JERUSALEM -- The families are instantly recognizable behind the luggage carts they push out of Israel's Ben Gurion International airport: their faces pale and uncertain in the bright Middle Eastern sun, their bodies typically dressed in the Soviet Union's inimitable dyed bluejeans and plastic shoes.
From there, however, it is a relatively short trip for most Soviet Jews to a new life as part of Israel's most fashionable, favored and occasionally frustrated new class: olim hadashim, the new immigrants.
In their first months, Soviet Jews typically find themselves startled by the life and culture they find in Israel, overwhelmed by its initial generosity to them and, eventually, irritated by the ways its inefficient bureaucracy resembles the socialist apparatus they thought they had left behind.
Although many are highly educated professionals, most of the Soviets arrive here with only a few suitcases and almost no capital. However, from the moment they step off their charter flights from Europe, the immigrants are subsidized by the government to such a generous degree that their standard of living exceeds that of most young Israeli couples.
A typical immigrant family of three is initially given $500 by the government upon arrival to rent a hotel room or cover initial expenses, as well as $650 for "immediate household needs."
The family also gets monthly stipends for rent and living expenses totaling $700 a month -- a sum that exceeds the average Israeli monthly take-home pay -- and tax exemptions on the purchase of cars and appliances.
In all, a Soviet family receives about $11,000 in government funds during its first year in the country, along with free enrollment in a six-month-long intensive Hebrew course. The subsidies can continue for two years or more if the family has trouble finding employment.
The state's munificence means that most of the approximately 50,000 Soviet immigrants who have arrived in the past year are living in apartments in central Israel or Jerusalem that are larger and more comfortable than those they left behind, and stocked with goods that many only dreamed of at home: color televisions, freezers, washing machines and electric ranges.
Because of a growing housing shortage, however, those who arrive in the coming months will probably have to endure more spartan conditions, and some may be forced to live in prefabricated temporary homes.
According to government figures, more than half of the Soviets are living in the central, heavily populated coastal strip including Tel Aviv and the suburbs extending about 20 miles north and south of it, while another 30 percent are in northern coastal cities such as Haifa. Ten percent have moved to Jerusalem and its suburbs, but only a few have ventured either to the unpopulated interior regions of the Galilee and Negev desert or to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Despite their relative material comfort, most of the Soviets do not have jobs yet and many have already grown impatient with the Israeli government bureaucracy charged with dispensing their subsidies and arranging language and job training.
Demonstrations by angry Soviets have been staged recently outside government offices in several cities, and an advocacy organization chaired by former refusenik Natan Sharansky, the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum, is growing rapidly.