Dream of owning a home translated for Soviet Jews


Buydowns, variable rates, settlement costs and selling points might as well be Greek to many prospective home buyers, but those terms present particular problems for recent Soviet Jewish immigrants trying to attain the American dream of owning a home.

To help those newcomers make sense of the maze to home ownership, CHAI -- Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., an agency of The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore -- held a seminar yesterday for about 60 Soviet Jewish immigrants looking to establish permanent roots in this country.

CHAI often holds home-buying seminars, part of the agency's efforts to revitalizing and strengthening neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore and parts of Baltimore County. Those seminars are often general in nature and not geared to such a specific group of people, said Ruth Strauss, director of homeownership services for CHAI.

"This is the first time we've ever done such a program for a specific target group," she said. "It's definitely unique and a little different."

The immigrants attending the seminar at the Beth Isaac-Adath Israel Synagogue in Milbrook listened attentively as interpreters helped explain the programs available for first-time homebuyers and how to go about securing financing for a home.

They watched a slide show of homes that were on the market, the mortgages needed to purchase the homes and the amenities of the neighborhoods -- schools and parks, for instance -- in the areas where CHAI is active.

Kenneth N. Gelula, the agency's executive director, said the seminar was just one more step in CHAI's work with the Soviet Jewish immigrants who have been arriving here.

"We are very aware of the large number of Soviet immigrants -- more than 1,000 last year -- coming into this country," he said. "We've been helping them get settled, finding them apartments. We felt it was timely to begin to orient them to the process of buying homes."

The seminar was held at the Milbrook area synagogue because many immigrants have settled in the neighborhood. The synagogue is also making an effort to integrate the newcomers into its religious community -- a facet of life they were restricted from in the Soviet Union.

"Many of these people have come from a country where they have not had to chance to know anything about religion," said Rabbi Marcel Blitz.

But most of the two-hour session was secular and enlightening for its participants.

"This has been some very good information for us," said MikhaiGitelman, 44, who came to the United States from Kiev in the Ukraine about 18 months ago with his wife, Inessa, and two daughters. "We would really like to know about the economic situation here, because it seems very complicated."

Mr. Gitelman works as a draftsman at Probst-Mason, Inc., a Baltimore architectural firm. He said his family hopes to buy a house soon and stay in the Milbrook area, where many of their friends and relatives live.

The seminar was another in a series of opportunities unfolding for Stanley Rabow, 45, and his wife, Ella, 42. Shortly after arriving here 18 months ago from Moscow, Mr. Rabow landed a job as an auto mechanic at a car dealership. Six months later, he was selling cars. Mrs. Rabow is taking classes in computerized bookkeeping at the Community College of Baltimore.

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