Natan Sharansky Meets with Boards of Governors and Overseers of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to Mark 40th Anniversary of the Soviet Jewish Struggle for Freedom

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Natan Sharansky addressing the Boards of Governors and Overseers of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.

Natan Sharansky, former refusenik and leader of the Soviet Jewish struggle for freedom, met with the leaders of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, on November 3, 2007, to mark the 40th anniversary of the movement for Jewish human rights in the USSR: the right to renew Jewish identity and heritage, the right to immigrate to Israel, and the right to nurture Jewish culture, language, and religion. 

During his address, Sharansky recalled how he and his refusenik colleagues reversed their parents' abandonment of Judaism for the cause of Communism and its universal mission to benefit humankind, and how Communism led to the repression and killing of millions of people during the Soviet era. 

He described the behind-the-scenes discussions surrounding the memorable December 1987 rally in Washington, DC, when "Jewish leaders were doubtful of attracting a large attendance and worried about disturbing the new era of good relations between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and provoking the perception that Jews were risking the American agenda for their narrow goals." He lauded President Reagan's meetings with his wife Avital and efforts on his behalf during his imprisonment and described his meeting, shortly before the rally, when Reagan dismissed concerns of disturbing Soviet-American relations and urged Sharansky to go ahead with the rally, saying "Do your part, and I will do mine." 

He explained that "today, in the free world's struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, Israel is the only non-Muslim nation in the region; in the free world's struggle against totalitarian regimes, Israel is the only democracy in the region, and yet is condemned more than its neighbors for human rights infractions; and in the free world's post-nationalist trend toward a world without borders and religions, whereby European nations are abandoning their identity but have growing populations who are increasingly attached to their religious and ethnic identities, Israel represents a challenge to such post-nationalistic theories." Sharansky noted that "fighting for the Jewish people and the interests of the State of Israel is fighting for the interests of the free world – for democracy, human rights, and freedom." 

Rabbi David Ellenson thanked Sharansky for his heroic efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry and the State of Israel, and noted that "the Soviet Jewry movement was a decisive experience in the formation of Jewish leaders in the Soviet Union, North America, and around the world and a model of courageous activism to be emulated in our own day." 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.