I Danced at the Wedding of Sharansky’s Daughter

By Avi Weiss

Published January 09, 2008, issue of January 11, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It was a dream come true. There beneath the chupah stood Rachel Sharansky, daughter of Natan and Avital Sharansky, with her beloved, Micha Danziger.

The hills of Jerusalem encircled us, like a wedding ring around the whole city. Jerusalem’s chilly winter days took a respite as the sun shone brightly; even the weather knew it was the time to feel the warmth and love of bride and groom.

Attending the wedding were many heroes of the Soviet Jewry movement, proud Jews who had struggled against the Soviet regime. There was Zev Dashevsky, the great Moscow Hebrew teacher, and Yosef Begun, one of the longest-serving prisoners of Zion.

Activists from the west who did all they could to free Soviet Jewry were there as well: former Union of Councils president Stuart Wurtman; Jerry Stern, who took out the first ad publicizing Natan’s plight; Gordy Zacks, a friend of the elder George Bush, who intervened on many occasions for Avital.

Also taking part in the great joy was the team of unknown Israelis who, while never seeking glory, were active throughout the struggle. Rabbi Zvi Tau, who orchestrated the team. Eli Sadan, the brilliant ideologue who inspired Avital. And Avi Maoz, Avital’s indefatigable and savvy right hand.

There, too, were the souls of those who made this moment happen but were sadly not present to join in the simcha. Ida Milgrom, Natan’s mother, the woman who never caved in to Soviet brutality and who gave Natan the strength to never give up. And Avital’s brother, Mikhail Stieglitz, a forceful figure for Natan throughout the world, an Israeli army officer who died at too young an age.

Beneath the chupah Natan recalled his wedding to Avital 34 years earlier. It was held in a small room with barely a minyan present. Natan recounted that it had all seemed incomprehensible to him as the rabbi read the blessings and carried out the wedding ceremony, but when the time came to break the glass, it all became clear.

“The dream of immigrating to Israel, building Jerusalem, was our hope,” he explained.

Turning to Rachel and Micha, both just 21 years old, Natan pointed out that in certain ways the struggle today is much greater than the one he and Avital experienced, since the dream of Jerusalem and the responsibility to protect and defend the holy city is more complex.

The wedding took place at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel just before the Shabbat on which we read the refrain that resounded throughout the Soviet Jewry movement: “Shalach et Ami,” “Let My People Go.” The last blessing under the chupah, sung to Shlomo Carlebach’s tender tune, was the Shabbat welcome prayer “Lecha Dodi” — “Come my beloved to greet the bride.”

This time the words of that blessing jumped from the page. The hills of Jerusalem resonated with song, and the countless words describing joy of bride and groom, which at times seem repetitious, all made sense; no words were sufficient to express that happiness.

As we sang, Avital shed tears. Not the tears of sadness she shed when advocating for Natan, tears and resolve that moved the world. Tears of joy and happiness.

And then we danced. First the men and women were separated by a mechitza, but soon Natan and Micha joined Rachel and her sister Chana and Avital and Micha’s parents, and all danced together.

What a far cry from that wedding 34 years ago in Moscow when Natan and Avital were forcefully separated the following day. They would not see each other for another 12 years, including nearly nine that Natan spent in the Gulag.

When they were finally reunited, Natan’s first words to Avital were, “I’m sorry I’m late.” For their children there would be no such separation, no such apologies.

Avital was once asked whether she had ever written to Soviet officials after Natan’s release. She replied that she had sent them pictures of each of the girls after they were born. One wonders if Avital had also sent to any of the tormentors over whom Natan had triumphed an invitation to Rachel’s wedding. For those blessed to be there, the Sharansky wedding was a microcosm of Jewish history. There have been many forces of evil that have bedeviled Am Yisrael, and yet, the good has prevailed.

Off to one side in the wedding hall, confined to a wheelchair, was Yeshayahu Nebenzahl, an accomplished professor in Israel. We danced a bit, total strangers but brothers in joy.

He whispered to me: “When I come to heaven they’ll ask me what have I done in life? I’ll be able to answer, ‘I was at the wedding of Sharansky’s daughter.’”

Rabbi Avi Weiss, national president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, is senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.