Last week at Nevey Shalom Congregation in Bowie, tears filled Hannie Koss's eyes as she explained why she had been host to one of 12 Soviet Jewish families recently resettled in Prince George's County.

"In 1939, my father was an immigrant from Poland who got out on the last boat to the United States," said Koss, 45. "I did this for my parents."

Like Koss's parents fleeing the Nazis, the family of Yefim Katsov -- which Koss's family sponsored -- left behind what refugees say is the continuing antisemitic atmosphere of the Soviet Union. The Katsovfamily -- two parents and two teenage children -- arrived in the United States without benefit of relatives, jobs or economic security.

Yefim Katsov, 41, said he considers Hannie Koss's family "like our closest, closest relatives." Katsov, a mathematician, was for many years prohibited from emigrating because he once held a secretive space program job.

" 'This is impossible, you know very many secrets,' " he said he was told by officials. But Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has loosened controls in that country, and in 1989 Katsov's emigration papers were finally accepted.

The Katsovs are among the new wave of Soviet Jews being allowed to leave their homeland; 40,000 are expected to come to the United States this year. In the next 15 months, more than 1,200 are expected to settle in the Baltimore region and another 600 in the Washington area, most of them in Montgomery County.

The 12 families who met for the reception last week are the first to come to Prince George's County without family members to greet them. They settled there in May after County Executive Parris Glendening contacted the United Jewish Appeal Federation, offering to help with its resettlement efforts.

The federation, along with the Jewish Social Services Agency, helps newcomers with finances, educational aid and job placement. But it also must rely on the help of people in the community. Getting used to a dramatically different culture can be eased by relationships developed with the host families.

"They meet them at the airport, take them to various appointments and on that first outing to the supermarket," said Judy Klein, director of volunteer services/resettlement for the federation.

Even things that Americans take for granted, such as the abundance of choices in supermarkets, can overwhelm the newcomers, she added. "One fellow went to the coffee row and nearly passed out." Even after the guests move to their own apartments, friendships often continue.

Svetlana Kagan, who left the Soviet Union two years ago and helps with resettlement, said it can be hard -- especially for professionals -- to find comparable work in the United States, where language barriers make getting licensed extremely difficult. Cultural differences can also be alienating, she said.

"The whole culture is so different," said Kagan. "I'm here for two years and sometimes I feel like I'm a spectator, I don't feel I belong . . . . {Refugees} left behind everything they have and those they love. It's very difficult and depressing, so we try to do our best to support them and make it easier."

About 150 guests, including Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Jim Estepp -- representing Glendening -- and the County Council's newest member, Anne MacKinnon, attended the reception, which was organized as a way for the immigrants to express their gratitude to their host families.

Benton Parks, 49, of College Park, a construction representative for the Army Corps of Engineers, was host to Boris Ioshpe, 34, who shares an apartment with two other single male refugees.

"It's very tight and they watch their pennies," said Parks. Their $800-a-month rent is paid by the federation for three months and they receive $99 a month in food stamps and about $129 each in monthly spending money from the federation. Meanwhile, they have to master enough language skills to land jobs.

Parks recalled taking Ioshpe -- a body shop mechanic by trade -- on a tourist visit to Washington on his second day in the United States. Ioshpe was puzzled by protesters in front of the White House.

"I told him, 'They're protesters, dissidents like you were in Russia,' " said Parks. "He said, 'They should go to Russia and then they'd have something to protest.' "

Asked at the reception through a translator why he had wanted to come to the United States, Ioshpe said he had come for "freedom and liberty."

The family of Dmtry Novik, 58, a physicist and electronics professional, spent 11 years waiting to emigrate because "we cannot have our life as free men and women and as qualified specialists in Russian," said Novik.

Bernie Bodner, of Bowie, who with his wife, Sheila, was host for the Noviks, said the families had bonded quickly. "We automatically clicked, even though the language was a little halting, but our expression managed to communicate to each other," said Bodner, who like Hannie Koss, volunteered out of a sense of responsibility. "Our parents came here as refugees and they too were assisted by people here. This is repaying an obligation."

Novik is downright blissful about being here, praising his international mix of neighbors at the Greenbelt apartment complex where all the immigrants now live and the splendors of Greenbelt National Park.

"There are two main points in my life," said Novik. "One point when I was born, another when I was born again" as a newcomer to America.