Learning Hebrew Online - USSR
By Shira Choen-Regev - The HebrewOnline Team

Shalom friends,

The State of Israel is currently celebrating 20 years since the beginning of the massive immigration wave from the former Soviet Union. During these years, Israel has absorbed almost one million Olim (newcomers, עולים) from that part of the world.

In light of our previous newsletter about David Ben-Gurion, I would like to start with an excerpt from a speech carried by our current president, Shimon Peres, in an event that celebrated these 20 years of Aliya (עליה, immigration to Israel) from the former Soviet Union.

One bright day in the spring of 1961, David Ben-Gurion visited Charle De-Gaulle. During lunch De-Gaulle announced that “Israel is our friend and ally”. I (Shimon Peres) accompanied Ben-Gurion, and after lunch we were invited for coffee around a small table in the magnificent garden of the Elysee Palace. It was a wonderful spring day and our mood was springy as well. There were four of us around the table: De-Gaulle, Ben Gurion, Michel Debré (who was the French prime minister at that time) and myself.

As we sat around the table De-Gaulle suddenly asked Ben-Gurion: “Mr. prime minister, what are your secret dreams? Tell me and I will tell no one. I know your country suffers from lack of land and shortage of water. Do you dream of obtaining some more land? A piece of the Sinai? A hill of the Moab mountains? Water from the Litani river?”

Ben Gurion was surprised but answered shyly: “Mr. president, if you had asked me this question twenty or thirty years ago, I would have probably presented you with a map. But today – I have one main secret dream – more Jews!”

At that point De-Gaulle was surprised. “Are you sure? And where would all these Jews come from?” Ben-Gurion answered: “From all over the world”. “Will they come from the US?” asked De-Gaulle. “Yes” answered Ben-Gurion. “Will they give up their Cadillacs?” asked De-Gaulle. “Yes, of course” answered Ben Gurion”. “And where else would they come from?” asked De-Gaulle. “From France!” replied Ben-Gurion.

De-Gaulle was shocked and asked: “Has anyone from France arrived in Israel?” “Rothschild” replied Ben-Gurion. “Rothschild is not French, he’s Austrian. And where else would the Jews immigrate from?” “From the Soviet Union” was Ben-Gurion's answer.

Charles De-Gaulle was surprised again: “What? Will the communists allow them to get out of there? It is inconceivable”.

“Well, the day will come,” said Ben-Gurion “The communists created the least intelligent regime in the world, and the most intelligent people in the world. The intelligence of the people will subdue the lack of intelligence of the regime. And then the regime will collapse and the doors will open.”

Thirty years later, Ben-Gurion’s dream became a reality. In the late 1980s, President Gorbachev made some steps to liberalize the Soviet Union and allowed Jews to leave the country. The collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991 facilitated this process. 190,000 olim reached Israel in 1990 and 150,000 in 1991. From 1990 to 2010, approximately 1,000,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union made their home in Israel. This Alia makes up approximately 15% of the entire population of the state of Israel.

The Alia from the former Soviet Union is different from all the other waves of immigration the state of Israel has known. It is characterized by the high level of education the immigrants have. Many professionals, including hundreds of thousands of academics (23,000 physicians, 100,000 engineers, many musicians, etc.), flooded the state of Israel, in a very short period of time. Many of them were unable to find jobs in their own professions and ended up working in "high sweat" jobs, instead of high-tech jobs. However, in Israel of 2010, the mother tongue of one third of the physicians is Russian (more than 8,000), 50% of the Israeli Olympic athletes are originally from the former Soviet Union and many more have been integrated into the labor force of the Israeli economy. This immigration wave is also unique in the fact that although the Russians have integrated relatively well into the Israeli economy and politics, they still proudly hold onto their Russian lingual and cultural affiliations. 

לשנה הבאה בירושלים!
LeShana haba’a viYrushalyim!
Next year in Jerusalem!

שִׁירָה כֹּהֵן-רֶגֶב
by Shira Choen-Regev
The HebrewOnline Team

Hebrew Words

Transcription:  Aliya
Part of speech: Noun, feminine    
Translation: immigration (to Israel)

עוֹלֶה חָדָשׁ, עוֹלָה חֲדָשָׁה,
עוֹלִים חֲדָשִׁים, עוֹלוֹת חֲדָשׁוֹת
Transcription:  ole xadash (M/S), ola xadasha (F/S),
olim xadashim (M/Pl), olot xadashot (F/Pl)
Translation: Newcomer(s), immigrant(s) to Israel

Transcription:  klita
Part of speech: Noun, feminine
Translation: absorption

Hebrew phrases with Russian source

אֱלֹהִים שְׁמֹר אוֹתִי מִיְּדִידַי, מֵאוֹיְבַי אֶשָּׁמֵר בְּעַצְמִי
Transcription: Elohim shmor oti mydiday, me’oyvay eshamer be’atsmi
Russian: Уcпаси меня Бог от друзей, а от врагов я сам спасусь
English: God, guard me from my friends, I will guard myself from my enemies.

אֵין רַע בְּלִי טוֹב
Transcription: Eyn ra bli tov
Russian: Нет худа без добра
English: There is no bad without good

מִי שֶׁקּוֹנֶה בְּזוֹל מְשַׁלֵּם בְּיֹקֶר
Transcription: mi shekone bezil meshalem beyoker
Russian: Где дешево там и дорого
English: He who buys cheaply pays dearly.

שִׁירָה כֹּהֵן-רֶגֶב
by Shira Choen-Regev
The HebrewOnline Team

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