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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Natan Sharansky Came to Portland

Nadene Goldfoot
Tonight the Jewish Federation of Portland brought Natan Sharansky to speak to an audience of over 500 people, not all from the Jewish community.  He is a very well known human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in Russia for wanting to leave and immigrate to Israel.  He told us of his wife, Avital, who had been called to the Russian Visa office and told to leave, so she did in about 1974.  Her husband was imprisoned for being a traitor for wanting to leave and was in the Gulag for over 12 years, with 9 of those years in solitary confinement.  He kept telling himself what Jews have been saying in their prayers for the past 2,000 years:  Next Year in Jerusalem.

He knew only that he was Jewish because it said so on his identity papers.  He didn't know a thing about his religion because all religions were against the law in Russia.  He was discriminated against for being Jewish. Because of being Jewish, he couldn't have certain jobs, or was fired for being Jewish.   It was for him like  having a kind of disease, like cancer.  He felt he had to be the best in everything he did to absolve this hatred.  If one did that, they would feel better about themselves.  People went into science to suffer less.  This was their response to such discrimination.  Sharansky had become the symbol of freeing the Soviet Jewry because although they were treated like dirt, they weren't allowed to leave the country, either.  It was like being kept in prison.  Sharansky, however, made that same plea Moses had said to the Pharoah of Egypt:  Let my people go!

One thing he liked to do was to irritate his 17 interrogators when they came to his cell.  He would tell all the jokes people knew about the Kremlin, and they in turn wanted to laugh but couldn't allow themselves to do so, with the result that they would yell and shout at him.  He said, "see, you're a prisoner yourself because you can't laugh and you know it to be true."  Then he was threatened with having only 2 choices:  death or giving in and stop insisting on immigrating.  He said it was the same as being a slave in Egypt. Finally he was released in a prisoner exchange.   .  .

When he finally got to Israel in 1986  through his wife's appeals to Jewish communities and governments and with the assistance of President Ronald Reagan, he discovered that as a Jew he had a history and belonged to a people. 250,000 people had demonstrated in Sharansky's behalf to be freed.   It was like going from darkness to light for him.  He said that there is strength in knowing who you are and that you have a family behind you.  To those young people who would choose being world peacemakers over the good of their own family, he said that he thought you had to start with your family first and then broaden out to the world's affairs to do a good job.

Today he sees assimilation as a big problem.  Another thing that bothers him is seeing that there are so many lies about Israel coming out of American Universities.  Education is a very important need to combat such brain-washing.   He has been very active in the Knesset and works for the Jewish Agency in Israel.

Post Script:  In reading my own book, Letters From Israel, on page 32 I wrote: about Natan and my Hebrew  teacher, Sarah in the Ulpan in Haifa:  "Our teacher Sarah is quite famous herself.  She is the teacher that has been writing letters to the Russian refusniks for seven years, helping them to learn Hebrew in this way, and the famous Sharansky who was put into prison for 15 years because he wanted to go to Israel was put in solitary confinement once when he was caught with her letter.  She told us a lot about it last night. (December 15, 1980 letter) 


Jenifar said...

As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
Have you seen this video ? It helped me get over my internal anger.

Nadene Goldfoot said...

No, I haven't seen the video, but see it is on forgiveness. It's good you got over being angry. Anger will make you sick eventually, so it's not something you want to feed and keep going. There are lots of books about Judaism if you are trying to find out something about it.