Sharansky, Natan (Anatoly)

16 Feb 2014

The Russian Revolution in 1917 introduced a 70-year period of darkness into the Jewish World of Russia, during which Jewish Education was suppressed with an iron hand, and more than two generations of Jewish youth grew up in total ignorance of its culture and tradition. Anatoly Sharansky was one of those great heroes who helped begin the restoration of Jewish life. He also developed and helped foster love and support for the Land of Israel.

In “Fear No Evil,” Sharansky’s autobiographical work, a picture emerges of an individual of outstanding intellectual, moral and spiritual gifts, who was able to stand up to the KGB, the Russian Secret Police, and helped break the back of that organization.

How did Sharansky accomplish his great feat of defiance? The answer is that he adopted a simple set of rules of survival, and never deviated from them. They included great faith in G-d and in the righteousness of his cause, the principle that he would have nothing to do with or say to the KGB on their terms, maintaining a relationship of trust and love with his wife, Natasha (Avital) and his immediate family, who never stopped struggling for his freedom, and trust in the prayers and support of well-wishers inside Russia as well as in Israel and the West. He also obviously had on his side the One Who Protected those Jewish heroes whose faith had earned them the closing of the mouths of the lions into whose den they had been thrown.

Before beginning a sentence of thirteen years in prisons and labor camps, Sharansky made this statement in court:

“Five years ago I applied for an exit visa to emigrate from the USSR to Israel. Today I am further than ever from my goal. This would seem to be a cause for regret, but that is not the case. These five years were the best of my life. I am happy that I have been able to live them honestly and at peace with my conscience…”

“I am also happy to have been able to help many people who needed help and who turned to me. I am proud that I came to know and work with such people as Andrei Sakharov,…But most of all, I feel part of a marvelous historical process – the process of the national revival of Soviet Jewry and its return to the homeland, to Israel…”

“…And today, when I am further than ever from my dream, from my people, and from my Avital, and when many difficult years of prisons and camps lie ahead of me, I say to my wife and to my people, ‘Leshana haba’a b’Yerushalayim.’ ”

“Now I turned to the judge and replied to his question, ‘And to the court, which has only to read a sentence that was prepared long ago – to you I have nothing to say.’ ”

A campaign for his release was waged by his wife, Avital, who’d left for Israel the day after their wedding, with the hope that her husband would be able to join her shortly thereafter. Intense diplomatic efforts in which the United States played a leading role, finally achieved success in 1986, when Sharansky was released as part of a prisoner exchange. He arrived in Israel on February 11, 1986 to a hero’s welcome, and was greeted by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

In 1995, he founded a new political party in Israel, called Yisrael b’Aliyah, whose mission was to assist the adaptation of new immigrants to life in Israel.

He has served as Minister of Industry and Trade, the Interior, and of Housing and Construction, and has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

He is married to Avital, they have two daughters, and he lives with his family in Jerusalem.