Human rights exhibition comes to UNO library


Megan Fabry

The Criss Library is home to the Shirley Goldstein Exhibition. Photo courtesy of UNO Communications

Draft contributed by UNO Library

A new exhibit, “Shirley Goldstein’s Human Rights Legacy: Operation Exodus in Omaha,” is now open at the Criss Library.

The exhibit, sponsored by the Goldstein Center for Human Rights, was curated by Jeannette Gabriel, Director of the Schwalb Center for Israel & Jewish Studies. The exhibit highlights the activist human rights work of Shirley Goldstein and the Jewish community in Omaha as they advocated for Soviet Jews’ right to leave their country from the 1970s through the 1990s. It emphasizes the power of local, national and international activism that connected issues of immigration to human rights.

Goldstein’s inspiration for her human rights work was her father, Ben Gershun, who helped bring European Jewish refugees to Council Bluffs, Iowa after WW2. She 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 eight 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 in 1975, she was banned from reentering the country until 1987.

The exhibit contains photographs, fliers, posters, artifacts and videos which came from the Shirley Goldstein Papers that are housed at UNO Archives and additional material from local and national archives. It also features oral histories that were collected from local Soviet Jewish émigrés and community members who participated in local activism and protest.

The main themes of the exhibit examine trips made to the Soviet Union, local, national and international activism and resettlement of Soviet Jews in Omaha.

“I curated the exhibit, so I think it’s all excellent,” Gabriel said. “Each piece was chosen for a specific purpose.”

There will be a series of lectures and events held in coordination with the exhibit. On Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. there will be a panel discussion, “Drawing Memories of Home: Documenting Stories of Migration Across Generations,” featuring UNO scholars and Julia Alekseyeva, a scholar from the University of Pennsylvania who will be coming to Omaha to discuss her graphic novel, Soviet Daughter.

In addition, “Whistleblowers in the Past & Present: From Soviet Café to the Digital Age,” will be on Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. Attendees will have an opportunity to hear tapes from refuseniks that Goldstein smuggled out of the Soviet Union and examine how whistleblowers communicate in the present. Finally, on Nov. 5 at 12 p.m. there will be a forum titled, “When the Walls Come Down: Freedom of Movement as a Human Right” that will explain connections between international human rights and freedom of movement.

All events will be held in Criss Library and the exhibit will be open until Nov. 14.