Sharansky Urges Soviet Jewry Freedom Movement’s Inclusion in Jewish Education

November 13, 2012 12:37 pm 0 comments

Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky on stage during the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly on Monday. Photo: Robert A. Cumins for JFNA.

BALTIMORE—Modern Jewish education, according to Natan Sharansky, ignores an event of historic proportions akin to the exodus from Egypt.

While in dialogue on Monday with Elie Wiesel, arguably the world’s best-known Holocaust survivor, Sharansky—perhaps the best-known “refusenik” and now chairman of the executive at The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)—made that statement about what he perceives to be a lack of educational material being conveyed to youths on the success stories of their parents in the movement to free Soviet Jewry.

“Why is it not part of the curriculum of every Jewish school?” Sharansky asked, adding that it was “a big, big loss in all of our Jewish education,” and something that leaves him “really puzzled.”

“American Jewry lived through this, actively participated in this,” he added. “They did it. That is what is so surprising [about its lack of presence in Jewish education].”

During a plenary session at the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Baltimore, Sharansky and Wiesel reflected on the 25th anniversary of the Dec. 6, 1987 “Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews,” which drew 250,000 people in Washington, DC, leading up to a meeting between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Misha Galperin—CEO, International Development for The Jewish Agency for Israel—said in an interview with JNS.org that Sharansky’s comparison of the Egyptian exodus to the Soviet exodus was apt, calling the freedom of Soviet Jewry “one of the great peoplehood actions” of Jewish history. Galperin was born and raised in Odessa, Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union.

“The Soviet Jewry movement galvanized Soviet Jews, it galvanized American Jews, Australian Jews, Argentine Jews, Jews in Israel,” Galperin said.

Galperin also cited the efforts of Freedom 25, which is partnering with major Jewish organizations—including JFNA—to “enlist one million people in an online ‘virtual march’ to mark 25 years since the Freedom Sunday March,” according to its website.

“[The Freedom Sunday March] was a reaffirmation of the idea that we’re all part of the same family, and I think it’s something that unfortunately many in the Jewish world are losing and missing, and here (in Freedom 25) is a way to teach it, to remind us about it, and teach our children about it,” Galperin told JNS.org, echoing Sharansky’s call for more education on the Soviet Jewry movement.

Wiesel, a leading figure in the fight to free Soviet Jewry who said at the 1987 march “We are not silent today,” recalled at the GA plenary that American Jewry  initially “didn’t want to hear” about the plight of Soviet Jewry. In 1969, Wiesel said he had to use that year’s GA as a platform to urge Max Fisher, top executive of the Jewish Federation system at the time, to make Soviet Jewry a priority. This stood in contrast to the Israeli Jewish community and government’s immediate embrace of that issue.

“Israel is the symbol of Jewish survival, and the fact that the Israeli government was taking this so much to the heart, [that] Soviet Jewry should be defended…It was great, a great medal, a medal of honor,” Wiesel said.

Wiesel said there was eventually “a certain guilt feeling in America” among young Jews that that U.S. did not do enough during the dark years of Soviet Jewry, and those youths did not want to be burdened with the same criticism being levied on their parents and grandparents in that area.

Then, when young people proceeded to take up the cause of Soviet Jewry, “the parents actually liked it,” Wiesel said.

“We were following a sense of history,” he said. “History in its totality has been moving [people] in a direction of human rights… It appealed to people, it was romantic to work for human rights, and human rights therefore in the Soviet Union.”

Sharansky said that in the Soviet Union, Jews were deprived of freedom, but also of their identity, as Hebrew schools, Yiddish schools, and Jewish theaters were all closed. “When I was growing in the Soviet Union…there was nothing that you can touch in your past, in your heritage, in your culture, in your religion—nothing,” he said.

The former refusenik—who spent nine years in the Soviet Gulag—said activists on behalf of Soviet Jewry “discovered what we [as prisoners] discovered, in a different way—their identity.” The activists learned “they can make a historical change, and they were devoted to it,” Sharansky said.

Wiesel said an important lesson from to movement to free Soviet Jewry was “to have imagination,” describing that his conversation with Sharansky on the GA stage would have been unfathomable at the time the struggle for freedom was taking place.

Additionally, Wiesel reminded the GA audience to keep its attention focused on the Jewish state.

“Israel is still in danger, Israel is still threatened, Israel still needs the Jews of the Diaspora more than ever before, and I don’t feel the commitment,” Wiesel said.

“We have not mobilized our people for Israel, not enough,” he added.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.