To find a topic for our project that incorporated this year’s theme, we thought about the groups of people who have been discriminated against or denied rights in history. We scoured the Internet, skimming through many timelines and history websites. We considered topics such as the Geneva Convention and McCarthyism, and eventually came across the Soviet Jewry Movement. Because this topic is not as widely known, we felt that it would be a perfect choice from a learning standpoint, both for us and for those viewing our website. In addition, one of our group members has an interesting family connection to the Soviet Jewry Movement: many of Michelle’s close relatives wouldn’t be here in the U.S. if not for the increased emigration of Soviet Jews in the 1980s.
We began our research by browsing through books and websites in order to get a better understanding of the major components of our topic. The task of organizing the information we collected and deciding what to include in our website proved very challenging, due to the breadth of available source material. We decided to focus on the movement as seen from two different perspectives: that of the Jews in the Soviet Union who were being denied the right to leave, and that of their counterparts in the West who worked tirelessly to free their brethren. After setting up the website, we contacted former refusenik Tatiana Zunshine (also Michelle’s great-aunt), who gave us access to her collection of many letters and documents, which proved invaluable in our research. Our interview with Tatiana also provided us with audio clips that we used throughout our website.
A website seemed like the perfect choice for our project medium, because it would allow us to create an interactive, multimedia project with plenty of opportunity for creativity. Also, a website would be the most efficient and convenient choice, since we all would be able to work simultaneously on different pages of the site. All of our group members had previous experience with computers, and were comfortable working with a website format. In order to make it easy to view the source of our information, we linked all of our quotes and pictures to bibliography entries. We also used a blue font color for the quotes to make them stand out.
Our topic fits this year’s theme of “Rights and Responsibilities in History” perfectly. On the one hand, it incorporates the struggle for the right of the Soviet Jews to leave the USSR. The Soviet Union’s denial of this basic right was the impetus for the Soviet Jewry Movement. On the other hand, all the sacrifices the Soviet Jews had to make in order to protest their right to leave would have gone to waste, if not for the unwavering support of the American Jews. Driven by guilt over their failure to save six million Jews during the Holocaust, the Western Jewish community felt a strong sense of responsibility to their brethren in the USSR.