Interviewed by Israel Rubin and Carol Zuckert
February 23, 1999
Place of Interview: Fred Klein's Office, Episcopal Community Services
Q: Please tell us a little about when and where you were born?
A: I was born April 26, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1967, 1 moved to Tucson, Arizona and have lived here ever since. I became involved in refugee resettlement around 1980. I was Director of Refugee Resettlement for Jewish Family and Children's Service from late July, 1991 until the end of June, 1998. Prior to July, 1991, 1 was on the Board of Directors of Jewish Family and Children's Service and was co?chair of the Refugee Resettlement Committee.
Q: How did your career take that turn?
A: I went to Graduate School at the University of Illinois with a couple of summer sessions outside of the University of Illinois; one at Harvard and one at University of Arizona. I went to Law School at the University of Arizona. I graduated and entered the Bar in 1972. I practiced law both in criminal and civil fields. I was a law clerk at the University and in the Arizona Supreme Court. I did some work prior to graduation from Law School with the New Mexico Civil Liberties Union and with the U.S. Department of Justice. After Law School and after work at the Arizona Supreme Court, I worked with the Pima County Public Defenders Office, Neighborhood Law Offices which was a legal aid project under the supervision of Southern Arizona Legal Aid. I worked for what used to be Miller, Phipp and Feldman. I worked in partnership with my brother as Klein & Klein. I worked as a sole practitioner. I worked for a time with the association of Harold Hyams. I became involved in refugee resettlement initially as a volunteer. I directed refugee resettlement for about a year at Catholic Community Services. I was head of refugee resettlement for the Tucson Ecumenical Council's refugee project when they had a refugee project. Then I was President of Central Arizona Refugee Ecumenical Service and the Tucson Ecumenical Council Project which merged. I served on the board of directors for Refugees International, a refugee advocacy organization. In my legal career, I handled the first appeal of a juvenile delinquency case in the State of Arizona. I have argued before the United States Supreme Court and delivered very successful briefs to the U. S. Supreme Court in Mincey vs. Arizona, a case involving a man who was accused and convicted in connection with the death of a Tucson police officer.
Q: Your organization now is probably very pleased to have you available to head up their refugee services.
A: I am pleased to be with them.
Q: Then you had taken that very solid avenue into refugee services and away from civil and criminal law.
A: Yes. Although, obviously a legal background is helpful in the work that I do now. And I do from time to time, in the course of my work in refugee resettlement, in a sense, practice law. It is important for me to keep that.
Q: Yes, yes. Would one need to be a lawyer?
A: Most of the people involved in refugee resettlement are not. I would say that the most common career path would be either social work or would having been a refugee themselves. The linguistic skills and experience of being a refugee are obviously helpful.
Q: Tell me about your activities aside from the Soviet refugees.
A: Among the extracurricular activities that I have done in Tucson, have been on as staff in organizing groups of what used to be "Tucson Meet Yourself" and is now the "Tucson Heritage Experience Festival" and also the Waila Festival.
Q: What is Waila?
A: Waila is a social folk dance of the Tohono O'Odham. It comes from the O'Odham pronunciation of the Spanish dialect for dance. In the mid 1800s, a lot of immigrants to the United States, and more importantly to Northern Mexico including Texas, were from Central and Eastern Europe. They enjoyed dances like polkas and that became very popular and spread like wildfire, something like rock and roll today. It was picked up by the O'Odham and they continued to dance it for social dances. So you have bands in the old days that could play violin, flute and drum and now they use saxophone and electric guitar. The music is polkas and cha chas.
Q: Now for the purpose of just filling out who you are yourself, you as an important contributor to the community. What are some of your other activities? Do have any time for any other activities?
A: Well in addition to those things, also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union locally.
Q: As a volunteer?
A: Yes, as a volunteer. And with some other Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation and belonging to Temple Ner Tamid.
Q: And what is your family background?
A: On my father's side, my great?grandfather came from, we think, Bavaria after the revolution of 1848. He was apparently involved in anti?monarchist activities. The legend is that he and his wife escaped across the border in a farmer's wagonload of hay. They landed in New York and peddled their way across the country to Chicago and settled down there. He started a dry goods store and took in a couple of partners. I don't know how familiar you are with Chicago history but the Mandel brothers were his partners. The partnership broke up after the Chicago fire and the Mandel brothers formed their store and he kept his.
Q: And they expanded to become a big State Street, downtown store, Mandel Brothers?
A: Then eventually, I think, they were taken over, I think ultimately by Carson Pirie Scott.
Q: So this goes back to your great, great. Maternal grandparent?
Q: Did they retain their Judaism?
Q: How do you explain that? How do you explain that they retained their Judaism?
A: Well, that's hard for me to say. They were leaders in the reform. Jewish community in Chicago. The story that I was told, and I never heard it from my father but I heard it from my other relatives, was that he at one point, as a young man, was involved in a discussion group that included people like Jane Adams of Hull House. They were very involved from a public standpoint in the community. He, my father, entered engineering school at the University of Michigan and did not complete it. He went through a series of career changes. Ultimately he became a credit manager for Spiegels Department Store in Chicago. He died back in 1964. His father died when he was 18 and he died when I was 18. He died about a week before my high school graduation. His father died while he was in the hospital. The story was that his family didn't tell anybody at the time because they didn't want to interfere with my father's recovery.
Q: And your mother's side?
A: My mother's side is a combination. On my father's side, his mother was, I gather, among the German Jews that settled in the Southern United States. His mother, Isabel Adams, grew up in rural Georgia and went to a Catholic convent school and became a concert pianist. I am not sure how she met Sidney Klein, my grandfather, but they met and settled in Chicago. She was a very early advocate of women's rights. She refused to cook.
Q: Was she Jewish? Adams?
A: Oh yes. It was anglicized from Adami originally.
Q: Oh, I see, but she went to Catholic schools.
A: She retained her Judaism and was very active in Sinai Temple on the south side of Chicago. In matter of fact, I think I probably passed confirmation because Louie Mann, the Rabbi there, had been very close to my grandmother. She died when I was fairly young and had been in ill health at the time. You know, he wanted to know if I had known my grandmother and I said, "Yes, alava shalom. " He sat down and said, "Well did you really know her. She was very much of an activist in the community" I gather at that time when he needed supporters, she was quite vocal in his words.
Q: You have a brother that lives in this community who is also a lawyer.
A: Yes that's right. My younger brother is chief trial attorney for the County Public Defenders Office. That makes him number two in the hierarchy there.
Q: I see. Is the same one who was with you as Klein and Klein?
A: That's right.
Q: Is he your only brother?
A: No, I have an older brother Simon, named for my great grandfather. He lives in Massachusetts. I have a sister, Laura, who lives in Las Cruces New Mexico. Simon is self?employed as a computer programmer and desktop publisher. My sister is a physician. She is county medical officer in Las Cruces.
Q: What is your family status?
A: I have a wife and we have no children. My wife is Patricia Klein. We were married in 1976. She was born in California but her family moved to Tucson, Arizona in the early 1900s. At the time she was born, her father was working in California and was a publicity agent for Twentieth Century Fox or one of the movie studios.
Q: What does she do?
A: She is District Director for Congressman Kolbe. So she is in charge of his operations and so on.
Q: Do you have different political views?
A: Well, she was hired by him while she was a registered Democrat and remained a registered Democrat for many years. Then a few years ago when he was involved a bitter primary fight, she changed to a Republican. So now we are of different parties.
Q: But not.
A: Not philosophically different. You were asking about my mother's side. My mother's father's father was a refugee from the Russian Empire. I don't remember what his original family name was because he took the name of a dead person off the census roles in order to escape the Czarist draft. He was a Rabbi; an Orthodox Rabbi.
Q: What town did you say?
A: I am not sure. Vaguely my recollection is Minsk which today would be Belarus. But I am not entirely sure of that. A lot of family histories are murky in a lot of cases. In the first place they didn't have much allegiance to their country of origin and considering the times, there wasn't anything that they wanted to talk about a great deal. Often they were covering up ? There wasn't a lot of discussion about it. He settled in Long Island and had a small farm there. My grandfather had a large family, and one of his sons was the first member of the family to go to a University. He graduated from Yale and was a mining engineer. He went out West to work in Butte, Montana. Well, he first worked, I guess, in coal fields in Pennsylvania and decided that was a little bit too dangerous after some mining fires and accidents. He moved out to Montana and went to work in the copper industry in Butte where he met my grandmother. Her family was the Schott family who had also been German Jewish immigrant stock. I gather my, I am not sure, came to the United States probably the 1840s. Kadushen who shortened to Kadin and early on settled around the turn of the century and Schott came in the 1800s, I believe. It was a similar story, they peddled their wares from New York into Michigan and settled in Michigan and Louie Schott moved out west to Montana and developed a real estate business.
Q: Not a homesteader?
A: He may well have homesteaded but he had few irons in the fire. There's a lot of family lore and part of the lore is on my mother's side. Part of the family were Sephardim and some of the family had settled in Italy. So during the 1930s and 1940s, some of the family members were successful in getting out of Italy. So we have a varied and checkered past. There are other bits and pieces I know that are in my mother's family. There are some pewter pieces that date back to the 1800s and have stamps on the back in French, something like "Et Ainert" which would stand for the name of the pewter maker. So I suspect that some of family were in the Alsace?Lorraine region.
Q: Moving on to the time when you were the Director of the Refugee Program for Jewish Family and Children's Services, you did that for how long?
A: Seven years. I had a number of years experience in refugee resettlement and had at various times contacted Jewish Family and Children's Services. Actually when I worked at Catholic Community Services as their Resettlement Director they had no refugee resettlement staff and Betty Orman who was then in charge of clinical services at JFCS, through various counseling staff, would assist occasional refugees. They arrived during a brief period of time of the Brezhnev regime when Jewish refugees were allowed out of the Soviet Union. We also resettled some refugees from Iran. During the time I was working with Catholic Community Service, often we would assist refugees because they were very familiar with procedures for resettlement. They didn't have a lot of refugee clients. I made contact a couple times with JFCS but they went through a period when they were having revolving door executive directors and then, of course, in between that time Brezhnev closed the doors to "refusniks. " There was a long period when nobody was getting out. Then Gorbachev began to open the door again. Around the time of "Glasnost" a curious thing happened and that was that one of the members of the Board of Directors of JFCS was designated to set up a committee to investigate the possibility of resettling Jewish refugees in Tucson. Irving Kaplan knew of Felipe Jacome who was then directing refugee resettlements actually here in the Episcopal Community Services. Felipe had formerly worked as a volunteer coordinator for me at Catholic Community Services. So Irving Kaplan was going to Felipe for some technical information and asking him if he would help out. Felipe then said "Why don't you ask Fred Klein? " So Irving contacted me. We went through a period of time, really with a certain amount of resistance from some members of the Jewish community who said, "Why would we think that Jewish refugees would ever settle in Tucson, Arizona. Why shouldn't they go to Israel?" We were trying to drum up some interest.
A couple things happened around that time. One of which was that Lou Pozez, who had traveled back to Brest had met some distant relatives and established a channel of communication. Then, later on, some of the people that he had met in Brest were able to get out of the Soviet Union. Since Israel had no diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at the time and had no direct flights, their interest was handled by the Dutch Embassy in Moscow. So Jewish refugees would obtain a visa from the Dutch Embassy in Moscow.
The Soviet Union and its successors have never recognized the Jews as refugees to this day. At the time the vehicle was that they were granted permission to leave in order to join relatives in Israel, if they had relatives in Israel. They would depart from Moscow to Vienna. The intent was that in Vienna they would then board an El Al flight to Israel. But a substantial number of Jewish refugees, when they arrived in Vienna, said "We want to go to the United States or Canada or something like that. " In which case they were sent to refugee camps in Italy. Some of Lou Pozez's that he had met ended up in refugee camps in Italy. Lou, at about the same time, became interested in helping them come to Tucson.
Q: What year was that?
A: It would have been about 1990. And about the same time, a local Jewish physician, Dr. Charles Gannon, his wife and daughter, Karen and Alysson, became very interested in Jews in the Soviet Union. The daughter had traveled back and met some Jews in Ukraine and wanted to help them come to here. So as a result and one other circumstance, a man by the name of Henry Morganstern, who had come to the United States as a refugee after the Second World War and whose family had come from the former Soviet Union, made contact with relatives of his in what is now Moldova. Henry also wanted to assist relatives. We had, therefore, a group of people who had an interest in seeing people come to Tucson. We were able to get a resettlement program off the ground. At Jewish Family and Children's Service they decided, I think wisely, that it would be helpful to have staff who were specialized in working with refugees. They hired a former refugee, Roza Sinikhovich, to direct refugee resettlement and hired their first case manager, a young man Fred Klein by the name of Sergei Drobarn, who was not Jewish but spoke Russian.
Q: We are still in 1990?
A: Yes. At that point I was co?chair of the resettlement oversight committee.
Q: As a volunteer?
A: Yes, as a volunteer.
Q: Were you still working at Catholic Social Services?
A: I was no longer working with Catholic Social Services. I was simply working as a volunteer in refugee resettlement and interested in helping refugees, especially interested in Jewish refugees. From my point of view, this was a really historic opportunity. In 1976, 1 had taken a trip with my younger brother to Europe. One of the things we had wanted to do was to go to the town we understood that Simon Klein had come from in Germany. A little hamlet called Kurtzenheim. In Kurtzenheim, if that was in fact where he had come from, the obituaries at the time of his death and family lores had said that's where he had come from. Kurtzenheim was a very difficult place to get to because it was very out of the way, a very tiny village. When we finally arrived, there was obviously no Jewish presence there. It was a rural farming community. There was one house of worship and it was at that time a church. It was of a very peculiar construction. It was not a normal cross type construction of a Christian church but rather constructed in either a round or a pentagon shape so that it could conceivable at one time been a synagogue.
There was no evidence of Jewish presence there. Of course in much of Germany, all that you could find of the Jewish presence is the names of streets. It was very apparent, something that really hadn't struck me the same way as from a historical standpoint until I was in there. We were in Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands. It was very apparent that the "final solution" had been very successful and that for all intents and purposes the Jewish presence in Europe had been wiped out. The only real substantial remnant of European Jewry was that which was remaining in the Soviet Union. So here were two interesting coincidences. One was an opportunity to help the last surviving remnants of European Jewry. One of the reasons I had become involved in assisting refugees apart from the family history, it was in the late 1970s, there were a number of incidents involving, not Jewish refugees but Southeast Asian refugees. There were a few incidents of refugees escaping by boat from Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia and others forcibly driven off to death by starvation, etc. There was also an incident in Thailand where there were 40,000 Cambodian refugees who fled after the Vietnamese had invaded and pushed Pol Pot forces to the Thai/Cambodian border. Many people fled all the way across the border. The Thai Government, much the like the Governments of Europe and the Americans in the 1930s, did not want the refugees to be dumped on their shores. So they did something reminiscent of what happened in the 1930s. They had at gunpoint 40,000 Cambodian refugees and bussed them to a point on the border which was actually a cliff and forced to walk to the cliff through a mine field and back into Cambodia. The incident was reported by the media. It didn't attract a lot of public consciousness. My sense at the time was that there was nothing I could do about the holocaust because I was born in 1936. But to see this mentality repeated over there and after all the talk about "never again." It was so reminiscent of the St. Louis ship and all the other incidents that occurred to me from the 1930s and 1940s. I told my wife that I didn't think that I could live with myself if I didn't in some small way participate in alleviating some of these situations. She, for her own reasons, wanted to help the refugees. She is not Jewish, but Catholic. So when it also became an issue, at Jewish Family and Children's Services there was that emotional connection as well. Nobody at the time in the Jewish community had been very much involved locally in Jewish resettlement so I was a source of technical expertise.
Q: Was it the Sare family that was the first family from the former Soviet Union?
A: Actually, the first individual group that came was before there was a resettlement department set up and before there was an "Operation Exodus. " There was a single refugee from the Ukraine who was an acquaintance of the Gannon family that I had mentioned. Then, in the beginning of 1990, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, HIAS, and the Council of Jewish Federations had almost all the refugees from what was then the Soviet Union, come into New York City. New York was getting swamped. The Council of Jewish Federations prepared a national "Operation Exodus" and asked communities throughout the country to either contribute financially or to contribute in the sense of Fred Klein resettlement or both. It was only after this appeal from the Council of Jewish Federations that the local Jewish Federations decided to become involved and inaugurated an "Operation Exodus." I developed a fund raising campaign. Out of the fund raising campaign, I would normally send a substantial amount of money to the Council of Jewish Federations for national resettlement in Israel. I collected well over a million dollars in that particular campaign.
Q: This also was in 1990?
A: Yes. They were also able to segregate a certain amount to fund a settlement to designate Jewish Family and Children's Service to act as the social service agency for that resettlement activity. Thereafter, I believe the first families to come were out of Italy through the contacts that Lou Pozez had made.
Q: Who debated the issue of the Jews going to Israel?
A: I think rather than saying it had been debated, is that the plea from the Council of Jewish Federations took precedence. There was and still is considered, you know, the term that the Israelis use or the Hebrew term that they use for refugees who resettle outside of Israel. It is not a very complimentary term. I am trying to remember what is the word. There still are people in the community, some very impartial people, who feel that Jews from the former Soviet Union should have been and should be resettled in Israel, whether or not they have relatives in Israel. There are also a number of people in the Jewish community, locally, who believe then and still believe that the Jewish refugees coming from the former Soviet Union are not really Jewish. There are those who feel as much as a substantial population of Americans generally do that we shouldn't be allowing more immigrants in. We should tend to our own problems before we deal with those of people from outside the United States. And there are some who have had bad feelings toward and stereotypical as we are Jews from the former Soviet Union. So you have a whole range of feelings. I can't say that it abated but there was a significant influential group within the local community spearheaded by Lou and Shel Pozez and their wives, who made it possible for the settlements to take place in Tucson.
Q: How much Judaism was retained by the refugees?
A: I would say at varying levels and degrees. We had particularly good retention among older members of the Jewish community.
Q: By older what do you mean?
A: Those born prior to World War 11. Sometimes their children spoke Yiddish. You understand that it for a portion of the time in the Soviet Union it was against the law to teach Yiddish. The Yiddish institution at one point was banned. Even retaining anything Yiddish, that is something. In some families you have artifacts. For example, we had one family arrive and the family had retained a menorah. They did not know what it was for but they knew that it had something to do with their Jewish background. They always identified themselves as Jewish and were very upset when they came here and local residents said, "Oh you are Russian. " They had never been identified as Russian in the Soviet Union and, in fact, had been treated as a Jewish nationality. In some cases we had, I would say among the Ashkenazi Jews, those who were best educated and had of course accepted atheism as the state religion. Some of them had tried and at various points, had joined the Communist party in order to obtain good positions. Virtually all of them, even if they didn't join the Communist Party, had been members of Komsomol, the young communist league otherwise they couldn't have gotten into institutions of higher education. There was a universal draft for males and those who went into the army universally underwent hazing of one kind or another because they were identified as Jews. I remember one refugee whose back had been carved up with knives by Soviet soldiers as part of his initiation into the army because he was a Jew. Obviously some Jews didn't survive these hazings. Some members of the Ashkenazi community became interested after "Glasnost" and particularly when Chasidim went over and set up Jewish institutions. Jewish organizations were set up in the Soviet Union and some of them became involved and groups were publishing information about Jewish culture which often was more acceptable to talk about than Jewish religion. Some became involved in synagogues that were set up. Often they would send their children to schools to learn about Judaism and learn Hebrew. There generally was a great deal of curiosity about their Jewish roots because access to the information has been suppressed for so long.
Q: Were they from a particular part of the former USSR, the Ashkenazi's?
A: The Ashkenazi were spread out throughout the Soviet Union because, although originally they were settled mostly in the Pale in the western portion of the Soviet Union during the World War II many of them fled the Nazi occupation and they often were resettled in the far east.
Q: Like Uzbekistan?
A: Yes. Then, of course, after World War II, Stalin had a policy of settling Russian speakers in areas where the majority population did not speak Russian. It's part of the Russian imperialist technique that was used to maintain control. Of course in the Baltic countries most of the Jewish population was exterminated so a lot of Jews who entered the Baltic countries were Jews who had originally been from Ukraine or Belorus and other areas. They had moved out to the far east during World War 11 and then moved back. This, of course, is not counting the many Jews who were in the Soviet army or among the partisans. The casualty percentages and the rate of enlistment among Jews in the Soviet army was much higher than any other ethnic group. Of course, that information was suppressed. The war mongering anti?semites' propaganda line was that Jews would never enlist in the army. You often find that older Jewish refugees when they come here and get off the plane wear their military medals. They are very proud. One of the things that the Jewish war veterans in America did was to allow these Soviet veterans, if they wished, to become members of the Jewish War Veterans here. They really appreciated tremendously because they couldn't understand why they weren't entitled to Veterans' pensions in the United States. The Soviet Union had always told them that if it hadn't been for the Soviet army, the whole western civilization would have fallen. They couldn't understand why the U.S. Government didn't recognize their participation in the army.
Q: Tell us more please.
A: Well, let me also mention that there are, you know, the Ashkenazi. The further away you got from Moscow, the more leniency there was in terms of religious practice. Among other Jewish ethnic groups, we found that often there was a retention of Jewishness, Jewish customs and religion, and that people at their peril had retained and continued to wear yarmulkas. They knew Jewish ceremonies but the Ashkenazi didn't regard them as Jews. These people, for example, the mountain Jews, the Bukhara Jews of central Asia who were of Persian origin who had settled in the area beginning in the third century. They had long roots in the Jewish community but the Ashkenazi believed that if somebody didn't speak Yiddish then they weren't Jewish.
Q: Do we have any non?Ashkenazi Jews in Tucson.
A: We do. Some of them spoke a dialect of Hebrew and Farsi, they regarded as much a Jewish language as the Ashkenazi regard Yiddish.
Q: Did we have 1,000 Jews here in Tucson?
A: About 1,000 individuals. Among the 1,000, obviously there are some people who never identified themselves as Jews but had intermarried with people who were identified as Jewish nationals.
Q: Any idea of numbers?
A: Of those who were intermarried? I would guess, it's not a majority, certainly, it's maybe 20 percent. It's hard to say.
Q: And the Ashkenazi, any idea of the numbers?
A: The majority of those who have come are Ashkenazi. They had more money generally and better education. The people who retained the religious practice were never allowed to enter the institutions of higher learning. So those are the people who tend to be coming out now and one of the ironies is that among the Ashkenazi refugees here, you will sometimes hear them say, "Oh, all the real Jews have come out. The people who are coming out now are not real Jews. " But the people at the bottom of the totem pole may well be those who retained the most in terms of religious practice.
To the extent that scholarships are available to them, most of the families who identify themselves as Jews would like to send their children to the Jewish day school for two reasons. Whether they identify with Jewish religion or not, they identify with the value of education which is one of the values they retained from their Jewish background. They are aware that the quality of education available at the Tucson Hebrew Academy tends to be better than the general level of education at Tucson Unified District 1. Moreover, they understand that in a capitalist society if you pay for something it's likely to be more valuable than it you don't pay for it.
Some of them are interested because they want their children to learn about Judaism and to learn Hebrew. Some of them had started their children in Jewish day schools in the former Soviet Union and wanted them to continue that education.
Q: How many children go to Tucson Hebrew Academy?
A: A minority, primarily for financial reasons. During the very early years, the Jewish Federation would fund the first year of education at the Tucson Hebrew Academy. Those funds dried up and there has been a division of opinion within the Board of Directors at Tucson Hebrew Academy. There were some members who were very intent on admitting as many families as possible. There were others who felt it was unfair to members of the local community who had lived here, been born in the United States, that all of the scholarship money should be used up for refugees. There has not been a very good effort on the part of THA to really screen and determine which families were interested in their children learning about Judaism. So you have a minority enrolled primarily for financial reasons although there were other reasons.
Q: I think another way of looking at what you are trying to get to, is temple membership.
A: It's a curious situation. There has been some temple membership but with the exception of one or two congregations almost no outreach from the congregations to the new Jewish Americans. Reception which they received from the congregations is a factor. You know, the very fact that people were identifiable as Russians rather than as Jews when they walked into a synagogue, often was a turn?off. In some communities the Jewish congregations have actively been involved in the sponsorship of refugees. In Tucson, not a single congregation every sponsored a single refugee family. Individual members of congregations helped out as volunteers but not a single congregation every sponsored as a congregation. They had been involved in the Run for Soviet Jewry and they had been involved at other levels. But when Jewish refugees began arriving here, all of the congregations were involved in their own internal issues. There has been such a great difficulty among the Rabbinic community and congregations getting together on any issue they were never able to get together on this issue.
Then you had the division of those people who said, "Oh we have to go out to these people to make them Jews. " This was kind of a white man's burden routine which was very demeaning to a lot of refugees.
Q: So let me ask you this, since there was an organization, Jewish Family and Children's Services, why would the individual congregations want to sponsor someone? There are never enough resources in a congregation.
A: It wouldn't have required financial resources.
A: All it would have taken was essentially a friendship commitment. None of them ever delegated an actual liaison. Then you had a couple of other processes that worked against them. Initially, Jewish Family and Children's Service under the second resettlement director, started an ESL program in house. As part of that program, on Fridays, there was Jewish education component. They essentially rotated among various congregations in the community and that initially started some congregational involvement. The person that was chosen to head the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and the manner in which it was initiated, engendered some hostility and opposition within the volunteer support group. This included some members who had volunteered to help with ESL instruction and felt that they had been shut out of the process. From a financial standpoint it required money being fed into the course whereas there was free ESL instruction available through Pima County Adult Education. For both those reasons, the ESL program was shut down and with it the Jewish education component that circulated among the congregations. At various times thereafter there were efforts either through Jewish Family and Children's Service or the Federation to involve congregations and the Federation became involved in wanting to get more Jewish education into the new Jewish American refugee community. But among those who were interested in that, there were many who were very avid supporters of Tucson Hebrew Academy. What happened was that they focused these programs at Tucson Hebrew Academy and around Rabbi Billy Lefkowitz from THA and thereby excluded the congregations. It has just not been a very successful involvement. Individual congregations have been involved to various extents. Congregation Anshei Israel, at certain times offered Jewish education programs, but doesn't anymore. Cantor Lichterman, who came here from South Africa and had an understanding of what it was to be a refugee, had been very helpful with a number of refugees. Rabbi Becker and Rabbi Shemtov were in a proselytizing sect. They reached out and the fact that the Chasidim and particularly the Lubovich Chasidim had been active in the former Soviet Union. So there was an identification there. Rabbi Becker spoke Yiddish and therefore was able to converse with a number of the older new Jewish Americans. Rabbi Weisenbaum has been very open and accepting but the Federation has regarded them as something of a maverick and not very supportive. Rabbi Louchheim has also been very active and served on the resettlement committee. He has been very supportive of the refugee.
The other thing that happened is that there were some negotiation techniques used by a few refugees that were not very helpful in the effort to involve the Jewish congregations in the community. There were a handful of refugees that became obsessed with the idea that the U.S. Government was allowing in people as Jewish refugees who were not Jewish, either because of intermarriage or because they may have worked the system by obtaining forged documents or because in the eyes of these two people they were not Jewish. It's an old Jewish occupation to say "I'm Jewish but I'm not sure of you. " They circulated letters of protest which they sent to the Federation and JFCS, the mayor and various congressmen and senators complaining about this. Well, of course the U.S. Government doesn't have a big interest in resettling refugees, Jewish or otherwise.
Q: What about these people who did this. You don't often find people who are willing to go as far as writing letters.
A: Well, but in the Soviet Union one of the equals by which Stalin, Lenin and their successors maintained control was to atomize communities. You had one community maintain prejudice enough against another. There were those who were "refusniks" and others who were not. There were those who had well supplied means and those who had not. There were those from the cities and those from the rural areas. Everybody found somebody that they felt superior to. By maintaining that kind of enmity and envy, they were able to suppress opposition for three generations.
Q: So you see a big difference in the people that came early and the people that have come in the last four or five years?
A: Well, there's a difference. I don't know whether it's a big difference. You know, the first ones who came, the U. S ? Government in the initial stages would not recognize someone as a refugee unless they were outside the Soviet Union, which is the standard definition for refugee. You have to have fled your home country. Italy became concerned and Austria became concerned with the large numbers of refugees that were building up. The U.S. Government who was largely bankrolling in the refugee camps and became concerned about the expense. Having someone stay in their own home is cheaper and if we consider them as refugees while they stay home in the old Soviet Union, the cost of support in refugee camps is avoided. That also assuaged the concerns of Italy and Austria because then there wasn't a draw for people to cross the border. By Presidential determination, People from the former Soviet Union were allowed to be considered refugees while still in the former Soviet Union. The U. S. Government only allowed refugee interviews to take place at its embassy in Moscow. The Soviet Union is now 15 different countries and Russia spreads over a vast territory. To get to Moscow, if you are in outlying areas, it is expensive, dangerous and often times crossing various national borders. It involves a lot of bribes and the way the system is set up, is that they had to go from their homes to Moscow more than once and sometimes three or four times. Once for the interview, once for the medical examinations and once for transportation out of the Soviet Union. So those with money and those with education learned the system quicker than those without. Plus this is not a decision that people took lightly and not a decision that somebody who has lived for generations in one particular locale wants to take. It's only as the Jewish communities have emptied out that nationalism and anti?Semitism in various areas has resurged and gone unchecked. People who thought they would never leave have found themselves in a position of having to leave. As time goes on, people who were more and more resistant to leaving were starting to come out, either going to Israel or coming to the United States.
Q: Do you think the Tucson community of the New Americans is typical of the communities around this country?
A: No. I think it's typical of a newer Jewish American community which has settled in the newer part of America. I think those who settled in areas like New York and Boston followed the pattern of early immigrants and settled into ethnic areas. They maintained their linguistic and cultural characteristics and the group that settled here are more likely to absorb English and absorb more American cultural characteristics.
Q: Okay, that's interesting. So at some point one needs to be careful. That makes this project more important because of the cardinal assimilation into the American way of life.
A: Let me tell you a little bit about another family as an example of a interesting refugee story. Lev Nemenman, his wife, Rita Divinskaye, either his mother or his wife's mother who was then in the Ukraine, their daughter and their daughter's husband (the daughter's husband was not Jewish). The grandmother was in her 80s and had been a holocaust survivor. Lev had been an engineer in the Soviet mining industry and had worked with conveyor equipment. They came here more than five years ago. At the time they left, the grandmother had a serious heart condition. She had been living in their home. The U. S. Government requires refugees to undergo a physical examination. The primary reason for this is to determine whether they have one of approximately five or so diseases which would disqualify them from coming to the United States. Like active syphilis, communicable tuberculosis, AIDS, so on and so forth. The primary testing that occurs is for these exclusionary illnesses. What the secondary purpose is to generally analyze their physical health. In flights from the Soviet Union there are two kinds of charter flights. There are regular charter flights and there are charter flights, for people who require some degree of medical supervision. All of these medical examinations, like interviews, had to be done in Moscow. Her family lived a considerable distance away from Moscow. They went to Moscow for the medical examination and, of course, they picked up that this elderly woman had a serious heart condition. Despite that, she was ambulatory and able to converse and get around in her home where she was with a loving caring family. The international organization that does these medical examinations is also the organization that arranges for transportation, the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM decided that she needed to be hospitalized in order to stabilize her condition for the flight to the United States. They required her to be hospitalized in a hospital in Moscow. The medical system by that time had begun its deterioration. They traditionally had not wanted and limited, family visitation. In this case, the family was a long distance away. So it was basically impossible for the family to visit. They had no telephone line in and would not permit calls. So this old woman was in the hospital cut off from her family for weeks and to add to that she was an elderly Jew. The medical personnel there had no interest in caring for an elderly Jew who, at any rate, was going to be leaving the country. She developed some of the worse bed sores that you could imagine. The treatment that they had for bed sores was not turning the person or changing their linens or anything that we would do here. They painted it with a green tincture, which as far as I know has no medicinal value, but it looked good. So they painted her bed sore with the green tincture. By the time the family was ready to come, her condition had deteriorated substantially. In fact, although they didn't know it at that time, some of the sores had become gangrenous. In addition to this she was diabetic. When she arrived with her family in the medical evacuation flight in New York, she was under a medical escort by a Russian physician who obviously was not Jewish. My experience is that these medical escorts basically came here in order to get a free trip to the United States and would then do some site?seeing and buy up whatever commodity they could to take back with them to sell for profit. They had very little interest in the people they were supposed to be supervising. As long as they were handed over alive to the next step, that was all that mattered. As far as she was concerned that was all that mattered. So at this point, her condition was so bad that it was determined that she needed to be taken on an air ambulance. We were notified of this. Now the rest of the family could not travel on the air ambulance. They traveled on a regular commercial airline flight. She was separated from them and the doctor who had escorted to New York. He had escorted her to the point of entry and that was as much as he was required to do. He left, he did not communicate at all and no medical records were transferred to the paramedic personnel with the air ambulance service. The woman was put on a small jet aircraft and couldn't communicate with anybody. They knew she was diabetic so they couldn't give her any food. They didn't know what food she could have and they didn't have any medical records. They didn't know what she might be allergic to. I am not even sure if she had any water. Then a whole series problems occurred. Over Oklahoma there were bad storms and this was a small aircraft with a lower ceiling of operation, so they had to land. When the weather cleared and they took off they got some birds sucked into the jet engine and they had to make an emergency second landing. Then they had to do repairs and get a new jet engine. The rest of the family arrived in Tucson aboard the commercial airline having only made one change of planes. They were still waiting for the grandmother to arrive.
Q: Do they know what was happening? Were they aware that the plane was making all these stops?
A: As I recall, IOM notified us of nothing. We were on our own, which is typical of refugee resettlement, we would follow the flight as best we could. It is not easy because Federal regulations prohibit giving out information, but we were able to track what was going on. We had made arrangements in advance, because we knew that this woman was in pretty poor condition, for a doctor at University Hospital to accept her immediately into the emergency room. So they were on notice and the doctor was on call. We had also arranged ambulance transportation from Tucson International Airport. The family arrives and no grandmother. She arrives in the wee hours of the following morning. Again having had nothing to eat or drink during this whole ordeal. We put her in an ambulance to take her to University Hospital and they admitted her immediately. I was there and none of her bed sores had been re?bandaged since I don't know when. I remember I was in the emergency room examination room when they removed the bandages and it was just putrid because of the gangrene and so on. They immediately admitted her to the hospital. She survived two weeks and then died. This was an unnecessary death.
Q: What a terrible ending.
A: But the family was here two weeks after their arrival facing funeral, land burial arrangements, without knowing what to do. The interesting thing about this lady was that she knew that she was in ill health. The family said, "We don't have to leave while you are in ill health. " She said, "No, If I stay here who knows what may happen and you will never leave this country and my grandchildren will never be able to grow as Jews or live in freedom. " This lady insisted that she was not going to be buried in the country that had persecuted her. She wanted to come to the United States and be buried someplace where she could be buried as a Jew. The family wanted to have her buried as a Jew but they didn't know how to go about it. So one of the things we did, as Jewish Family and Children's Service, was to arrange for a Jewish burial plot, the Rabbi and all the accouterments. It made a great impression on the family. They are eternally grateful for what the community had done.