WASHINGTON (Dec. 8)
Since his release from Soviet prison 20 months ago, Natan Sharansky has emerged as somewhat of a consultant, sometimes self-appointed, on major Jewish issues resulting from his experience as refusenik, prisoner and new Israeli.
Speaking to the plenary of the United Jewish Appeal’s National Campaign Cabinet Sunday night, following the massive rally here for Soviet Jews, Sharansky offered solutions to what he said was a continuing problem of disunity among American and Israeli Jews.
“I often have a feeling that we are two different nations,” he said in front of his closest colleagues from his Moscow refusenik days, as well as an ample assortment of members of Congress, United Jewish Appeal leaders and Soviet Jewry activists.
“For many Israelis, America is a good place to raise money, and for many American Jews, Israel is a place they go to see what their money is being raised for.”
As a result, he said, “American Jews don’t understand Israeli Jews” and vice versa.
Sharansky suggested the creation of an English-Hebrew magazine “with an editorial” that both communities would read, and identical Jewish education programs for children in both countries with student exchanges also offered.
He said the estimated cost of the magazine–$2 million to $10 million–was worth it. “We cannot have two separate people,” Sharansky said. “And all this giving and taking is all we have between us.”
Turning to the issue of Soviet Jews, Sharansky suggested that it would be “absolutely normal” to create a special UJA fund to bring former refuseniks to the West to speak to Jewish groups and government figures.
In addition, he said, such a reservoir would also avoid the pitfalls of rival Soviet Jewry activist groups. “Why do we need all this competition?” he asked. “Why shouldn’t we make it centralized?”
“One says we must solve the question in Washington,” he continued. “The other says we can solve the problem in Moscow. The most normal way is to solve this problem in Israel.”
Sharansky said that he, as well as Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, are involved with the rudiments of a UJA program that would provide money for housing via direct contributions “without any bureaucracy.”
“It’s only an idea and there are still very serious barriers,” he said. But, he told the U.S. Jewish leaders, “It is you who can push us.”
Also on Sunday, the American Jewish Committee presented Sharansky its American Liberties Medallion for being a “courageous defender of Jewish dignity.”