Natan Sharansky’s most recent book, co-authored with Gil Troy, “Never Alone” is a must-read for anyone who cares about the American Jewish community, and especially for those in positions of leadership.
The book is divided into three sections covering three phases of his life: his nine years as a Soviet dissident and in a Soviet prison, his nine years in Israeli government and nine years as head of the Jewish Agency.
Sharansky’s willingness to take on Soviet authorities is an inspirational message of courage and of the power of faith, a faith discovered late in life. Learning about the Judaism denied to him by the Communist regime, set him on a journey that deepened his love and commitment to his heritage and people. His Jewish identity provided him a sense of purpose and of belonging and was the key to being free in a totalitarian state that sought to control everything, including one’s thoughts.
Being a member of a people with a proud history who have faced adversity throughout the millennia provided him with the encouragement and tools that liberated him. Fortified with this, along with his chutzpah, courage, keen intellect, wonderful sense of humor and mischievous nature, he found the strength and the will to persevere in unimaginable circumstances and to defy the Soviet regime and its concerted efforts to break his will.
Alone in prison, he knew that he was anything but alone, for he was confident that Jews around the world were with him in his struggle and working on behalf of his freedom and that of Soviet Jews.
As inspiring as this chapter of his life is, with important lessons for all of us, his insights about Israel, Israeli politics, and his honest and frank assessment of Israeli leaders and policies is equally fascinating as it provides valuable background information that takes us behind the scenes and beyond the headlines.
But the real reason I recommend the book so strongly for leaders in the American Jewish community is because of the section that deals with his role as head of the Jewish Agency. In this role he tackles anti-Semitism, decided to change the Agency’s focus to promote not just Aliyah, but Jewish identity, the birth of Birthright and battles waged on college campuses and elsewhere against BDS and the closed-mindedness prevalent on so many college campuses.
We learn the inside story of the reasons for the breakdown of the agreement over the Kotel as well as other issues pertaining to the sometimes rocky relationship between the Jews of America and Israel. He explains the reasons for the divergent opinions in Israel and America about our two most recent presidents, different perspectives on the Nation-State bill, and the difficulty and disappointment surrounding the inability of American Jews to appreciate and comprehend the depth of the fear Israelis feel is an existential threat to their existence — Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
As one who has had a front row seat to some of the battleground issues he discusses I found his analysis of the root causes at the core of the differences to be especially illuminating and helped explain complex seemingly incomprehensible matters from the 30,000 feet vantage point. His observations and insights are important for anyone who wants to better understand and who cares about the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.
The title, of his first book, his autobiography, “Fear No Evil”, another must-read was inspired by the phrase from Psalm 23 from the book of Tehillim his wife Avital gave him. He read it every day he was in the Soviet gulag, and famously refused to leave the USSR without it. His determination and convictions were so strong the Soviet empire had no choice but to give in to the demands of this one brave and courageous individual fortified with belief in God and the support of his people.
“Never Alone” takes its title from the fact that even as he languished in a Soviet prison and was taunted by Soviet guards, he knew that he was not alone. He has devoted his life to helping others recognize the power of solidarity and to feel what he feels, that being a part of an eternal people, shows us the path forward.
The book co-authored with Gil Troy helps pave the way for greater understanding, which can lead to building bridges and closing the divide. His story is an inspiring one. His journey and mission in life is a living testament that when we are united we can achieve great things and that our sense of unity, solidarity and purpose must transcend whatever issues of the day may divide us.