Language, integration and absorption

Perhaps not surprisingly, a study of new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union conducted by Prof. Eliezer Leshem of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on behalf of Masad Klita, a partnership of the JDC and the Absorption, Education, Social Affairs and Housing ministries, showed that learning Hebrew is the most serious and significant barrier in an immigrant's integration process. The study's findings that learning Hebrew was more difficult for older immigrants are no surprise, but interestingly, Leshem's work indicated that women aged 30-44 experienced the most difficulty in all aspects of absorption - including language. Danny Pins of the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel suggests a number of reasons for the difficulty of women in the absorption process: "There is the glass ceiling in Israel for women. Women are paid less, and there are fewer women in high positions... For an immigrant woman, it's twice as difficult, because on one hand you have the problem of being a woman and on the other, you have the problem of being an immigrant," he said. "Also, women, I'd say, in many cases bear the burden of moving to another country. They're the ones building a home, looking after the children and therefore, in many cases, their professional advancement usually comes at the cost of other things that are going on in the family," said Pins. When it comes to integration, "[Immigrants] benefit much more when they start with ulpan," says Avi Silverman of Nefesh B'Nefesh. These include returning citizens who lived in Israel as children, moved overseas and then came back as adults. They may have excellent spoken Hebrew, but they can't read a newspaper or write a sentence, he explains. Attaining a solid a basis in Hebrew and then moving into the workforce is certainly more beneficial than picking Hebrew up "as you go along" and working backwards to fill in what is missing, Silverman said. Poor Hebrew affects the kinds of jobs immigrants can get. It doesn't mean they won't be able to work, but it could affect their chances of getting a better job and advancing in their profession, says Pins. "Any responsible government will say, 'Look, we're bringing in all these citizens. We have to give them the right amount of time and education in order for them to function in the country. Or else we're doing a disservice not only to them, but to the whole economic build-up of the country.' [Language instruction is] a basic right that any immigrant needs and deserves in order to function in the country they're coming to. For them not to have that, what service [is the government providing an immigrant with] by bringing them in?" asks Silverman. "The fact of the matter is - [knowing] Hebrew cuts across all aspects of life. The clear things are education, raising children and employment. But it [also] has a lot to do with identity, feeling a sense of belonging," said Pins. - A.N.