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initial absorption of the Olim and the management of absorption centers, Olim dormitories and the Ulpanim (Hebrew schools). It was also established then that the Agency would handle Olim in need and to that end, it would establish a social works department and a special department for inquiries of the Olim with difficulties assimilating into Israel.
The Absorption Ministry was established in 1968, headed by Yigal Allon as Absorption Minister and Lova Eliav as his deputy. Simultaneously, the Aliya Department of the Agency was unified with the Absorption Department. The Agency Chairman Aryeh Pincus was the chairman of the unified Department, but the actual work was assigned to the Director-General of the Department, Major General (Res.) Uzi Narkiss.
"We, chai (18) families from Georgia are asking you to help us leave for Israel"
The Soviet authorities tried to have it both ways. They made efforts to prevent Jews from making Aliya while simultaneously permitting the Aliya of several hundred "troublemakers." The restrictions on the departure of Jews were noisily exposed following a particularly brave letter written by 18 Jewish families from Georgia and sent in August 1969 to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The letter, which was smuggled out by a Jewish "tourist" from Norway who took part in Aryeh Kroll's project, reads as follows:
We, chai (18) families from Georgia are asking you to help us leave for Israel. Each of us was invited by a relative in Israel. Each of us received the necessary forms from the competent Soviet institutions and filled them out. Each of us was given promises verbally that no impediments would be placed out their way out. Each of us has waited day after day to receive the exit visa, sold his property and been released from his place of employment. However, many months – and for many, years – have already passed and the exit visa has yet to be granted. We have sent hundreds of letters and telegrams – and these have disappeared as tears on desert sands. Brief verbal refusals reach our ears, yet we do not see written replies. We wait because we believe. We have not forgotten Jerusalem and our hands are needed for it. We shall wait months and years, and if necessary – all our lives, yet we shall not repudiate our faith and hope. We believe: Our prayers have reached God. We know: Our calls have reached mankind. Since we do not ask for much – merely to be allowed to leave for the land of our ancestors.
The letter of the 18 families from Georgia – which over the years had become a historic-educational document – was one of the important collective public actions in the history of the struggle of Soviet Jews for national freedom. Prime Minister Golda Meir read the letter in the Knesset and the emissaries of the Agency and the World Zionist Organization throughout the world disseminated it. The Kremlin's reaction was a campaign of intimidation against the Jews in general and against the families that wrote the letter in particular. The KGB tried to convince the writers to retract their written statements, but they vehemently refused – and were eventually permitted to make Aliya.

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