CARING FOR IMMIGRANT FAMILIES IN CRISIS

- the testimony of an Israeli Psychologist

The condition of immigrant families in Israel has seriously deteriorated in the last 10 years. This is the sober assessment given by a professional psychologist with more than a decade of daily experience among Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel. I spoke with her about the serious problems still encountered by immigrants, about her career and about her new found faith in Yeshua.

Sheila loves people and made the study of psychology her life's work for that reason. She was born in 1950, in Moldova. After completing a master's degree, she began teaching kindergarten in the early 1970s. By 1974 she and her husband had decided to leave the Soviet Union and make Israel their home. While waiting for an exit visa, she continued to teach, but "as a Jew I was unable to advance professionally. On every form my Jewish 'nationality' was stated. I wanted to show that I was Jewish without fear, so I told the truth." As a result the door to doctoral studies was closed, and so was the door out of the USSR.

Waiting 15 Years, We Knew the KGB by their First Names!

"When we applied for a visa to emigrate to Israel they sent us to Kishinev, the capital, straight to the KGB (secret police). They kept refusing our application. After a while I knew them well, by name even." As a 'refusenik' it took her 15 years of denied applications and "interviews" with the KGB before perestroika came, Soviet Communism fell and she was able to make aliya to Israel. Her absorption was hard and fast. "I cried and worked and succeeded to find my place, even though I arrived as a 40 year old kindergarten teacher with no Hebrew."

Determined, she achieved what few other immigrants her age have, becoming a certified psychological counselor and educational specialist in the State of Israel. "Once we got to Israel, I gained certification through a program at Haifa University and in May '92 began working as a psychologist specializing in new immigrants in the local school system. Now I work not only with new immigrants but with sabra children too. I move around in a circuit from school to school. Altogether I serve 33 kindergartens, six elementary schools and two junior highs."

"Most Immigrant Families Are in a State of Anarchy"

"I have seen a decided increase in drug and sex related problems in junior high schools," states Sheila, her brow creasing with compassion. "Now even in elementary schools drugs are used. The olim (immigrants) see the behavior of tsabarim (native Israelis), want to be accepted and behave even worse, to prove themselves. Parents have no true authority with their children. Anarchy is the common condition of the family. In Russia the parents had authority, but not here. Jewish families in Russia set an example of healthy home life for the rest of society. Here it is the opposite. Many, many single mother families make the situation worse. There's no help, no personal support. Also, abortion is a major problem. Women are trying to support their children, but have no profession. It is a social crisis."

"Parents don't know how to behave and don't know the language. The children are embarrassed by the accent and ignorance of their parents. In Russia "father was doctor." Here, he's nothing, nobody. The man feels broken and humiliated over his loss of status. He is no longer a professional. The women survive. But many men are in serious depression. They can't find work and don't know the language. So they begin drinking, taking drugs and staying out." Two days after this conversation with Sheila I learned that a man who had begun attending our Haifa congregation died of alcohol use mixed with drugs.

"Now I Wait for Shabbat every Week, to Connect with the Lord."

How did she conclude that Yeshua is the Messiah and become involved in Tents of Mercy? "I believed in God from an early age. There were mezuzot. My family wasn't so religious, but we kept the holidays. Yom Kippur, Rosh HaShana, Purim. But Yeshua wasn't discussed, especially as a Jew. When I began to talk with olim, I saw the weakness of their background in Judaism and felt a spiritual hunger in my own life."

Svyeta, a neighbor who had found Tents of Mercy, invited her to hear a talk being given by David Silver. "I had helped her children and we felt connected. That night David explained about Yeshua... who He is, what He did. I felt that I needed to receive, so I came forward and prayed. Then I began to read the Bible and to pray, every day in the morning. I make notes of my questions and bring them to our home group. I'm not embarrassed to ask. The connection between Jewish life and faith in Yeshua is natural for me. Now I'm explaining to my friends and giving them books to read."

A born communicator, Sheila already sees the need to reach out. "It is so important how we receive people. Following Yeshua as Jews is something new to people. When someone first arrives at the congregation---this moment is the most important. If they see that we care that they've come... they will want to come back." God is already using Sheila.

"I wait for Shabbat every week.. to make connection with the Lord. I tell my family, I'm not available Shabbat morning. My son and daughter in law... I want them so much to come into the faith. They're open. My granddaughter went into hospital recently. My son asked prayer for her... and the Lord answered the prayer! This my son noticed."

"Why Don't we Establish an Ulpan?"

Turning our conversation back to the society around us, Sheila spoke again of family life among immigrants, her eyes flashing with passionate concern. "Education, family life, the economy, integration into Israeli society... these are the severe pressure points. Many are in fear and depression. We have to give people faith in the Lord. They are sitting between four walls staring at them. There is no work... no language. Even young adults cannot read and write in Hebrew. Why don't we establish an ulpan (language course) for new olim, to help give them extra help with the language?"

It is this approach that makes me eager to work with Sheila, to learn from her and to help her grow as a servant of the Lord. Please pray with us that God will use the Tents of Mercy to bring deep change to immigrant families, through the love of Yeshua. His love must be expressed in both material/educational help and in spiritual help, assisting people to find the new heart God promised when we return to this, our covenant home (Ezekiel 36:26).

By Eitan Shishkoff