AKKO, ISRAEL -- When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein renewed his threats to attack Israel in the Persian Gulf crisis, Misha Pelvitzsky, a recent immigrant to Israel from the Soviet Union, went hunting for a bomb shelter in the aging concrete apartment building he recently moved into.

He couldn't find one. "Nobody even knew where {one} was," said Pelvitzsky, who arrived here with his wife and two children in January. "My friends are very worried about the situation," he added. "It seems that if there is a war, the targets will be civilians and the weapons will be chemical weapons."

The sudden sense of being exposed to a conflagration in the Middle East is only the latest jolt felt by the Pelvitzskys since they moved to this city on Israel's Mediterranean coast from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

Like many of the tens of thousands of Soviet immigrants who have poured into Israel this year, the family is uneasily grappling with economic austerity, a high-pressure lifestyle and a sense of alienation of living in a country they turned to only after failing to gain entry to the United States.

Still, the Pelvitzskys say, they prefer life in their small public housing unit here -- in the midst of a regional crisis and with no bomb shelter -- to that in Odessa, where they felt threatened by antisemitism.

"We're here because we don't have a choice, but it's still a lot better than the Soviet Union," said Pelvitzsky, 36, an optical technician. "Russia is a strong country and we weren't worried there about an attack from the outside. But we were worried about an attack from the inside, because of antisemitism."

The Pelvitzskys' conclusion is one that seems to be widely shared among Soviet immigrants who are taking part this year in one of the largest movements of Jews to Israel in the history of Zionism. Despite growing problems with housing and employment and the looming threat of war, officials say, the rate of Soviet immigration here is expected to rise again, to between 15,000 and 20,000 this month.

About 6,000 Soviet Jews arrived in the first 12 days of August alone, raising the total immigration figure for the year from all countries to more than 80,000, including some 57,000 Soviets. In September, when more routes will be opened for Jews traveling from the Soviet Union to Israel, officials of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency expect another jump in the arrival rate, to more than 20,000 a month.

"The gulf crisis so far has had no effect on the immigration -- not on the numbers and not on the interest," said Simcha Dinitz, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, which is charged with transporting immigrants to Israel. "How to explain it? Maybe the Soviet Jews are used to living under a threat. And maybe they feel that if there's going to be a conflagration, Israel is not necessarily going to be worse off."

To be sure, there is growing concern among government officials and the Soviet immigrant organizations that the exodus could be interrupted. Even if Israel is not drawn into a Middle East war, officials here say, the massive wave of arrivals may soon clog Israel's absorption system so thoroughly that the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews now waiting to leave or going through the initial stages of the emigration process may postpone their trips.

Although Dinitz said the Soviets arriving this month are still finding apartments to live in, the housing shortage is critical. Up to 10,000 low-income Israelis are living in tent cities because, they say, they have been forced out of their homes by rising rents. Unemployment last month rose to more than 10 percent nationwide; only 40 percent of the Soviets who arrived last year are reported to have found permanent jobs.

This month, the Israeli parliament approved a $1 billion housing program that calls for immediately importing 20,000 prefabricated houses and mobile homes. That stopgap measure, however, is expected to cover immigrants' demand for housing for only a few more months at the present rate of arrivals. Meanwhile, no permanent relief is in sight. Contractors have broken ground on only a few hundred of the 45,000 housing units the government hoped would be built this year.

Still, the Soviet arrivals appear more willing than many Israelis to accept austere conditions. Many families have begun to double up in the simple concrete apartment buildings that fill out most Israeli cities, much as they did in similar block housing suburbs in the Soviet Union. Others have moved into the guest houses of the kibbutzim, the Israeli collective farms, and some may soon occupy vacation cottages built for military personnel.

A cousin of the Pelvitzskys' is due to arrive from the Soviet Union with her family in October. And Misha Pelvitzsky and his wife, Dina, are afraid they will not be able to find an apartment for them. But the cousin is still coming. If necessary, Dina Pelvitzsky said with a shrug, the new arrivals will simply share the Pelvitzskys' apartment.

"You have to remember that people are not only coming here for materialistic reasons," Misha Pelvitzsky said. "When the possibility arose to leave the Soviet Union, people didn't think about what they could get here or what they would find here -- they just left, because they are afraid of the situation there."

So far, the Pelvitzskys have been relatively fortunate in their effort to resettle here. Because they arrived in January, near the beginning of the immigration wave, the family was near the top of the housing list in Akko. Last month, the Pelvitzskys took possession of a public housing apartment over which they have quasi-ownership rights. They pay only $105 a month in fees. Acquaintances from Odessa, they say, now pay $225 a month to share an apartment of the same size with another family.

Both Misha and Dina Pelvitzsky are pursuing careers. Misha has a job preparing lenses for glasses at an optician's shop, while Dina, a surgical nurse, receives a government stipend to attend a training program for nurses at an Israeli hospital. Their teenage daughter recently returned from an Israeli summer camp. Their 9-year-old son, Wladyslaw, was recently circumcised and changed his name to Zeev Shimon ben Michael Pelvitzsky -- though Misha Pelvitzsky said he is still called by his Russian nickname, "Wladek," at home.

Nevertheless, there is much that the Pelvitzskys find difficult in their new life. Misha is dissatisfied with his salary of $500 a month, which is low even by Israeli standards. Dina has lost her once-high hopes of finding a good job as a nurse in Israel. Although she worked at the highest technical level as a nurse in the Soviet Union, she said, the retraining course she is taking will qualify her to work only at the entry level in Israel.

The couple's job schedules are a study in stress: Dina leaves early in the morning and arrives home in mid-afternoon, just as Misha is leaving for his 4 to 10 p.m. shift at the optician's. Both Pelvitzskys commute by bus from Akko to reach their jobs and, like most Israelis, they are expected to work six days a week, with Saturdays off.

Both Misha and Dina Pelvitzsky have had trouble learning Hebrew, despite a six-month intensive course they took. They spend most of their time with other recent Soviet immigrants rather than with other Israelis. And they still hope to move to the country they always dreamed of in Odessa -- America -- in part because they have relatives there.

Still, Misha Pelvitzsky said, "We are optimistic. When we came here, we knew there would be a lot of difficulties and hardship. The first five years for an immigrant are always the hardest. And if a person isn't willing to risk his life for freedom, he doesn't deserve either freedom or his life."