Russian Immigrants in Israel
Challenges encountered by these women in their new society.
Since single-parent families are relatively few in Israel (six to eight percent) and single mothers often cannot work full-time, they are viewed as “social cases by default” in need of state support. The mass influx of Russian-speaking single mothers, maladapted to the Israeli job market, without Hebrew skills and with no means of their own, was seen at the outset as a burden to Israeli welfare services.
Divorce rates in Israel, albeit growing, are still comparatively low. This, along with legal constraints and the economic dependence of women, reflects a strong cultural norm to preserve marital ties at any personal cost, usually paid by the woman. Divorced mothers in our sample often felt disapproval on the part of immigration officials, social and welfare workers, their children’s teachers, and other social gatekeepers, including hints that they were a burden on Israeli society.
In this way, cultural differences in marital conduct created a serious locus of tension in immigrant women’s lives. This was especially true when immigrants were aware of being permanently scrutinized and judged by the lay majority and state officials.
In sum, it can be argued that Russian women paid a high price for their resettlement and adjustment to Israeli society. However, from the mid-1990s on, immigrant women engaged in a collective effort to resist these discriminating trends in the host society. They entered existing Israeli feminist groups and also created self-help associations of their own.
Two women immigrants from the Russian aliyah, Dr. Marina Solodkin and Sofa Landver, became Knesset members, with the subsequent ability to lobby for the interests of their electorate. Among thousands of immigrant students in Israeli universities and colleges in 1999, more than fifty percent were women, giving rise to the hope that at least the younger generation of Israeli-Russian women would achieve higher social status as they integrated and learned their way in Israeli society.
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