Helping refugees and a dozen boys

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The plight of Jews in the former Soviet Union may no longer seem as dire as it once did. Hundreds of thousands have immigrated to Israel and the United States, where they are free of the persecution that plagued them in their native land.

But threatened by economic instability and continuing political chaos, tens of thousands of Jews still there also want to get out. For that reason, the most recent moves to cut the number of refugees to the United States poses a serious threat to Jews in the former Soviet Union.

A congressional subcommittee recently approved a measure that would, among other things, cut by half the number of refugees allowed into this country. Since at least one-third of the refugees recently entering the United States have been Jews from the former Soviet Union, they would naturally be affected.

Restrictions on the number of refugees allowed here could mean those emigre hopefuls would face even longer waiting lists to get out than they do now.

What's more, should the congressional measure pass next month, it's unclear what will happen to those former Soviet Jews who have already been granted refugee status and are waiting to leave.

While the pending lowering of refugee quotas is cause for worry, another current story about Jews from the former Soviet Union is cause for rejoicing.

The Jewish Educational Center, a non-profit Chassidic organization in San Francisco, has brought 12 boys here from cities affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. During the next year, those Jewish boys will receive medical attention for possible problems related to radiation exposure. They will also receive Jewish and secular education.

The program makes the Jewish world seem like a smaller place, in effect showing these youths that they have family halfway around the globe.

But the boys' presence here can also be a vivid reminder that there are many Jews still living in the former Soviet Union who may want to get out. Some of the boys, enchanted with San Francisco, are already thinking about emigrating from their native countries someday.

If the congressional cuts in immigration take effect, these boys and their families may never get that chance.

While local and national Jewish groups already are taking a lead in fighting those cuts, it's also up to individual voters to do their part by voicing concern to their elected representatives.