By Rachel Sharansky Danziger, TOI
Former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist and author Natan Sharansky with his wife Avital after his release from prison in the Soviet Union. He landed in Israel on February 11, 1986. Photo by Moshe Shai/FLASH90.
Thirty years ago today, my father, Natan Sharansky, crossed a bridge.
The bridge was Glienicke Bridge, of Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” fame. When my father walked onto it he was a prisoner in the Soviet block, though a free man in spirit. He found freedom on the day he stopped hiding his opinions. He earned freedom as he fought for his right to be a Jew in Israel, and for his fellow Russians’ human rights. He preserved it as the KGB imprisoned his body, trying and failing to force him to recant.
After nine years of imprisonment, my father stepped off Glienicke Bridge, and became a free man in body as well.
He finally left the USSR behind him, and had my mother, and Israel, ahead.
Every year, on this day, my family gathers for a private “seder” of sorts. My father wears the kipa a fellow inmate made for him. He pulls out the little Psalms book that was his companion in prison. And like the children on Pesach, we ask questions to celebrate this exodus. When we were younger, my sister and I mostly wanted to understand what “prison” was, and were there animals there, perchance? But as we grew and matured, our questions expanded with us. How did you find the strength to go on, Ima and Abba? And how did you survive the shock of normal life, once restored?
A lifetime of questions wrought a curious effect: While I’ve never seen Glienicke Bridge with my own eyes, and I naturally couldn’t see any of the struggle for myself, I feel like I did. Glienicke is ingrained in my blood, in the inner geography of the self. There, right there inside me, it spans over decades and pain. Archipova Street, where my parents first met, is behind it. A little to the side, I can glimpse Vladimir Slepak’s Moscow apartment, and the moment of my father’s arrest.
Somewhere within me stands a lit room in Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s Jerusalem apartment. It’s dark outside, but the rabbi is up. Far, far away, the Soviet authorities are plotting to accuse my father and his comrades in arms of treason and espionage. My mother’s mentors, Rabbi Tzvi Tau and his wife Hannah, brought her to talk with Rav Kook. Standing in the little lit room, surrounded by his students, the elderly rabbi screams.
“Our brothers in Russia are in danger,” he yells. “We must fight for them.” Plans are made, and the base of my mother’s future struggles is formed, right there in the little room. This group will come to be known as “I am my brother’s keeper,” the headquarters of a decade-long campaign.
“But Rabbi,” exclaims one of the students, “what about learning Torah? Wouldn’t this struggle cause bitul …read more