On erev July 4, Bruce Arbit, the Chair of United Israel Appeal shared a very personal message on the meaning of freedom and Jewish heroes. Attributing this message in part at least to the "Musings of Misha Galperin," I don't believe that Bruce would object to my sharing his thoughts with you.
"I have just returned from my latest trip to Israel, where, in my role as Chair of the United Israel Appeal and a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, I was involved with the recent election of Natan Sharansky as the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. I first learned about Anatoly Shcharansky, as he was then called, in 1973 when I lived in Israel. I remember his arrest in 1977 and his trial and conviction in 1978.
His crime was being Jewish and wanting to move to Israel. He was offered the opportunity to speak to the court prior to his 13 year conviction, his words are etched in modern Jewish history: â€œTo the Court I have nothing to say - to my wife and the Jewish People, I say Next Year in Jerusalem. I remember hearing those words and crying.
I have watched from the sidelines as this modern day hero has shaped Jewish activism and Israeli politics. Could he ever have imagined in the nine years of solitary confinement of the Soviet Gulag - prison that one day his books on democracy and identity would be read by American presidents? That he would receive the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor?
I want to share with you one moment from last week in particular. Natan rose to the dais to give his acceptance speech and he recalled the day when he and another prisoner of Zion - Yosef Mendelevich - decided to celebrate Israeli Remembrance Day and Independence Day in prison. They carefully calculated the exact moment of Israel's national siren that calls the country to a halt in honor of the soldiers who gave their lives in Israel's all too many wars, and then sang Hatikvah at the top of their voices in their solitary confinement cells of the Chistopol prison, dreaming that one day they could join their Israeli brothers and sisters so far away. At that point, it was only an impossible dream. But even then they felt connected to Jews in Israel and the world over. I heard this story last week and I cried again.
And Natan stood at the podium recalling that point in time, he brought us all into that dream and its reality. The Jewish Agency < http://jewishagency.org/> was created in 1929; its first Chairman David Ben-Gurion morphed the original organization into the government of the new State of Israel as he became its first Prime Minister; it has helped secure the immigration of three million Jews to Israel and has helped Jews all over the world live in safety and strengthen their ties to Israel and the Jewish People. Natan is no longer singing Hatikvah behind bars; he will now be the head of the choir in our Jewish homeland. Much remains to be done - the greatest challenge is maintaining and strengthening this and the next generation's connection and commitment to the Jewish People and the Jewish State.
We don't have enough heroes today, certainly not enough Jewish heroes. Take some time this week to talk to your children about how Anatoly became Natan, how Avital courageously made the case worldwide for her husband's release, how the Soviet Jewry movement lit up Jewish passion for justice. Talk about what the Jewish Agency does and the work we have ahead and what it means to have a Jewish hero living in our midst.
Last week I celebrated my wife Tanya's journey to freedom 20 years ago. This week, we celebrate American Independence. Let us not take it for granted
because not everyone in our world shares the same freedom. Perhaps this
year, we can be agents of change for others, bringing greater freedom to those who suffer.
And, Natan, thank you for making me cry."
Bruce -- our thanks to you and Misha.