The New York Jewish community is preparing to resettle "hundreds" of ethnic Albanian refugees here in coming weeks and to raise an estimated $200 to $600 for each refugee to supplement government grants, The Jewish Week has learned.
Misha Galperin, chief operating officer of UJA-Federation of New York, said it is not known how many refugees will seek the help of the New York Jewish community when they resettle here. The New York Association for New Americans, the Jewish community’s resettlement arm here, is one of a half-dozen local organizations working with the families of those planning to seek refuge in the New York area.
The Clinton administration has promised to provide refugees to up to 20,000 ethnic Albanians forced from their homes in Kosovo by Serbian authorities. Most of those expected to settle in the New York area are those with relatives here. It is estimated that 40 percent of ethnic Albanians in the U.S. live in the New York area; there is no reliable figure on the number of ethnic Albanians in the states. None of the more than 1,000 ethnic Albanians who have been housed at Fort Dix in New Jersey have relatives in the states and the vast majority is expected to be resettled across the U.S.Stephen Solender, acting president of the newly formed United Jewish Communities, said the Jewish federation system is "prepared to settle our share of refugees. We don’t know what is expected of us yet, but we will do our part."
Leonard Glickman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said most of the ethnic Albanian community in the New York area is believed to be concentrated in the Bronx. He noted that his organization is one of nine national organizations overseeing the resettlement across the country.
In just one week, Jewish groups have received requests for resettlement help from relatives of 700 ethnic Albanians. Those requests were sent to Macedonia, where most of those awaiting resettlement are staying. Authorities must then locate the requested families and interview them before flying them here. Most of the requests came from persons living in Bergen County, Metro-West and Clifton-Passaic, N.J.; Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif.; Dutchess County, N.Y.; Baltimore; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Providence, R.I.Gary Rubin, director of public policy for NYANA, said his organization had received about 100 applications from relatives in the New York area. He said that once refugees begin arriving here, NYANA is prepared to hire Albanian-speaking staff. Interviews for prospective staff members have already started.
The first 30 days here, the refugees will receive a reception and placement grant from the federal government. The government allocates $740 per person and Glickman said HIAS, instead of taking $240 to cover its costs, would take only $140. The rest of the money would go to the local resettlement agency, which would use it to cover its expenses, as well as rent, food, transportation, clothing and other core services. For the next two months, refugees would receive state assistance that is comparable to that provided citizens. And NYANA would provide them with job training and placement.
Galperin said that because government assistance is not expected to be sufficient to cover all of their needs, UJA-Federation of New York is preparing to raise $200 to $600 for each refugee. He said this money ó expected to be less than $1 million ó would be raised among selected donors who would be approached on an individual basis because the money would be needed quickly.
He noted that the Jewish community has responded to the Kosovo crisis by contributing more than $3 million to the special appeal of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
Money from the annual campaign of UJA-Federation, which ends June 30, would not be used because that money is already "committed to grants and existing programs of our agencies," Galperin pointed out.
The plight of the refugees was seen first hand by a group of Jewish leaders who flew to see them last week in Israel, Albania and Hungary under the auspices of the United Jewish Communities. Among the 25 on the trip were two New York area rabbis, Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, L.I., and Peter Rubinstein of Central Synagogue in Manhattan.
At a meeting with colleagues on Monday, Rabbi Rubinstein said: "Is it terrible in Albania? It is worse than anyone can see in pictures. It is as though you were seeing the photos of [the Holocaust], when people were taken to the camps. Only it’s in color. It is quite horrible. The question is, what will we do in the weeks and months ahead? I hope we’ll respond."
Rabbi Hain said he was impressed with the relief efforts of the JDC and the State of Israel.
"Many of us see Israel as a country in need, but out there in the world, Israel is seen as a benevolent power with wealth and generosity and an ability to get the job done," he said. "In just a few days, Israelis in a spontaneous response to the crisis raised 5 million shekels ($1.7 million). Israelis, when they saw pictures of trains and tents, said many of them had been in the same situation. Their response was, how can we help? They see this as an opportunity to do what we would have hoped more in the world had done. I see this as a very Jewish issue."