Between dream cities and reality: Personal narratives of ex-Soviets in Israel

Maria N. Yelenevskaya, Larisa Fialkova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Domestication of space is a major problem for migrants, particularly when they settle in a geographically remote country with a markedly different climate and culture. This paper analyzes attitudes to city life in the country of origin and in the new homeland in personal narratives of immigrants to Israel from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The material was drawn from in-depth unstructured interviews conducted in 1999-2002 and 2005-2006, and Israeli Russian-language Internet forums. Soviet Jews were predominantly city dwellers, and their immigration stories are permeated with explicit and tacit comparisons of the space of the two countries. The cities of origin are idealized, and their image has disintegrated into hospitable and warm cities of pre-emigration life on the one hand, and unfamiliar, alien cities of post-Soviet period on the other. In Israel many ex-Soviets chose to live in the so-called development towns. Attracted by relatively inexpensive apartments, the newcomers found themselves trapped in places where jobs are scarce and the quality of life has been recently dropping. In reflecting on various towns, interviewees focus on physical and symbolic dimensions, the most frequent being: big-small, center-periphery, exposed-protected, and powerful-weak. In contemporary Russian culture center is associated with job opportunities and entertainment, with high social status and good quality of life. In Israel the opposition center-periphery has retained its significance, yet the whole country is considered by many immigrants as deeply provincial, cut off from the rest of the world and devoid of opportunity for the young, the conviction that is supported by publications in the Russian-language media.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-209
Number of pages21
JournalApplied Research in Quality of Life
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Former Soviets in Israel
  • Immigration studies
  • Personal narratives
  • Urban life
  • Young immigrants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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