NEW YORK (May. 11)
During the nearly 10 years that Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky was in Soviet prison, a chair was reserved for him at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in The Bronx, whose rabbi, Avraham (Avi) Weiss, as chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, has worked ceaselessly on behalf of Shcharansky and the some 400,000 Soviet Jews who have applied to leave the Soviet Union.
Saturday night, before a packed house, Shcharansky himself removed the "reserved" sign from his chair and sat in it to the delight of the throngs of people in the synagogue and in a separate hall set aside with closed-circuit television to accommodate the additional hundreds who had assembled to hear him.
Addressing the crowd, Shcharansky related how, about a year after his arrest, when he was still in the dark about efforts in the outside world to secure his release, he was permitted to go through documents pertaining to his so-called "high treason" as an American spy.
Sifting through the papers, he was amazed to find footage from British television coverage of demonstrations on his behalf, including shots of his wife in front of the Soviet Embassy. Having been constantly told by his captors that the world had forgotten him, Shcharansky was astonished to find, and be able to view, this evidence to the contrary.
Annoying his imprisoners by requesting for hours on end to review the tape again and again, he watched the scenes of demonstrations in his behalf while his irritated guards ironically advised him that these people could not help him. "What do you think, that these people can help you?" he quoted the KGB. "They are just students and housewives."
"And here you are," he told the crowd who had come to see and hear him, "students and housewives … who together with teachers and rabbis, lawyers and presidents, were fighting against the KGB." The crowd cheered wildly.
A SERIOUS QUESTION IS POSED
"I came to America," he continued, "after Yom Hashoa, and I see a spiritual symbolism in it. Hashoa (the Holocaust) has put a serious question to all of the Jews: if we have enough strength to resist those who would seek to destroy us … to remain Am Achad (one people), Yom Ha’Atzmaut-(Israel’s Independence Day) is our answer. The State of Israel gives us new hope and new strength. And so it is with Soviet Jews.
"The struggle of Soviet Jews is your struggle. It is the answer which you are giving today. This struggle takes place not only on the borders of Israel, not only in the challenges and the toll of assimilation … It takes place in the hearts of each Jew." Shcharansky counseled his listeners to "reach the aim which is impossible. I understand from my own experience that there is nothing impossible even if you feel isolated."