East Europeans top brain drain from Israel

Immigrants of Eastern European origin leave Israel at a rate five times higher than native Israelis.

October 26, 2006 01:59
3 minute read.
East Europeans top brain drain from Israel

EL AL plane 1 248 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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Six years ago, Stan Kovitch was so excited to immigrate to Israel that he spent the months before his flight listening to the only Israeli music he owned - Dana International. Now, the 24-year-old is making plans to return to his home city of Kiev in the Ukraine. "I thought Israel would make all my dreams come true, but it turns out that the life I always wanted is back home," says Kovitch in his heavy-accented Hebrew. The accent, he adds, is part of the problem. "I will never be a full Israeli, people will always think I am 'Russian' and discriminate against me." Cases like Kovitch were the topic of discussion at the Knesset's Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Wednesday morning, when the committee heard reports of the increasing emigration from Israel. According to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 68,900 people left Israel between the years 1990 and 2005. The largest number of emigrants are between the ages of 20-30 and college-educated, the CBS said. "There is a very clear brain drain created by our best and brightest leaving Israel because they cannot find the employment and quality of life they seek," said MK Michael Nudelman (Kadima), chairman of the committee. The report showed that immigrants of Eastern European origin leave Israel at a rate five times higher than native Israelis. The top reason for leaving was given as unemployment, with rate of living and high taxes also listed. Many immigrants from the former Soviet Bloc had a difficult time being absorbed into the Israeli school system and returned to Russia or the Ukraine to complete their education, said Eli Zarkhin, the CEO of the Israeli Association for Immigrant Children. Meanwhile, others find that the quality of living and employment for the college-educated is higher in Eastern Europe, and therefore return to that region after receiving their degrees in Israel. "While it is excellent that we have such successful aliya programs, we must also focus resources on making sure that people stay here," said Nudelman. "We must find ways to prevent people from returning to Eastern Europe." The CBS report stated that non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants are twice as likely to leave Israel than their Jewish counterparts. Non-Jewish immigrants are not considered Jewish by halachic standards; they often include cases of people who are born to a non-Jewish mother or come to Israel with a Jewish spouse, specified a spokeswoman for the CBS. "Emigration certainly happens, but it likely happens when people's expectations don't meet reality," said a spokeswoman for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI). A search of organizations listed by the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption shows that nearly twice as many organizations exist to help Anglo immigrants than Russian immigrants. While many organizations have emerged in recent years, representatives at the Knesset committee noted that immigrants from the former Soviet Bloc were less likely to ask for help from organizations. Kovitch said he and his family never spoke with any of the organizations that exist to help immigrants in Israel. Now that he is leaving, his parents are weighing whether they, too, will return to the Ukraine. "I am happy I came, but I am also happy to be returning," he says. "The high school education I received here was excellent and will be well-respected there." While he does not have a job lined up, he will be looking for work in the field of marketing. "Maybe I'll even work for one of those organizations who try to convince people to make aliya," said Kovitch. "I already have a slogan: the music is much better than Dana International."

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