysteries. Cultural articles seem endlessly long as well, and news about Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the latest goings-on with the Soviet KGB security service get front-page play.

In a nod to critics who warn that the new Soviet Jewish immigrants might become a society apart, the Russian-language press also regularly features background stories on Israeli holidays, Jewish customs and tips on keeping a kosher kitchen.

Advertisers have learned that appealing to the Russian-language audience has its pitfalls. One bank, for example, tried to lure new customers with a comely model wearing a Cossack's hat. But the newcomers from the Soviet Union found it insulting, both because of the Cossack role in historic anti-Semitic pogroms and because the immigrants consider themselves Jewish by nationality, not Russian.

According to Hebrew newspaper reports, the immigrants are attracted to ads that specify the quality and working details of an appliance. The reason: Readers assume that if anything goes wrong, they will have to fix the device themselves--just as they would in the Soviet Union.

The most prominent ads, however, deal with jobs and housing opportunities. "These are what's most on the readers' minds," said Rita Staravolska, a writer for Nasha Strana.

Local articles are also heavy with tales of job and housing hardships. Tent cities are going up in the northern town of Carmiel because of the slow pace of building, the Russian-language papers reported recently. Long commentaries debated the Housing Ministry's performance, as well as job programs proposed--but not yet put into place--by the government.

Letter writers ask where they can resolve personal problems. "How can I obtain a disability pension from this government?" asked one reader in Nasha Strana the other day.

The paper also offers free classified space to Soviet Jewish immigrants looking for long-lost family members. A typical one read: "Dora and Phena Glanser are looking for their brother Moshe . . . was in the Soviet army, was last seen in 1945 in Berlin. If someone knows his whereabouts, please ask him to contact us."

Letters come in from the Soviet Union as well, many asking about economic conditions in Israel.

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