Emigres assert united voice of concern to federation

To improve communication, the 10 met over coffee and scones at the federation offices last Friday after a 2,000-signature petition landed on Feinstein's desk May 8.

In response to a potential $600,000 cut in emigre services by the JCF, Leonid Grzhonko, Valadimir Rubashevsky and a handful of other emigres drafted their concerns about reductions in language classes, job counseling and senior services. Rather than relying on representatives from Jewish Family and Children's Services or Jewish Vocational Services to address their interests, the former Soviets voiced their agenda in their petition to JCF.

"We appeal to the Jewish community to help us in this most difficult time," it reads. "Do not abandon us in our hour of need…Today we do not have the means to support our community. However, we will do all that is within our power to strengthen our community in the future."

In response, Feinstein invited the petitioners to the meeting. Seeking to establish a bond, he aired his own history as a descendant of Russian emigres, "removed by 90 years but from the same place as you." Then he and the emigres mapped out the problem and potential solutions.

Emigres are concerned that JCF cuts to Jewish agencies will imperil current resettlement programming.

Currently JCF earmarks $1.5 million per year for emigre services. But to date, only $900,000 of those funds has been raised for the next fiscal year.

Unlike some federations, which fund only relocation, language and job placement programs, the S.F.-based federation's emigre budget includes scholarships for camps and schools.

Additional cost concerns include caring for a rapidly growing elderly population from the former Soviet Union.

In past years, funds were raised for such services through a separate campaign, Operation Exodus. A new financial plan called "New Life for Emigres" has been set up to raise funds for services provided to Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The three-tier system will derive its funds from the federation's annual campaign, the Jewish Community Federation Endowment Fund and fund-raising efforts by emigres, JFCS, JVS, Jewish Community Centers and Mount Zion Health Systems.

In addition, Jewish Family and Children's Services is negotiating for an increase in a federal government matching grant. If secured, an additional $400 per immigrant will be available for more language training, job counseling and placement.

"Federation's budget may be down, but public funds will go up, [narrowing the] gap between federation's abilities and emigre needs. [We're looking at a] $400,000 increase in federal support for two years," Feinstein said.

Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based JFCS, was not at the meeting. She said, however, that Feinstein's logic results in "government gives more, federation gives less. It neutralizes any real gain."

In addition to dealing with the immediate funding crunch, both JCF and the emigre group are looking beyond 1996. During the meeting, talk turned to immigration, politics, activism and future fund-raising efforts.

Like emigres before him, Palo Alto engineer Gennady Farber said he wants to secure a better future "for our children.

"I've been here four years and I'm doing fine. That's a huge achievement of the federation," he said. "But the reality is, we're concerned about our children.

"You did a wonderful job bringing us here. You gave birth. But now you have to bring up a generation of Jews."

Grzhonko, an engineer who has lived in San Francisco for six years, added, "The next generation will be very successful and will give back for all of this" — that is, if the support continues.

Meanwhile, the emigres are curious about how to establish funding for future programming. For instance, Grzhonko wants to begin a program to license other emigre engineers and prepare them for the American workplace.

Feinstein explained the process of applying for grants for new programs through the federation's Endowment Fund. He also suggested that the emigres apply for positions on the committees of JCF and other Jewish agencies.

Throughout the two-hour meeting, both sides spelled out their concerns, constraints, perceptions and misperceptions.

"This is like a child's game of telephone. You say one thing to another and another and by the time it gets to the [intended party] it's all garbled," Feinstein said.

Farber nodded, adding "The communication gap is huge, not just between federation and us, but us among each other."

To help improve the information flow, Feinstein asked whether there was an established emigre organization that JCF could work with.

As yet, there isn't.

"Ah, the communication gap goes both ways," retorted Rubashevsky of Palo Alto.

At the end of two hours, no firm answers were given. Federation's allocations will not be finalized until summer.

However, the emigres seemed anxious to get involved. And their fears seemed somewhat quelled as they and Feinstein exchanged e-mail addresses.

"I'm sure Mr. Feinstein will do all he can. But I'm still worried," Grzhonko said later. "This is a difficult time for new immigrants."