Russian Immigration to Israel Seen as Success Story

Community Blazes Path in Business and Politics

Welcome: Russian immigrant is met by relatives in Israel. Two decades after the first mass aliyah from the former Soviet Union, nearly 20% of all Israelis are Russian speakers.
getty images
Welcome: Russian immigrant is met by relatives in Israel. Two decades after the first mass aliyah from the former Soviet Union, nearly 20% of all Israelis are Russian speakers.

By Ben Sales

Published December 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — Growing up in the Urals, Pavel Polev was a precocious ice skater and a member of the Soviet Union’s national youth figure-skating team.

But in 1992, at age 15, Polev’s life was upended when he joined the massive wave of Jews immigrating to Israel from the crumbling Soviet Union. After serving a mandatory three years in the Israel Defense Forces following high school, Polev took a job as a custodian.

Two decades later, Polev is a successful small-business owner and rising politician. He runs an air-conditioning store and serves as deputy mayor of Ariel, the Israeli West Bank settlement city home to a large Russian-speaking population.

“It’s impossible to compare now with the situation 22 years ago,” said Polev, a member of the Russian immigrant-founded Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Polev’s immigrant success story resembles those of many of the 1 million Russian-speaking immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1990s. Along with their descendants, Russian speakers now comprise nearly one-fifth of all Israelis.

Unlike other immigrant groups that moved en masse to Israel only to find themselves poor and socially marginalized, two decades on Russian aliyah is by many metrics a story of resounding success. The Russian influx has had a palpable impact on Israeli society, from the countless storefronts with signs in Cyrillic characters to the many Russian-speaking immigrants who have assumed critical roles in the highest echelons of Israeli politics.

Though many Soviet immigrants, especially older ones, still face poverty and significant cultural barriers, overall statistics show a community on the rise. According to a 2013 report by the Adva Center, an Israeli social policy think tank, 56 percent of Russian immigrants in 1992 were in the poorest third of Israeli society – below the poverty line or at risk of poverty. By 2010, the figure had dropped to 38 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of Russians in the upper third of Israeli earners grew from 10 to 27 percent.

“With any group of new immigrants in any country you won’t find such a huge success,” Natan Sharansky, the famous Soviet refusenik who now serves as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told JTA. “If you look at service in the army, at medicine and science, you can see how deeply it’s entering Israeli society.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.