The Perth Jewish community, courtesy of the UIA, were treated to a sensational function last night. More than 600 people attended the appeal function, with keynote speaker Natan Sharansky. Mr Sharansky is a highly intellectual, modest, and insightful person who is one of the greatest examples of true Jewish leadership in the world today. He is a man who has endured suffering for no other reason other than he is a Jew, he is a person who stood up for what he beleives, he is a person who has contributed to the public service of Israel as a Minister, and current head of the Shalem Center. He is an author, political realist, and a proud Jew. His books, in particular “The Case for Democracy” are essential contributions to the contemporary political debate about the struggle of the free western world with the forces of radical Islamism, a war that many people do not recognise is being waged in front of our own eyes.
There were several things that demonstrated the inspiration of Natan Sharansky at last nights function.
For example, of his own volition, Natan Sharansky joined a small minyan in the corner of the function centre to daven Mincha. When one realises the strength of religious identity that this man has, given his background, it is truely hartwarming. Here is a man who had no opportunity for a Jewish education, and no comprehension of Jewish observance, who was imprisoned as a refusnik, and who, until he became a free citizen of Israel, was not aware of Jewish religious custom. Yet in his heart he has identified with the G-d of Israel and has the merit (zechut) to stand with a group of strangers in Perth and join with them in tefilah. It is an amazing experience to have one of Israel’s most famous politicians, and one of world Jewry’s most celebrated thinkers simply walk alongside you and humbly stand in a Minyan. With a quorum we are all equal children of Hashem. To be with any Jew, no matter what their status, no matter where they are in the world, we are all able to contribute to our collective responsibility for daily prayer shows a unique form of Jewish strength and unity. People in a minyan may not be known to each other, but they are by no means strangers.
Another insight into this incredible man came through his speech. It is hard to internalise and truely understand the sheer resiliance of Mr Sharansky. In an environment of great political risk he defied the Soviet Union to claim freedom and equality for Jews. This was no mean feat behind the iron curtain. Through interrogation and imprisonment he held true to his convictions and always carried hope. At great personal risk he defied authority to continue to represent his values. This perserverance paid off. When listening to this, I could not help but spare a thought for the thousands of others who did endured similar imprisonment and denial of rights. Many of them were persecuted and perished. Too few were able to realise their dream to become free Jews in Israel. Many Jewish Russians through through the sixties and seventies would not have possessed the strength or been prepared to risk their freedom by standing up to a political regime and protesting. But Natan Sharansky did, and he now stands as the very symbol of modern Jewish freedom for Jewish communities the world over.
Having endured and been granted freedom in Israel, Natan Sharansky could have blended into Israeli society and enjoyed many quiet years of recovery and tranquil living. He chose not to. He opted to continue his work on behalf of the Jewish people, to fight for freedom, to support the growth of Israel as a Jewish nation, and to share his ideas.
Finally, of all the insights into Natan Sharansky’s speech, was his love for Israel as a Jewish state. With great beauty he expressed the idea that Israel as a nation has a special Jewish quality. If we choose to let others, or even those amongst our own Jewish nation, discredit Israel as a Jewish State, with Jewish values for Jewish people, then we are not deserved of Statehood. If we do not win this ideological battle, and if the nations of the world fail to recognise that Israel stands at the battlefront of the struggle of the Western world to represent democratic political and religious freedom, then nations such as Australia, USA, Canada, Britain, European Countries, and many others, stand to place their own freedom and identity at risk.
This was Mr Sharansky’s message to our community, and we can only hope that it was clearly heard.
Thank you to the UIA for providing this opportunity to hear from such a modest and humble Jewish hero of our times.