Thursday, June 20, 1996

A True Hero

A True HeroJune 20, 1996
Yes, earlier this week, along with many others, I watched
the swearing-in of the new Knesset, and one day later, of
the new ministers. It was a long-awaited moment.
Finally - finally! They were emotional moments.
But, as far as I am concerned, the most exciting
part of the event was not Netanyahu's acceptance speech,
or his taking the oath as prime minister.
Years ago, ten years ago, on February 12, 1986, the
news suddenly broke: Anatoly Sharansky is on his way to
Israel! Sharansky, a name known in every house in
Israel, had spent 12 years in jail. The day after his
marriage, his wife, Avital, was given permission to leave
Russia for Israel. By herself - without her husband.
Several days later, Anatoly was arrested. That was in
1974. Anatoly Sharansky spent most of the next 12 years
in Soviet Prison Camps. His wife spent those years
trying to get him released.
The stories surrounding those years are best
documented in Sharansky's book, "Fear No Evil" published
by Random House in 1988. I won't repeat the episodes
here - you are better off reading them first-hand. But
what I can say is that the heroism portrayed by the
Jewish prisoner in a Soviet Gulag, the faith and
determination of a Jew held captive because, and only
because of his Jewishness and his burning desire to be in
Israel, is a lesson second to none. And in a land where
heroism is no stranger, that is saying a great deal.
I took the bus to the airport, with literally
thousands of others, and waited outside in the cold
winter night in a parking lot at Ben-Gurion airport. The
lot had been turned into a big outdoors TV studio. Huge
television screens faces the crowd. A stage with some
chairs and a podium waited for the guest of honor to
The Israel evening news began. We all watched
breathlessly as anchorman Haim Yavine narrated the day's
events, beginning with the "spy-exchange" in Germany,
seeing Anatoly Sharansky walk across the bridge, from the
East German Hell, from the hands of the Soviet monster,
to the other side of darkness. There, greeted by the US
ambassador to West Germany, he was hustled into a car and
taken to the airport. Only later did we learn that while
walking across the bridge he had to hold his pants up for
lack of a belt.
Two plane rides later he lands at Ben Gurion
" I walk fast. A corridor, elevator, corridor. Faces
appear and disappear. "Thank G-d", they say, "Shalom,
shalom." A young man with a kippa, bearded, smiles at
me. "Shalom," and points to a door.
I burst into the room, running - but it is empty. I
turn around - Avital is sitting in the corner, a kerchief
on her head, in a dark suit. She whispers something, but
I can't hear. I walk towards her, one step, two, three.
She stands. Her lips are shaking and her eyes filled
with tears. Yes, it is her, really her my Natache - the
same girl that I promised, 12 years ago, at the airport
in Moscow, that our separation would be short. In a
desperate effort to swallow the huge lump in my throat,
strangling me, and trying to smile away the tears on my
face, I said in Hebrew: Excuse me for being a little
Met by then Prime Minister Peres and Foreign
Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Sharansky asks to be taken to
the Kotel immediately. The report ends, saying that he
is already on his way to Jerusalem.
The crowd groans collectively. We had all gathered
to greet Sharansky, and he had already left the airport.
Then suddenly, the lights went on, Peres and Shamir
appear on the stage, and then, THEY arrive - HE arrives.
Holding hands, walking together, Natan and Avital, once
Anatoly and Natache, appear together. The crowd cheers
and cheers and cheers.
There were some speeches, but what I will never
forget was Natan Sharansky standing before the crowd of
thousands, having been released from jail only hours
before, speaking in Hebrew, saying,
"When I was in prison, alone, I would read from by Book
of Psalms, and repeat over and over,
`Heni Ma Tov U'MaNayim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad - How
nice and pleasant it is, all of us, brothers and sisters,
sitting together.'
The entire crowd began singing the Hebrew words to
the traditional melody, as the Sharanskys left for
Jerusalem, for their new life together in the Land of
I remember speaking on a late-night Thursday call-in
radio show, and talking about the importance of
Sharansky's aliyah to Israel, the symbolism, the heroism
he represents, the spiritual uplifting of the whole
country, seeing this human, this Jew, fight, against all
odds, the Soviet Union, and win. It was unbelievable -
and it happened.
And earlier this week, in the Knesset, Knesset
Yisrael, this same Natan Sharansky, took the oath of a
Member of Knesset, and the next day, as Minister of
Commerce and Industry, leading a party of 7 MK's. Seeing
this same man, having sat in jail for so many years, who
had fought so hard for his basic human rights, and having
been victorious, seeing him take such high public office
in the Land of Israel -this, for me, was an emotional
high. Natan Sharansky, in the 14th Knesset, is an
example of the strength of human will, of faith and
determination, that eventually, even with all the
hardships, can and will overcome. He incorporates in
himself a microcosm of the history of Israel.
Natan Sharansky - thank you for being a living
example to the Jewish People.

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