How One Million Russian Immigrants Revitalized Israel

At the end of the 1980s, Israel was barely managing its finances and its security. Then a substantial part of the professional and cultural elite of a superpower showed up.

Soviet Jews from Moscow disembark at Ben-Gurion Airport on August 20, 1991. SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images.

Soviet Jews from Moscow disembark at Ben-Gurion Airport on August 20, 1991. SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images.

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Nov. 23 2020
About the author

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is author of the New York Times bestseller Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, and Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, which tells the story of his involvement in the Soviet Jewry movement.

In the summer of 1989, I left my home in Jerusalem for a reporting assignment in Europe, covering the fall of Communism from Warsaw to Berlin to Prague. A year later, I returned to a different Israel. In the supermarket there were strange cheeses and yogurt drinks labeled with Cyrillic writing, and unimagined, new products like frozen blueberries and cherries. On the streets, young musicians played cello and old men with gold teeth played accordion. The country suddenly felt as though it had become both less intimate and more claustrophobic: my daughter’s first-grade class was packed with 40 children to accommodate the immigrant influx.

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More about: Aliyah, Israel & Zionism, Russian Jewry