Published: The San Jose Mercury News, Wednesday, December 27, 1989
By DE TRAN, Mercury News Staff Writer
The 10 o'clock news was winding down, and Julia Kiselev turned to the tube. Earlier, she had bought her first-ever lotto tickets. The quick-pick numbers flashed on the screen, but Kiselev did not win.
Unlike many Californians, this was the first time Kiselev had tried her luck with the state lottery.
Julia Kiselev, 30; her husband, Igor, 32; and their son left their Soviet home in Leningrad two years ago. Like thousands of other Soviet Jews, they moved to escape persecution in a land where they were second-class citizens. About 40,000 Jews have left since Soviet officials relaxed their immigration policies in 1987. Many chose to resettle in the United States.
An estimated 8,000 Soviet Jews now live in the Bay Area. The majority are young, professional people. Many are engineers and technicians attracted by the job opportunities in Silicon Valley.
In 1990, the State Department will allow 50,000 Soviet immigrants -- 35,000 of whom will be Jewish -- to come to the United States, said Suzan --> -- Berns, an associate director for the Jewish Community Federation.
The Kiselevs are adapting well to their new life. Julia, a physician in the Soviet Union, still attends English language classes. She hopes to become a scientific researcher. Igor's English is very good; he learned it in the USSR. He works as a computer programmer in Fremont.
Though Julia misses the rain in Leningrad, she has become quite fond of sipping cappuccino in sidewalk cafes on University Avenue in Palo Alto. She loves roaming around Stanford University. "Stanford is like a castle," she said. The couple often stroll the campus, hunting for wild mushrooms. They live in a comfortable two-bedroom Menlo Park apartment with 4-year-old Yasha. Though the apartment is sparsely furnished, it has a television set with cable and a remote- controlled videocassette recorder.
Igor has even picked up an American habit: watching too much television. "I want to throw it out," he said. "I don't have the strength."
With the continuing flow of immigrants to the Bay Area, officials and community workers try to raise money any way they can. It costs the Jewish Community Federation about $1,800 to help each emigre with rent, food, job training and other necessities required in their first four months in the United States, Toren said.
''It's a real challenge," said Kenneth Toren, director of the federation's South Bay region.
Many Soviet Jews left with little. The Kiselevs, like other immigrants, were allowed only $98 and two suitcases. Another family brought their guitars instead, said one official at the Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. That way, they could play away the blues in America.
The new land offers freedom and financial opportunities. But its barriers are many: a new language, strange customs, foreign ideas.
Many must rely on welfare, donated furniture and second-hand clothes until they can learn English and refine their skills to find jobs. They often live in cramped apartments.
It's toughest for the elderly, said Jerry Jacobs, a volunteer who helps the newcomers. "The children are great," he said. "They lose their Russian accents in a matter of days."
It can be frustrating, too, for those who had valuable skills in the Soviet Union to not know how to do simple things here.
''The simple things for you are very difficult for them," said Lina Chernyak, a social worker with the Palo Alto Jewish Families and Children Services. "They don't know how to use the bank, how to deal with checks. . . . It's hard when you are grown and you are a doctor or an engineer and you can't understand anything."
But the problems are minor, temporary inconveniences, compared with their life in the old country. The Kiselevs, for example, waited seven years to leave the Soviet Union.
''It was so hard to live without hope," Igor Kiselev said.