Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

I Danced at the Wedding of Sharansky’s Daughter

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.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.