Russian Immigrants in Israel

Challenges encountered by these women in their new society.

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In sum, female immigrants in Israel faced occupational, economic and social downgrading, typically more dramatic and long-term than their male counterparts of similar age and education. Age serves as the key predictor of occupational success, with the cutoff point being around age forty-five. Younger women with greater cultural flexibility did make their way into the host society, while older women tended to stay in the confines of the ethnic community.

Sexuality and Family Life

Gender roles and family life in the host society are different from those among Russian immigrants. Only about half of Israeli women are employed outside the home, usually as secondary breadwinners.

The average Israeli family has circa three children--almost double the number in Russian immigrant families. Births to unmarried mothers are few. At the same time, secular Israelis are fairly tolerant toward premarital sex and cohabitation of young adults, as long as they are “sexually responsible.” Efficient contraception is widely available and used by the majority of the population. The youngsters have full access to sex information, and the overall climate surrounding sexuality is one of acceptance.

As is often the case with newcomers, their sexual and reproductive conduct, visibly at odds with the mainstream norms, became the focus of public attention. The image of a Russian woman as an attractive but dangerous alien, stressing her sex appeal as a threat to local male mores, emerged as a key element of the Israeli media discourse of the early 1990s. Such attributes of immigrant families as high prevalence of divorce, single motherhood, use of abortion as a birth control method and low number of children became the focus of public debates. Biased imagery in the popular media did a severe disservice to most women with a Russian accent.

Sexual Harassment

During their first years in Israel, women with a Russian accent were often approached with outright sexual offers in the street markets, public parks or buses, in apartments they rented (by the owners), and, of course, in their new workplaces.

Making things worse for the ex-Soviet women, the later Jewish emigration coincided with an influx of illegal sex workers from Russia via international organized crime channels. Post-communist states became one of the major world exporters of sex workers, and Israel proved an easy target due to its unselective immigration policy towards any holder of Jewish documents. Russian, Ukrainian and other Russian-speaking women with false Jewish papers or outdated tourist visas, often traded and detained by force by their owners, filled the massage parlors and nightclubs of Israeli cities.

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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.