Rice’s South Texas Jewish Archives hosts local high schoolers for educational program on campus

Event focuses on refuseniks, Houston Action for Soviet Jewry

Janice Rubin speaking to the senior class of EWS

About 80 high school seniors from The Emery/Weiner School visited Rice University’s Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives (STJA) earlier this month for an educational program focusing on the history of refuseniks in the Soviet Union and the Houston Action for Soviet Jewry.

The term ‘refuseniks’ refers to Jews who as of the early 1970s applied to leave the Soviet Union for Israel and were refused permission to emigrate. The Soviet Jewry movement was an international human rights campaign that advocated for the right of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate.

The event featured lectures from STJA curator Melissa Cohen-Nickels, who dove into the history of religion in the USSR between 1924 and 1989. Guest speaker and Houston-based photographer and artist Janice Rubin then spoke about her experiences going undercover with a reporter to the Soviet Union in the 1980s to interview and photograph refuseniks. Rubin serves as a spiritual director, davening leader, Jewish educator, hospice chaplain, facilitator of ritual in Jewish and secular settings and performer of Yiddish and international folk music. She currently works as a hospital chaplain at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston.

Students then met in Duncan Hall in small groups to examine archival documents from the STJA collections.

The day ended with a reflection activity led by Cohen-Nickels about the significance of the Soviet Jewish experience and the work of the Houston Action for Soviet Jewry.

“After chatting with the students at the program’s end, it struck me how little they knew about the struggles of Soviet Jews and the efforts of local activists in Houston Action for Soviet Jewry,” Cohen-Nickels said. “‘Never again’ was the movement’s rallying cry, reminding us not to repeat the mistakes of the past like we did during the Holocaust. It’s a message that still hits home today.”

The STJA is a collaborative effort between Rice’s Program in Jewish Studies and the Woodson Research Center in Fondren Library, where the archive is housed. Founded in 2017 in response to the devastations caused by Hurricane Harvey, the mission of the STJA is to collect, preserve and make accessible the documents, photographs, artifacts and memories that tell the story of Jewish life in the greater Houston area and South Texas.

To learn more about STJA, click here.

Link: https://news.rice.edu/news/2024/rices-south-texas-jewish-archives-hosts-local-high-schoolers-educational-program-campus