"Many Soviet Jews just do not know how to cope with Israel," a former Moscow resident remarked here the other day.
"They don't know what to do with freedom. They expect decisions to be made for them, like they always had been," he said. "Psychologically, they almost have to be born again."
A decade the start of what became a highly publicized worldwide campaign to make it possible for Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union, many of the 125,000 Soviet Jews who came here are finding the transition painful.
Based on a host of official Israel studies and conversations with recent arrivals at an absorption center near Jerusalem, there are serious complaints about housing and employment, problems in adjusting to Israeli custom, styles and politics.
Indeed, there are complaints that some immigrants face discrimination just because they are Soviets.
There are, to be sure, tales of outstanding sucesses:
A 14-year-old boy who was so unhappy in his Soviet school, where other children teased him for being Jewish, that he had to take powerful tranquiltizers, is now off drugs completely and happily speaking fluent. Hebrew after only eight months in Israel.
A young biochemist who was dropped from graduate school in Moscow after he inquired about emigrating is nearing a doctorate and living comfortably in a three-room apartment near Tel Aviv with his wife, an equally successful student.
Eighty inventions by Soviet immigrants have been found "feasible" by a new Iraeli institute of innovation and 12 are in production, among others, an x-ray in color, special types of weather balloons and a new type of irrigation piping.
Part of the complexity in gauging progress here of immigrants from the U.S.S.R. is that they are not nearly the homogenous group that lumping them under one heading might suggest. They include Westernized intellectuals from Moscow and Leningrad, as well as backward mountain peoples from Daghestan and the shrewd, natural entrepreneurs of Soviet Georgia.
Each come to Israel for a combination of different reason: to pray in freedom, to make money, for their children, because others are going to flee anti-semitism, or simply to see the world.
What they hoped to achieve here in some measures determines what makes them content.For those, say, with primarily religious objectives - a small minority - life in Israel is in comparably better than it could ever be in the Soviet Union.
But for the majority whose motives for emigrating were largely economic, conitions in Israel can be difficult, as they are for most Israelis. A recent survey by the Ministry of Absorption found that after three years, over half the Soviet immigrants were less satisfied with their work in Israel than they had been in the Soviet Union; less than half said they were satisfied with their salaries. Over 40 percent of the Soviet Jews said after one year that their standard of living wes lower in Israel than in the Soviet Union.
Among those with academic or professional training, the ministry reports, a major problem is finding suitable jobs in competition with long time Israelis.
For instance, a substantial proportion of arrivals, as much as 50 percent at some points, have had advanced or technical backgrounds whereas only 18 percent of the work force in Israel is needed under present circumstances for such jobs - which is already higher than in most other countries.
As a result, a number of immigrants have found to their chagrin that after a year during which the government would pay their salaries at academic institutions, they were dropped because there was no permanent place for them. Others have found that their Soviet training is either too specialized or primitive to be useful here. They have to be retrained, a burden for those past middle age.
These factors, according to a study published by the law faculty at Tel Aviv University, have contributed heavily to the increasingly high dropout rate among Jewish university graduates and professionals leaving the Soviet Union.
Well over 50 percent of the Soviet Jews receiving visas for Israel are now going elsewhere, mainly the United States, and the figure is apparently continuing to rise. More than 80 percent of the Jews leaving Moscow do not come to Israel any longer. Figures for other major Soviet cities are equally striking.
There are additional considerations for the dropouts, the study shows, including fear of another Middle East war, reports of intolerance towards non-Jewish partners in a marriage, sharp self-criticism by Israelis which filters back to the Soviet Union and the ease of going to the United States. But the high percentage of the better educated, white collar workers diverting elsewhere is especially hard for Israeli authorities to counter.
Moreover, Israelis say that some of the most difficult adjustments to life here are faced by people who are still coming in large quantities - natives of the less developed regions of the Soviet Union such as Tadjikistan, Azerbaidjan, the mountains of Daghestan and other Caucasus territories. A report by Hanna Avidor and Ruth Zin of the Jewish Agency's immigration and absorption department asserted after a study of 5,000 immigrants from the Causasus:
Immigrants from the Caucasus are confronted with myriad difficulties in all aspects of live. They must change their working habits and occupations; familiarize themselves with modern conceptions of environmental and personal hygiene; learn new methods of infant care and domestic economy, acclimate to different cultural and educational systems; . . . surmount their antagonistic attitude towards the establishment and their tendency to regard it as the enemy.
"Because of the wide cultural gap between Caucasus immigrants and their Israel environment, they are often rejected by other groups of immigrants from the Soviet Union and by those who have lived in (Israel) for longer period."
Although many of them are more socially advanced than other Soviet mountain peoples, the tensions here seem especially severe for Georgians, whose southern Soviet republic has perhaps the strongest national characteristics of any in the U.S.S.R. They believe, as a headline on an article in the Jerusalem Post put it, that "Israelis just don't like Georgian Jews."
Georgians have a reputation,said one Israeli for being shifty as merchants, of stealing without "any guilty feelings whatsover." In short, when ever Israelis make invidious assessments of newcomers, the Georgians tend to do badly.
The Georgians are understandably resentful. A Ministery of Absorption study found that many Georgians "have had to renounce their crafts or small trades and transfer to manual labor, much of it unskilled. (They) have negative opinion towards such work, reinfoced by the fact that they work together with Arabs."
The friction that so clearly marks Georgians' relations with their new countrymen extends to other groups to some degree. For all the fact that Israel is a land of immigrants, each wave - the North Africans, for example, Romanians and now Soviets - tend to gather among themselves at least for time.
In the first year after immigrating, only 16 percent of the Soviet Jews say they "meet socially" with othe Israelis. The figure rises steadily. But after five years it is still only half the Soviet immigrants who say they relax with friends from among other national backgrounds.
Whatever problems they face, leaving Israel for Soviet Jews is even harder than coming in the first place and the numbers who go are small. They have to be accepted by another country which is tricky, and repay the aid extended to them by the Israelis which is substantial. Nonetheless, some people are desperate. A few are even trying to return to the Soviet Union.
"I know a man who would walk back to Russia if he could," said one recent arrival," but then he's already crazy."