Tisha B’av Prayer Service for Sharansky at Soviet UN Mission

Between 150 and 200 people held a mincha service yesterday afternoon, across the street from the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, to protest the imprisonment of Soviet Jewish activist Anatoly Sharansky. Sharansky, accused of being a spy for the CIA and charged with treason, is being held in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow and faces a possible death sentence if found guilty.

According to a spokesman for the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, which sponsored the peaceful demonstration, the service was held on Tisha B’Av because for Sharansky “each agonizing day is Tisha B’Av.” Tisha B’Av is a Jewish day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE.

Although the police said a court order allowed for only 15 people to stand inside a rectangular police barricade set up on the sidewalk, with the rest permitted to stand on the adjoining street, a confrontation was averted as the police seemingly ignored the dozens of people who ducked under the barricade and remained inside.

A letter smuggled out of the Soviet Union and signed by more than 200 Soviet Jews was read to the congregants. It called for Sharansky’s freedom and charged that the Sharansky case is not an isolated issue, but rather indicative of the government’s anti-Jewish policies which the writers likened to the time of Stalin.

After the completion of the service the spirited congregants turned around and faced the Soviet Mission, from which a rotating camera and a man on the roof observed the gathering, and chanted “Free Sharansky Now.” After several other chants and songs, they sang Hatikva, and peacefully dispersed.

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