Immigrants' anxieties, fears replaced by joy

August 22, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff Staff writers Meredith Schlow and Alisa Samuels contributed to this story.

The recent Russian immigrant sat in his Pikesville apartment, the news of his native land blaring from his television and radio in a language he doesn't fully understand.

What has happened? he wondered.

Sherry Wohlberg, associate director of the Immigrant Resettlement Service of Jewish Family Services, gave him the answer:

The coup attempt in Moscow had failed. It was over.

"He kept saying, 'Thank you, Thank you,' " Wohlberg recalled yesterday from her office on Park Heights Avenue.

"It was as if me saying it caused it to happen. That 'thank you' contained so much relief."

For hundreds of Soviet Jewish immigrants who have settled in the Baltimore area over the last few years, this week's news of the conservative-backed coup back home froze them with worry.

Many, if not most, of the immigrants have relatives back home. And many of those relatives have applied to come to the United States, said Dr. Lucy Steinitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services.

In fact, over the next six to nine months, more than 1,300 relatives of recent Russian immigrants are scheduled to resettle here, under a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service law that permits immediate family members to be reunited.

Many immigrants envisioned the new regime slamming closed the doors of glasnost and perestroika, meaning that husbands and wives, parents and children, might never see each other again.

"The halls here were filled with fear," Steinitz said. "But that has been replaced, with still some fear and anxiety, but also with a whole lot of relief."

During the crisis, Steinitz said, many Soviet Jews here reacted as they would have had they still been in Moscow or Odessa: They hid in their apartments.

"There's a lot of fear that the arm of the KGB reaches very far and any public exposure can hurt them or their relatives," Steinitz said.

One woman, a 50-year-old translator who settled in Baltimore more than two years ago, did not want her name in the newspaper because she feared it would somehow hurt her daughter, who still lives in Moscow.

"I'm so happy, so very happy," the woman said, as she sat in Wohlberg's office. "Not just for my daughter and the Jews, but for all Russians. Because it's just terrible, what happened. Just terrible. It's still my country. I still love it."


Jill O'Donnell, a Towson State University student who plans to leave for Russia at the end of the month to study dance at the Leningrad State Conservatory, said she was pleased when she learned that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was back in power.

"I'm happy it went so quickly," she said.

She'll board her plane on schedule so long as the U.S. State Department doesn't advise against travel to Russia.

The 20-year-old said she turned on CNN after first learning of the Soviet coup Monday morning, "and I've been watching it ever since. . . . All my plans depended upon it."


"I'm happy with what happened and that Gorbachev is back," said Alex Pais, 28, co-owner of Moscow Nights, a Russion restaurant and nightclub on Park Avenue. He has family in Odessa and Moscow.

"They tried to bring back what used to be and you can't do that," Pais said of the hard-liners.

His friend, Alex Greben, 28, who left Kiev 12 years ago for the United States, said there won't be another coup attempt so long as the new generation of Russians is in power.

Greben, the banquet manager at the 8-month-old restaurant, warned, however, that "there's going to be more blood spilled on the streets" as people begin to choose between communism and capitalism.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.