Russian Immigrants in Israel
Challenges encountered by these women in their new society.
Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women's Archive.
Among some eight hundred and fifty thousand Jewish repatriates who moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union (FSU) after 1989, about 300,000 were women between the ages of 20 and 55. Like their male counterparts, over 60% of Soviet Jewish women were highly educated and employed as professionals or white-collar workers. Before emigration, over 95% of these women combined full-time employment with motherhood and family roles.
The following are among the key issues faced by Russian immigrant women in Israel, as they have emerged from sociological studies of the last decade of the 12th century.
Occupational and social downgrading is the most common result of resettlement, especially under conditions of massive immigration like that of the early 1990s. Russian immigrants faced a disparity between their occupational potential and structural opportunities in the Israeli economy. The local white-collar and professional markets were highly saturated and demanded a different set of skills (e.g., computing, Hebrew and English languages, self-marketing) from the ones immigrants had acquired in the FSU. Throughout the 1990s, their unemployment rates were two to three times higher than among men, and they more often had jobs unrelated to their qualifications.
Russian women often had engineering, construction and other Soviet-type heavy industry specialties considered non-feminine or not in demand in Israel. Many had to be retrained for “feminine” occupations (e.g., receptionist, social worker, nursery school teacher), which for women engineers also meant redefining their professional identity. Women with language- and culture-dependent professions in education, medicine, law, and humanities suffered even greater downward mobility. The Israeli academic and cultural market, small and based on a Hebrew-English language mix, was unable to absorb even the established professionals in their field.
Immigrant women in their late forties and older had slim chances of finding any qualified work, even after retraining and despite a state policy of rewarding their potential employers. Many had to live on welfare supplemented by part-time service work (e.g., cleaning or care for the elderly). The latter occupations became a Russian specialty in Israel, since demand is vast and language requirements are minimal.