Russian Immigrants in Israel

Challenges encountered by these women in their new society.

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At the same time, social marginality and the perceived lack of other options may have prompted some younger immigrants to capitalize on their femininity in order to support themselves. Confusion over old versus new sexual norms and the ambient air of sexual freedom among their Israeli peers may have led some women into dress code and behavior interpreted by the locals as “loose” and provocative. Others desperately wanted to join the host society by means of finding an Israeli boyfriend. For some young women, this sexual “vertigo” ended in disillusionment, embarrassment and unwanted pregnancies.

In this manner, downward social mobility was intertwined with sexual disadvantage for female immigrants. Their male counterparts, having similar problems on the labor market, were at least spared sex-related troubles. As studies in other countries show, job loss, lack of promotion and low work satisfaction are not the only costs of sexual harassment in the workplace. Women living under the shade of unwanted sexual advances often experience depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and sexual dysfunction.

Marital Distress

Couple fightingThe studies of resettlement experiences in the U.S., Canada, and other immigration-based countries have shown that uprooted families often suffer marital distress. Downward mobility, the loss or deterioration of informal social networks and inter-generational tension in extended families all contribute to a decline in the quality of marital relations. A similar trend has been shown among Russian immigrants in Israel.

In the Israeli setting, immigrant family stress was heightened by the housing problem: due to soaring rental costs, most extended families had to share small apartments. Forced co-habitation of three generations, reported in one study by over seventy percent of the elderly immigrants, was a constant source of tension, fatigue and lack of privacy for all family members. In these conditions, sexual relations of married couples often suffered irreparable damage.

Other sources of conflict among Russian immigrant couples included low income, employment problems, disagreement about child education in the new culture (e.g., religious vs. secular school) and the varying pace of integration between husbands and wives. The fragility of marriage among former Soviets was augmented by the normative acceptance of divorce as a solution to a deteriorating relationship.

Single-Parent Families

Due to high divorce rates among ex-Soviets (before and after migration), some fifteen percent of all Israeli-Russian families were headed by a single parent. Most of these were mothers with young children, often living together with one or both grandparents--a household type considered an oddity by native Israelis.

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Larissa  Remennick

Larissa Remennick is associate professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Born and educated in Moscow, Russia, she has lived in Israel since 1991. Her research interests include gender aspects of immigration and immigrant acculturation, as well as immigrant health and wellbeing. She has published extensively on the former Soviet immigrant wave of the 1990s in Israel, as well as on Russian Jewish immigrants in other hosting countries.