Monday, November 13 2000
By Elli Wohlgelernter
JERUSALEM (November 13) - A group of 42 homeless Chechen orphans, aged six to 17, who arrived here in July under the auspices of the Jewish Agency with the help of the Russian Jewish Congress, is to leave Israel tomorrow for a new life in Russia.
"They're going back well fed, well taken care of," said Barbara Sofer, an Israeli spokeswoman for Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, which hosted the group at its Neurim Youth Village near Netanya.
"They've had a rest from bad weather, and from fighting," said Sofer. "While they were here, they got a lot of recreation, some education, they took tours, and all their medical problems were taken care of."
Aslam Belov, 17, said yesterday that it "is hard to leave a place that meant a lot to me, to leave these people who made me feel so welcome. But our destiny is to return to where we were born. We love our homeland; we have to return there. We have no choice." Still, he said, he will always remember that "Israel is a beautiful place - this is the eight wonder of the world."
The most dramatic medical effort involved a 15-year-old boy who was born with one eye. Nordine Orsenkayev, a Moslem orphan, was fitted for an artificial eye on August 31 by Prof. Motti Sela, an expert in facial and maxillary rehabilitation at Hadassah-University Hospital. He thought the boy's case was hopeless, but after working for an hour, Sela was able to implant an acrylic eyeball that moves from one side to the other in its socket.
Orsenkayev's mother had abandoned him at birth because of his deformity, and he had regularly been ridiculed at his orphanage for the way he looked.
"He's going back looking fine," said Sofer. "And anybody else who had a medical problem was taken care of here."
There are practically no Jews left in Chechnya, but there are some 11,000 Jews eligible to immigrate living across the border in the Russian republic of Dagestan. Nearly all the Jews live in the cities of Makhachkala and Derbent, far from the fighting, and each city has one synagogue. About 250 to 300 Jews emigrate from there each year; the remaining Jews are all elderly.
One of the teenagers who came July 18 with the Chechnyan group, 17-year-old Natasha Suchkova, is Jewish, and has become a citizen. The others will return to Russia, where they will be under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Education.
The visit, funded by the Russian Jewish Congress, was aimed at giving the children a taste of Israel, and providing them with much-needed medical and psychiatric attention. The children had lived in a Grozny orphanage before war broke out in Chechnya, and had crossed the border to the neighboring republic of Ingushetia after their orphanage was destroyed.
The Jewish Agency came to their aid after they and their teachers were found living in an abandoned summer camp. The Agency and the Russian Jewish Congress have been caring for the children for the past year.
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