The three-room apartment Rita Sklovskaya shares with her mother on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem is like a Russian island in an Israeli sea.
As she talked with a reporter the other day, Sklovskaya wore a faded Russian blouse, sat on a Russian brocade couch, and stirred her strong Russian tea with a decorative Russian teaspoon. Her bookshelves were filled with Russian-language books, most of them by authors banned in the Soviet Union.
To top it all off, her television set was tuned to a Soviet station, and a commentator was extolling--in Russian, of course--the glories of the socialist system, against a background of film clips showing children at a Soviet youth camp and young men shoveling snow in Moscow's Red Square.
Large Russian Community
Sklovskaya, an unemployed historian, and her mother are two of the 60,000 or more Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union who have bought shares in special antennas that bring regular Soviet television broadcasts into their homes here by means of satellite.
Sklovskaya came to Israel four years ago and still speaks Hebrew poorly. "In a lot of ways," she said, "I was detached from culture because of the language problem."
The main Israeli television station is on the air for only about four hours a day and rarely broadcasts cultural programs. By contrast, culture is a staple on Soviet television, which is on the air 19 hours a day.
Sklovskaya said that since she and her emigre neighbors bought their special antenna, she enjoys watching ballet, sports and, in particular, Russian movies.
Boom in Antennas
Murray Ginzberg, manager of Tel Aviv's Panorama Television Reception Products Ltd., said his firm has installed more than 200 of the special dish antennas in the last year. They cost about $3,600 each and serve about 80 households each, he estimated. That makes the price about $45 for each user.
There are about 165,000 Soviet Jews in Israel and often they live in "Little Russia" neighborhoods. As a consequence, there are in many cases enough Russian-speaking families in a single apartment building, apartment cluster or kibbutz (collective farm) to justify the expense of an antenna.
"The satellite dishes are part of a whole Russian subculture in Israel," said Edith Frankel, head of the Soviet research department at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "The Russians have established a number of publishing houses here. There are perhaps a dozen newspapers in Russian that come out weekly or daily."
Clinging to Old Ways
She said that Soviet Jews who come to Israel in middle age are particularly inclined to cling to things Russian.
"These are mainly the wilderness generation," she said. "They're the ones who have a longing for what they lost in the migration."
Soviet Jews have the reputation of being slower to assimilate here than immigrants from many other countries. Making the change from the closed Soviet society to that of wide-open Israel is not easy. Also, many emigres find that their Soviet education and experience do not qualify them for the sorts of jobs here that they had in the Soviet Union.
Nonetheless, according to experts on the problems faced by Soviet Jews, the popularity of Russian-language television does not reflect any desire to return to the Soviet Union. Rather, they say, it is a natural reaction of middle-aged people thrown into a drastically different culture.
"They have sentimental feelings toward their previous homeland," Panorama's Ginzberg said of his customers. "They speak Russian at home. And if they can pick up TV live from Moscow, it's worthwhile for them."
An Israeli immigration official said that much of Israel's television programming comes from the United States or Britain and is broadcast in English with Hebrew subtitles. Written Hebrew is even more difficult to understand for the newcomer than spoken Hebrew and that gives the Russian emigre a strong incentive to watch Soviet television, the immigration official said.
"It's easier to sit there and watch it in your native language than to bust your head on Hebrew subtitles," he said.
Sklovskaya agrees. "The main reason people pay for satellite dishes," she said, "is that many don't speak Hebrew or English and feel cut off from the world. That's the case with the older people more than with the young ones."
Youth Reject Programs
Older emigres like Sklovskaya say they pay no more attention to propaganda-skewed Soviet news and documentary programs than they did before they left. But younger newcomers say the propaganda turns them off to Soviet television.