In her native Russia, Ina Rodomskaya cherished a fairy tale vision of an America where all people were prosperous and free.
In four months here, her vision has changed in the reality of a one-bedroom basement apartment in a run-down Queens high-rise. She is still looking for a job. She is afraid of the elevators and long corridors in her building because of recent muggings and assaults. She is generally baffled by American ways.
And yet, as she tries to find her bearings, she is stubbornly optimistic about starting a new life at age 41. She has invested so much already -- divorcing her husband after he did not want to emigrate, enduring the taunts of being a "traitor", losing her job as a college teacher. She did make the right decision to emigrate, she says, but with caution in her voice. If nothing else, her 11-year-old son is assured of opportunities a Jew would never have in the Soviet Union.
Rodomskaya's fate echoes many of the stories told by the 200,000 Soviet Jews who have emigrated in the last decade. It illustrates the human drama of the exodus from an authoritarian system as well as the difficulties faced by those who reach the West.
"We are like animals from a zoo suddenly freed," said journalist Yevgeny Rubin, 51, another recent arrival, trying to explain the trauma that the confrontation with freedom presents for Soviet citizens.
"Imagine you were born in prison and lived in it all your life, then [are] set free and you don't know what to do and where to go -- you are in the jungle of freedom," Rubin said.
Most Soviet Jews "imagined America as a fairy tale story," explained Alex Zayats, 32, and this is largely a result of Soviet propaganda. The Soviet media, he said, "have been lying about so many things for such a long time that nobody believes anything the papers say. We, in fact, assumed that the opposite was true."
His father, a teacher in Odessa, didn't believe anything Soviet papers wrote about America and violence," Zayats said. "Exactly two weeks after we arrived here my father was robbed in downtown Manhattan."
Millions have emigrated from the Soviet Union in the past and have sacrificed greatly to come to the United States, but the new Soviet Jews are different.
They were released in an unprecedented move only after massive international pressure, and they were allowed to emigrate not to the United States but to Israel.
Israel is a painfully embarrassing issue to the immigrants. Israel sought them, and mounted a major effort to accomodate them. But 81,000 of the 200,000 given visas to leave the Soviet Union have come to the United States instead.
Most of those who have come here seem to have been motivated by Horatio Alger mythology. There is irony in this, because these immigrants have received social welfare assistance unknown to previous Russian immigrant groups. Elderly Soviet immigrants are eligible for Social Security, pensions, Medicare or Medicaid, welfare benefits and subsidized housing. The younger ones are supported until they are placed in jobs.
Two previous waves of Soviet immigrants -- the first after World War I and the second after World War II -- received no such assistance. The third wave has brought people who are better educated, who are not interested in Jewish religious life and who are claiming from the start all the pivileges and services available to them.
This had contributed to friction between the American Jewish community and the "Russians." Critics say that resettlement efforts, like those provided by the New York Association for New Americans, called Nayana, merely reinforce the Russian immigrants' inflated expectations and lead them to demand more.
"All this assistance to ease their entry is also holding the Russians from plunging into the American experiences as other immigrants did," one Nayana official said privately.
On a different level, the Israeli government has been pressuring American Jewish leaders to stop assistance to the Russian immigrants and effectively force them to go to Israel.
Finally, cultural and psychological differences between the latest Soviet immigrants and the established Jewish community here were obscured in the long political struggle to pressure the Kremlin to "let our people go." These differences became pronounced in New York once the cause that originally bound the two communities together no longer existed.
"The paradox is that in Russia I was a Jew and now I am a Russian," says Yevgeny Ostrovsky, 41, a former interpreter who immigrated here five years ago with his wife, who is also fluient in English.
Like other Moscow and Leningrad intellectuals, they emigrated for political reasons, mainly the question of individual liberties, he says. The sense of being Jewish, for the Ostrovskys, has no religious context, but is rather a reaction to what he calls "official anti-semitism" in the Soviet Union.
The Ostrovskys, sitting in the modern kitchen of their detached home in the Forest Hills area and surrounded by all the accoutrements of middle class America, don't scorn "bourgeois" contentment. They have achieved it.
And they proudly refer to their four-year-old daughter, who was born two months after they reached New York, as "a true American."
"It is like I have lived here all my life," said Mrs. Ostrovsky.
"My goal was to get out of Russia because I didn't like the system and I didn't like the country," says Ostrovsky, who now works as an editor for the Novoye Ruskoye Slovo, a Russian language newspaper with 50,000 daily circulation. "I didn't come to America to become rich, I came here to be free."
But most of his compatriots, Ostrosky says, are leaving the Soviet Union for economic reasons. "They just come and they don't know why," he says, describing Jews from southern Russia and especially from the Black Sea port of Odessa as being "pushy, arrogant and greedy."
"The Odessa crowd" has settled at Brighton Beach, he said, not to create a new life but to recreate a little Russia.
Among Russian immigrants, Brighton Beach is known as the 'Odessa on the Atlantic," the largest concentration of Soviet immigrants anywhere. Located on the southern tip of Brooklyn next to Coney Island, Brighton Beach is a red arc of massive apartment houses along a spectacular boardwalk, with smaller one- or two-family homes in back of the apartment houses.
More than a third of the community's 50,000 residents are Soviet Jews who have settled here over the last five years.
Its restaurants bear Russian names. A "Black Sea" bookstore, a string of supermarkets, antique shops and other service establishments, all featuring Russian signs, testify to the enormous entrepreneurial energy and talent of the immigrants.
The immigrants speak Russian and revert to past habits easily. "Misha, that's one ruble eighty?" an elderly woman asks a grocery clerk about the price of a bottle of wine, which costs $1.80. "Yes, it's one ruble eighty," he responds in Russian.
There are other reminders of Russian life, such as bedding and clothing hanging out the windows and a long line of women and men, clutching pieces of paper, in front of Rabbi Ezekiah Pikus' office at the Jewish Community Council storefront office on the main street.
Sitting in 90-degree temperatures in a tiny cubicle of an office, the rabbi is inundated by visitors and telephone callers, seeking medical help, welfare, disability pensions, energy assistance supplements and job placement.
He explained to Yeva Krass, 41, that she and her husband would be eligible for welfare once their Nayana checks are stopped. The Krasses are receiving $150 a month each from Nayana, plus a housing supplement.
Could the rabbi find a summer job for her 15-year-old son Paul, Krass asked. The rabbi looked at the youth. "Would he like to be a camp counselor in the mountains?" the rabbi asked the mother. "No," the youth said looking at his mother. "Why?" the rabbi shot back. "I don't know," the youth said after a pause. "Is there something closer to home?" the mother asked sheepishly. Both she and her husband suffer from serious heart ailments.
In between phone calls, as he tries unsuccessfully to find something for the youth in Brighton Beach, the rabbi explains why this area was selected for resettlement. "It is similar to Odessa, the seashore and all, and the convenience of the shopping and transportation."
The rabbi deals with his tasks with a mixture of perplexity and frustration.
So many practical problems before the council, he said, leave him no time to deal with spiritual questions. Besides, he said, the immigrants have been "alienated from any sort of religious feelings for over two generations."
Now, said Joel Samuels, co-director of the Brighton Neighborhood Association, American Jews complain that some Russian Jews are using the yeshiva, or religious school, as a baby-sitting service and that their children disrupt classes.
Initial problems with the new immigrants were minor, Samuels said. "They would throw diapers out the window, or they would pour buckets of water on the floors when washing them" -- as they would do in Russia, where their floors were made of concrete. Various manuals in Russian were distributed to correct that, he said.
But the real problem is that "they are not like the old immigrants -- to them the U.S. citizenship doesn't mean much, they ignore invitations to community meetings or any meetings, they even wouldn't fill out census forms recently."
There are, however, many explanations for such behavior, said Alex Zayats, who works for Samuels as a liaison to the Russian community. "They are sick and tired of meetings they had to attend in the Sovviet Union, of the voting that didn't mean anything, of filling out forms. They simply aren't prepared for this."
To the Russian immigrants, Rabbi Pikus and Samuels are persons of authority with whom they should establish personal contact.
They have grown up in a society in which public life is viewed as a fraud, regardless of who is in power, and in which men seek authority to get privileges and wealth, which they often do through corruption and stealing.
Soviet Jews, especially those from Odessa, are known as skillful manipulators whose knowledge of string-pulling is equaled only by Soviet Georgians. There is an apocryphal story in the Brighton Beach community about the availability here of chicken, which is a delicacy in the Soviet Union.
"Okay, I can eat chicken here every day and in Odessa I had it once a week," an Odessa Jew is supposed to have commented. "But in Odessa, I was the only guy on my block who had chicken that week."
For the Brighton Beach police, the newcomers have brought few difficulties, although officers of the 60th Precinct have recently made an effort to learn Russian so they can deal with bar brawls as well as gang wars on the boardwalk between the Russians and Puerto Ricans.
But the main problem is car accidents, according to Detective Barry Brisacone. "The first thing when they come here is that they want to have a car, a big one, with or without a driver's license."
Brisacone and other non-Russians, however, are quick to say they believe that the influx of Russian Jews has not only "stabilized" the community, which a decade ago was on its way to becoming a slum, but has also revived its economic life.
In contrast to older and middleaged immigrants, younger Soviet Jews have entered the mainstream of American life without difficulty. Some young businessmen already have made their first million.
In Brighton Beach, Mike Fidler, 55, and his wife, Ljuba, are busy making money in their restaurant, "Gasronom Moskva." He is "busy, busy, busy," s aid Fidler, and "I sleep well because I don't have to worry about what I can or cannot say."
Ljuba Fidler is so busy, she said, that she doesn't have a minute to fill out citizenship forms. "Too much paperwork," she said, serving piroshki (stuffed rolls) and vodka to customers.
And on the sidestreet, sitting outside her apartment building, Neha Doyben, 70, who came from Odessa with her three sons, was watching her grandchildren at play.
"America," she said, "is a golden land, a golden land."