UNO Goldstein Center for Human Rights
The UNO Goldstein Center for Human Rights is pleased to announce its first major exhibit, Shirley Goldstein’s Human Rights Legacy: Operation Exodus in Omaha. The opening reception will be held at UNO Criss Library on Aug. 9 from 4-6 p.m. This exhibit, curated by Dr. Jeannette Gabriel, examines the activist work of Shirley Goldstein and the Jewish community in Omaha that highlighted human rights abuses against Soviet Jews from the 1970s through the 1990s. The exhibit is based on the Shirley Goldstein Papers and additional archival materials from the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society and the American Jewish Historical Society. It will also feature oral histories that were collected from local Soviet Jewish emigres and community members who participated in Operation Exodus.
Shirley Goldstein was well known locally for her activist work with Miriam Simon founding the Omaha Committee on Soviet Jewry which organized dozens of local protests and brought Soviet Jewish dissidents (known as refuseniks) and their family members to speak in Omaha. With the enduring support of her husband Leonard, Shirley made numerous trips to the Soviet Union smuggling in products refuseniks could sell on the black market and smuggling out tapes containing refusenik testimony that were used to build international support for the movement. When Soviet authorities realized the extent of her activism she was banned from reentering the country. At that point she shifted her activism to resettling about 250 Soviet Jews in Omaha and participating in national marches and international human rights conferences. Leonard and Shirley supported resettlement efforts in Israel and the United States as well as museum and film projects that documented Operation Exodus.
Goldstein’s inspiration for her human rights work was her father, Ben Gershun who brought displaced persons to Council Bluffs, Iowa, after WWII. Gershun headed a project within the Council Bluffs Jewish Community that resettled about 25 refugees from Displaced Persons Camps, of which three families remained in the Council Bluffs/Omaha area.
To continue the Goldstein family’s commitment to human rights, the UNO Goldstein Center for Human Rights was established in 2017 to facilitate human rights-related academic offerings and research, as well as local and international community outreach, partnerships and programming. Don Goldstein said: “The exhibit showing Shirley’s involvement in the Freedom for Soviet Jewry movement shows how students, citizens, organizations and government can organize their efforts and achieve significant results in the area of human rights. It is hoped that the Goldstein Center will encourage others to get involved and do the same.” As explained by the Director of the Goldstein Center Dr. Curtis Hutt: “Immigration rights make a difference in real people’s lives. Dr. Gabriel’s contribution in documenting this is priceless.”
One of the highlights of the exhibit is the exploration of the Soviet Jewish community that settled in Omaha. Some of the early Soviet Jewish families came to Omaha based on their relationship with Shirley Goldstein and many others followed based on family connections. The exhibit highlights their resettling experience. It also provides a more comprehensive look into their experiences in the Soviet Union and their family histories. Dr. Jeannette Gabriel received a grant from the Goldstein Foundation to conduct oral histories with the local Soviet Jewish community in connection with the exhibit. She said, “It was moving to hear so many powerful stories of survival and resilience from the WWII period up through the 1980s. The families who conducted interviews for the exhibit have made important contributions to the development of Jewish and immigration history.”
There will be a series of lectures and events held in coordination with the exhibit from September through November, 2019. Julia Alekseveya, an English professor from the University of Pennsylvania, will be coming to Omaha to discuss her graphic novel, Soviet Daughter, that examines her life as an immigrant from the Ukraine in 1992 and the influence of her great-grandmother Lola in the Soviet Union. In addition, there will be an event, Whistleblowers in the Past & Present: From Soviet Café to the Digital Age where attendees will have an opportunity to hear the tape of Natan Sharansky documenting human rights abuses that Shirley Goldstein smuggled out of the Soviet Union. Finally, in coordination with the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall there will be a forum titled When the Walls Come Down: Freedom of Movement as a Human Right that will show connections between international human rights and freedom of movement and the role of the Helsinki Accords.