TEL AVIV -- The first thing Jena Segal, 21, a Russian engineering student from Leningrad, received when he landed at Ben Gurion airport here to settle in Israel was a gas mask. But he said he had never felt more secure in his life.
Living with the Iraqi Scud missiles that have sporadically fallen in Tel Aviv residential neighborhoods, resulting in four deaths and nearly 200 injuries, probably will be safer than life in Leningrad, Segal said.
"There, you wake up in the morning, and you don't know what terrible thing the day will bring. It's dangerous to walk in the streets. It's very scary," said Segal, who immigrated here with his mother, father and two grandparents. In his old neighborhood in the Soviet Union, anti-Semitic bullies regularly beat up Jews, he said, and many problems face Jews and non-Jews -- hours waiting in line in sub-zero temperatures for dwindling food stocks, fears of a new wave of repression by the Kremlin and continuing health hazards posed by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.
"It may be scary in Israel at the moment, but it was scary there, too," Segal said. "Here, at least we have the comfort of knowing we Jews are all together. There, if you are scared, there is no one to help."
The immigration of Soviet Jews here -- which has totaled more than 230,000 in the last 14 months -- has put a severe strain on Israeli housing, prompting the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to seek $10 billion in aid from the United States to help handle the influx.
Meanwhile, however, the Persian Gulf War has slowed the pace of immigration from 1,000 a day in December to 500 a day in January to fewer than 400 a day so far in February, immigration spokesman Yehuda Weinraub told the Associated Press Sunday.
As soon as they arrived on an El Al airlines flight from Warsaw, Segal and the other immigrants were handed gas masks and given a briefing on emergency procedures, including the necessity of finding a sealed, gas-resistant shelter when air raid warnings sound.
The immigrants appeared to take it in stride. One official said that when the air raid sirens at the airport sounded recently, arriving Soviet Jews were noticeably calmer than a group of American tourists who also had just arrived.