Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Miracle Girl; The Wedding of Rachel Sharansky

For those who were adults or growing up in the late seventies and eighties this will mean a lot, especially if you were involved in the struggle for releasing Jews from the Soviet Union (like when Lurker and I got arrested at a SSSJ demonstration in NYC). For those who were involved and stood in Ben Gurion Airport (I skipped Yeshiva to be at the airport) or at the Kotel the day that Sharansky arrived in Israel, maybe even more.

hat-tip; emailed to me from Tzvi @ Talmon.

by Katie Green

There are weddings and weddings in our lives. The weddings of ourselves, our relatives and our friends, and one generation later, the weddings of our children and our friend's children, which of course, are even more poignant than our own. There are the regular, every day, run of the mill weddings, the weddings where we ate too much or the music was too loud or we sat next to somebody's Relative From Hell, and then there are the other weddings - the one or two weddings, which for the rest of our lives, we will never forget.

The wedding of Rachel Sharansky, the eldest of Natan and Avital Sharansky's two daughters, and Micha Danziger, a new immigrant from the United States, was one of those weddings.

The Sharansky wedding at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel last Friday morning was never going to be, never could be, in any sense a normal wedding. During the coffee and cake reception before the ceremony, I observed among the hundreds of people there, two distinct groups: the young people who were simply happy to be participating in the celebration and who had little idea of the historical significance of the event, and the older people who had taken part in the drama of the Refusenik struggle and for whom Rachel's wedding was the grand finale and closing chapter of that astonishing narrative.

My husband I wandered over to an alcove in the reception area to congratulate the bride. Rachel, more than radiant, more than happy, positively sparkled with her enjoyment of the day. Her lovely face, with its expression of intelligence, warmth and humor, looked up smilingly at every guest without a trace of nervousness of self-consciousness. The thought crossed my mind, as I stood at a distance where I could just enjoy looking at her, that this magical person very nearly did not come to be. In the configuration of the universe as we knew it in the early 1980's, the chances of there being a glowing Rachel Sharansky standing here in her wedding dress in 2008, were statistically very small indeed. All of us who participated in the demonstrations of those years, remember perfectly well, that whether Natan was in solitary confinement or on hunger strike or doing both together, there were times when we very nearly lost him.

On one memorable occasion I remember how shocked my parents were when, twenty-five odd years ago, a group of us disrupted a concert of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Half way through the performance, we shed our outside clothes to reveal the striped "prison uniforms" we were wearing underneath, and handcuffed ourselves to the railings of the balcony in the auditorium, yelling our Soviet Jewry slogans and shaking our fists. As the cellos and violins and violas of the Moscow Philharmonic came slithering to halt, we knew, in the dealthly silence that followed, that our Refusenik brothers and sisters would be listening thousands of miles away on the BBC World Service. It was only a few minutes before infuriated police officers arrived on the scene with large metal pincers to cut us free from the railings, but it was enough.

I speak of it now as if it were a childish prank, but it was not an easy thing to do. We were young and idealistic, but we were also nicely brought up middle-class Jewish girls and boys. We had all been taken by our parents on one Sunday evening or another to hear a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. We had learned to sit politely and not fidget and not applaud between movements. For years we had enjoyed Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens and Schubert in this bastion of British culture, and now we were more or less spitting in its face.

The second before I had to stand up along with my friends, and shout at the top of my voice into the silent abyss of the stalls, my courage failed me and I did not think I could do it. The only thing, the only thing, which enabled me to get to my feet, was the thought of Natan in his solitary confinement cell, the thought of him never seeing Avital again. The reason why so many Jewish youth were participating in these demonstrations all over the world, was that Natan's story was not just a prisoner story, or a persecution story, or even a Jewish story. It was a love story.

And it is this love story I am thinking of as I watch Rachel laugh and talk with all her guests, before her parents accompany her to her Chupah, before she marries Micha under the Jerusalem skies. I am here with her but I am not really here at all; I have risen in one second to my feet at the Royal Festival Hall, and have screamed : "Free Sharansky!" like an animal, at the respectable Russian musicians playing classical music on the stage below.

I have always known, across all of the years, what I was shouting for that night. But today, looking at Rachel's face, at that beloved and wonderful genetic combination of Natan and Avital, today I really know.

At the wedding reception I did manage to exchange a few words with the mother of the groom, Mrs. Danziger. "It's a great day for all of us", I said and she smiled and answered, "I know it is". But I couldn't leave it there. "She's the nation's baby" I explained, trying to hold back my tears. "She's our miracle girl".

The weather forecast for Thursday, Friday and Shabbat had been discouraging – Rain, rain and more rain. On Thursday it rained all night. But God, one of the guests at the wedding, had decided to momentarily dispense with regular weather patterns for January, and Rachel and Micha took their place under a raised outdoor Chuppah, with a stunning view of the Judean hills behind and below them. The sun shone warmly and benevolently on the hundreds of people, Russians and Israelis and Americans and Brits, members of Knesset and rabbis and journalists and intellectuals, millionaires and philanthropists and activists and chairmen of committees, family and friends and very young babies and old age pensioners, who had gathered, with upturned faces, to watch the wedding ceremony unfold. A soft breeze played across the bride's face and lifted her veil into the air, so that she looked, for a moment, like a floating figure from a Chagall painting.

"Sometimes a place is named for its future", said Rabbi Moti Elon who was the officiating Rabbi. "Kibbutz Ramat Rachel was named for you, Rachel. It was named for you to get married here."

When it was time for the groom to break the glass, Natan took the microphone to say a few words.

"I'd like to say something about why we are breaking this glass" he said, alternating seamlessly between English and Hebrew.

"Thirty-four years ago, in a Moscow apartment, Avital and I stood under a sheet held up by four boys, for our own Chuppah. There were barely enough people to make up a minyan. We had never been to a Jewish wedding before, and we had no understanding of what to do. We mouthed the words that the Rabbi told us to say, without knowing their meaning. But the breaking of the glass, this we understood very well. We had one challenge, and the challenge was very clear to us. We knew that we had to get to Jerusalem. No matter what it would take, no matter how many years, we had to get to Jerusalem and build a home there. And this is what we did."

"So now you are standing under the Chuppah Rachel, a child born in Jerusalem, overlooking Jerusalem, the first sabra in our family, marrying Micha, the first Oleh Hadash from his family. And this begs the question: Why should we break the glass at all? We are here, after all. Jerusalem has been rebuilt, and it is a vibrant city.

But the reason we are breaking the glass is this: the challenge that faces you, Rachel and Micha, is different to the challenge that faced us. You will make a home in Jerusalem, yes, but you must simultaneously have your feet on the ground, building a Jerusalem shel mata, a physical Jerusalem, while always keeping an eye on the Jerusalem shel ma'alah, on what it means, on what it represents. It will be your mission, and the mission of all your generation, to defend Jerusalem, to protect her, to keep her safe. And I think that your challenge may, in the end, be even more difficult than ours".

It will rain later, but not yet. I am standing in the sunshine, listening to Natan, looking at Avital, and glorying in Rachel, who has pushed her veil away from her face, so that she can see better, and hear better, everything that is going on at her wedding. She looks up at her tall, straight, young husband and smiles, and all of us watching her feel, that this is the just kind of person to whom we can entrust the future of Jerusalem.

Mazal Tov on your wedding Rachel Sharansky. Mazal Tov, miracle girl.

Katie Green, an independent film producer and director, is head of PR at the Ma'aleh Film School, Jerusalem.

NB: I received this posting by email without any link to where it came from..and posted it as is.  I just located this post at Aryeh Green's blog (Katie's husband) and am including the rightful link.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Thanks Jameel. I'm crying. So beautiful. I was at the airport the day Natan came home, and he and Avital came and hid out across the street from our school (Brovender's) for a whole week. We didn't know whether to bring them food or leave them alone, but in the end we chose to give them their time together. It was one of the highest points of an amazing year in Israel, and it's hard to believe it was long enough ago that that they just married off their oldest daughter.

Thanks so much for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Katie,
I read that his daughter was getting married, and that almost all of Yerushalayim was going. I wanted very much to share in this precisely because of the history involved.

B"H you have now given me this golden opportunity. I am letting my friends know so they too can be b'simcha too.

Shira Salamone said...

Baruch shehecheyanu! I feel privileged to know of such joy after so much hardship--we attended Soviet Jewry rallies ("Shelach et Ami--Freethem Now!" read the buttons) with our now-24-year-old son in a stroller--and so many challenges in between.

mevaseretzion said...

Mazal tov to the young couple. May our generation succeed in standing guard on the walls of Jerusalem and all of our Holy Land.

God give us strength.

SuperRaizy said...

OMG, I can't stop crying.
I remember working for Sharansky's release as well. Thank you for sharing the great news with us.
I'm linking to this post.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

I just found a similar article from R' Avi Weiss over here.

Best Quote:

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.’”

Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

Thanks for sharing that Jameel, I have tears streaming down my face. And it doesn't help that I was already having a hard time breathing because I'm sick...

Lion of Zion said...

he is one of my heroes. thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

thanks Jameel.



part of the "me" generation
"me" kaamcha yisroel

RaggedyMom said...

This was one of very few things that I had my husband stop what he was doing, sit down, and read. Thanks for posting this story and calling it to my attention - wow.

Anonymous said...

1,2,3,4 Open up the iron door,

5,6,7,8 Let my people emigrate.

I remember chanting that one.

Anonymous said...


1,2,3,4... heh, I remember being raised on those stories..heard from my grandparents (who ran one of the organization to free SJ in NY) and my mother who participated in the protests, marches and parades..It is definitely something I'll be passing along to my own offspring one day. 5,6,7,8..

Anonymous said...

I WORE MY P.O.C. BRACELET FOR NATAN FOR SO MANY YEARS. I PRAYED HE WOULD BE RELEASED. I went to so many demonstrations in NYC that I cannot retell all of them but one I would like to share. One day we took a trip to the UN and we sat with Avital as she was in a hunger strike. I was so taken by her. We celebrated when Natan was released and thank you for sharing with those of us who are far away this wonderful wedding story. You are right to say she is OUR mircale girl. Mazal to us all who fought to bring this child to life and freedom in Eretz Yisrael!! Barbara Saati

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

We are leaving
Mother Russia
We have waited
Far too long

I remember.

Kamagra said...

I hope that michel was enjoyed her wedding a lot, i think that this is one the most important thing that we can take in our life,so, we have to enjoy a lot.

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