Elderly Russians Not Allowed to Join Their Offspring in Israel

Despite cabinet decision, hundreds, if not thousands of families living in Israel are still unable to unite with their aging non-Jewish parents.

Andrei Zhiglin with his parents Sergei and Lydia.
David Bachar

L’s family came from Russia to Israel in 1993 – L., her parents and grandparents on her father’s side. Nadezhda, her maternal grandmother, remained behind in a small town named Sponovo. Today she is 90 years old and lives alone in a dilapidated apartment. She shares her pension with the family of her son, who cannot help her because of the addiction from which he suffers. Nadezhda is not eligible to move to Israel because she is not Jewish.

“My mother flies there two or three times a year, buys food, cleans, brings doctors. My grandmother needs regular medical care – if she falls, she can’t get up by herself and no one knows because she can’t reach the phone,” L. says.

When Nadezhda’s health began to fail but she could still be flown to Israel, the family attempted to inquire in the Interior Ministry how they could bring her to live here. But according to procedure, an elderly person can come to live in Israel only if all his or her children live here. If not, a humanitarian application might be filed.

“In this case the Interior Ministry has very broad discretion and the chance they will be allowed to bring the parent is very small,” says attorney Naomi Kassel of the Israel Religious Action Center’s legal aid department.

Michael Kovnensky, the former marketing director of the Jewish Agency in the post-Soviet region, says that lacking statistics, it may be assumed that hundreds if not thousands of families living in Israel are unable to unite with their loved ones. Hundreds more families decide not to make aliyah so as not to break up the family.

Andrei Zhiglin said that when he approached the Interior Ministry about bringing his 81-year-old father and 85-year-old mother, both needing chronic care, to Israel he was told: “come back when one of them dies.” Zhiglin, 48, came to live in Israel in 1996. He served in the Israel Defense Forces reserves for 10 years, including in the Second Lebanon War, and thus hoped to bring his parents to Israel under a special procedure reserved for the parents of IDF soldiers that came about as the result of a cabinet decision. But he was told this procedure did not apply to him because he never served in the conscript army.

Xenia Grozhenkina with her mother Tatiana and her children.
Moti Milrod

Five years ago, Zhiglin brought his parents, Sergei and Lydia, to Israel. For a few years they extended their tourist visa while their son unsuccessfully battled the bureaucracy. The family filed two humanitarian applications. The second, filed in December 2014, has still not received an answer. They have no health insurance, and because of their age, no insurance company will take them on. Andrei, a gastroenterologist, treats them himself. Pneumonia, he says, he can deal with. “But if God forbid something happens that requires hospitalization. I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Over the years, the Interior Ministry has developed procedures to deal with aged parents who are not eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return. But many families do not meet the tough criteria for family unification. For example, a 62-year-old woman and a 64-year-old man, all of whose children live in Israel, are allowed to move here and begin the process of naturalization.

However, attorney Kassel explains, a woman who moves to Israel at age 62 is not entitled to public HMO insurance, and sometimes to no insurance at all, for the first five years. She can only receive a work permit after two years. A woman who is allowed to come and live here at age 70 or more will not be able to get any kind of health insurance. And the “elderly parent procedure” applies only if there is only one parent to bring to Israel.

Many Israelis who came to Israel in the 1990s as young people in the Jewish Agency’s Na’aleh program (the Hebrew name of the program is an acronym meaning “youth making aliyah before parents”) discovered a few years later that one of their parents will not be allowed to move to Israel. The problem worsens as the parents grow older, often living alone in remote cities.

Xenia Grozhenkina came to live in Israel in the Na’aleh program in 1995, at age 16. She did not know that when the time came she would have trouble bringing her mother here. She served in the army, but the procedure allowing parents of IDF veterans to come and live in Israel did not apply because it only applies to veterans who got out of the army after the year 2000, and Xenia was demobilized in 1999. Her mother, 59, is an architect. When asked whether she would have decided to make aliyah if she knew how hard it would be for her mother to join her, she laughed and said: “At the time I thought very little.”

Sasha Klyachkina with her husband Yonatan and their children.
Emil Salman

The Population and Immigration Authority responded: “The ‘elderly parent’ procedure was instituted beyond the letter of the law for parents of Israelis who are not eligible for [Israeli residency] status under any law or regulation. The procedure was formulated out of the understanding of the reality and the need to respond to special requests. Each year dozens of requests are submitted to the authority for status based on the above-mentioned procedure, and for those who meet the criteria, the request is approved.”

With regard to the procedure allowing the parents of IDF veterans to move to Israel, Population and Immigration Authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said that procedure was limited as defined by a cabinet decision that had not been valid for a long time. With regard to the case of Andrei Zhiglin, the authority said: “As noted in the letter sent to him in August, his request for status for his parents does not meet the criteria. His request for a discussion on humanitarian grounds is now being dealt with through an interministerial committee.”

Sources in the bureau of Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin declined to comment on the matter in general. With regard to Zhiglin, the minister’s spokesman said: “The situation as you described it seems improper – any authority must respond to an applicant within a reasonable period – but I do not see what the minister can refer to. When Mr. Zhiglin receives an answer, then there will be something to talk about.”