Natan and Avital Shcharansky Given Awards by the Wiesenthal Center
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Natan and Avital Shcharansky Given Awards by the Wiesenthal Center

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“He commands no armies, he holds no elective office. Yet his weapon, truth, has made the mightiest of powers stand in fear.” This was how Natan Shcharansky was described by William Belzberg, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at a dinner where the former prisoner of Conscience was awarded the Center’s 1987 Humanitarian Award.

More than 2,000 government and community leaders, celebrities and international personalities attended the tribute. It was Shcharansky’s first appearance in the western United States.

Avital Shcharansky, largely responsible for her husband’s freedom, was honored in absentia by the Wiesenthal Center with its Woman of Valor Award. In presenting the award, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Center, said, “One day when historians chronicle this period they shall write that it was a woman’s staff that split the sea, a woman’s voice that the Pharaoh heard, a woman’s sacrifice that humbled him to say, let him go… let him go.”

Accepting his award as well as Avital’s, Shcharansky spoke of his experiences in the Soviet Gulag, the need for relentless public pressure on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and the recent death of Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko. He urged that everyone should continue to speak out for the remaining close to 400,000 refuseniks who are still confined within the Soviet Union.

The dinner was cochaired by Alan Casden, Rosalie Zalis and Belzberg, members of the Wiesenthal Center Board of Trustees. The event was emceed by Jane Fonda, who spoke of her work on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and her particular friendship and concern for Prisoner of Conscience Ida Nudel. Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles described Shcharansky as “a giant among men.”

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