Background of Oral Histories on Jews from the Former Soviet Union

To: Roger Meyers
From: Israel Rubin and Carol Zuckert
Date: June 6, 2000

Subject: Background of Oral Histories on Jews from the Former Soviet Union

How was it that the interviews with the Jews from the former Soviet Union who settled in Tucson came into being? A brief overview of the history is useful.

Until 1997, the Bloom Jewish Archives was under the auspices of the Committee of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona. In that year, an administrative decision was made to separate the Bloom Jewish Archives from the Committee on Judaic Studies and to integrate its records and books into the Special Collections Division of the University of Arizona Library. The goal of the Bloom Archives is to continue the collection of Jewish source material for Tucson and the Southwest which previously had been undertaken entirely by professional staff. (Melissa Amado was Executive Director).

When the Bloom Jewish Archives was moved, physically and administratively, to the Library, a committee and subsequently an IRS non-profit organization was established called the New Southwest Jewish Archives under the direction of Israel Rubin.

At an April, 1998 meeting of members of the New Southwest Jewish Archives and staff of the University of Arizona Library, Roger Meyers, Manuscripts Curator and Archivist, the University of Arizona Library Special Collections, suggested that all Jewish organizations and congregations be encouraged to establish archives committees. The University library staff would provide technical assistance. Stuart Glogoff, then Assistant Dean of Library Information Systems, initiated the development of necessary websites.

Jewish organizations and congregations would be encouraged to store their archival material at the Library. (To date, Rabbi Arthur Olesky, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Anshei Israel and Rabbi Thomas Louchheim, Congregation Or Chodesh, have been interviewed and Congregation Anshei Israel and Temple Emmanu-El have established archives committees.)

Barbara Rosenblum, a community advisor, suggested that the New Southwest Jewish Archives Committee conduct the oral histories of a sample of the approximately 1,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) who had settled in Tucson. Carol Zuckert, committee member, agreed to coordinate and undertake the interviews. A letter was written to the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona (JFSA), followed by a meeting, and they agreed to cooperate with the oral history study. JFSA has responsibility for the religious and cultural development of the FSJs after the initial arrival, approximately two year resettlement endeavors for the refugees, under the auspices of the Jewish Family and Children's Services.

Carol Zuckert, Israel Rubin and a small committee decided that it was not feasible to undertake a scientific sample the refugees. Because of the language barrier, incomplete contact information and reluctance on the part of some refugees probably due to their experiences in the FSU, we proceeded with interviewing those that agreed to participate. Twenty two interviews were completed primarily by Carol Zuckert. Although six other interviewers were trained, most were unable to participate.

The most critical interview was the one undertaken with Frederick (Fred) S. Klein, the former Director of Refugee Services at JFCS and current Director of Refugee Service Project, Episcopal Community Services in Arizona. He had been with JFCS as a volunteer and then Director for about a decade and was there when the first refugees arrived in Tucson and through the period of the largest influx. His insights and stories are extremely valuable in understanding the circumstances of the refugees over time.

Our conclusions will be discussed elsewhere. However, there was an overriding theme of anti-Semitism in almost every interview. Ironically, many refugees had little or no experience in being Jewish. Their Soviet passports and official papers declared by fiat that they were "Jewish".