At Passover, Jewish people recount the story of the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. A month earlier on Purim, they celebrate the Jewish victory over wicked Haman who wanted to destroy the Jewish people as described in the Book of Esther.
Famous Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, now a citizen of Israel, told CBN News about the miracles that happened to save the Soviet Jewry from the massacre on Purim and later the massive Exodus to bring them home to Israel.
Sharansky’s emigration from the former Soviet Union to Israel in 1986 paved the way for the exodus of two million Soviet Jews, more than half of them ended up here.
“In the Hagadah, [Passover story] it is said that in every generation, there are people who rise [up] against us. And so, the idea of Seder Pesach [Passover meal], of celebration, is to remind that the challenges are the same and to remind ourselves about the power of people when we are guided by God,” Sharansky said.
“So, I think we are lucky to be in the generation which went through the miracle of Purim and through [the] powerful liberation of [the] Exodus from Egypt,” he said.
Sharansky was five years old when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died in 1953. It was a life-changing experience for him as he began to understand what it meant to live under the Soviet system.
“My father explained to me that it’s a great day for us, for Jews. I should remember all my life that miracles happened, and we are saved. He didn’t tell me that that is the day of Purim. Even if he told me, I was absolutely assimilated. We grew [up] disconnected from anything Jewish, but that was the day of Purim and Stalin died while planning the biggest massacre of Jewish people [since] the Holocaust,” Sharansky said.
Leading Jewish Soviet doctors had already been arrested, tortured, and accused of poisoning the leaders of the Soviet Union. Their trial and public execution were planned for Passover, a month after Purim, Sharansky related.
It was supposed to create anger that would lead to violence and pogroms. There was already the letter ostensibly from the Russian Jewish leaders to Stalin asking him to save the Jewish people from what would have been considered justified anger of the Russian people. And then, hundreds of thousands of Jews were supposed to have been taken from Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, and other places and sent to Siberia. And it was planned that least one-third of them would die on the way there, he said.
“Then, Purim came, and Stalin died,” Sharansky said.
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“I go to Kindergarten and I do what father told me, what everybody does. Everybody’s crying about Stalin and I’m crying. We are singing songs about [the] sun of all the people, Stalin, and I’m also singing. And I have no idea how many children are really crying or how many of them are crying exactly as I because we know that it’s very good that Stalin died,” Sharansky explained.
“So, that was the beginning of my life of [a] loyal, Soviet citizen, a doublethink,” he said.
He explained the idea of what he calls “doublethink.”
“When you know that all the life around you is all lies. But the truth can be only kept for your family, for your people. And you’re not fighting for anything because there are no values except the value of survival,” he said.
But that wasn’t the end of the story for Sharansky, Soviet Jewry, or Jews worldwide. God had other miracles in the works. He realized that being Jewish wasn’t just about anti-Semitism.
“Then, later, after 1967, when Israel entered our lives, and you understand that all the world looks at you and says, ‘How you guys did it?’ The world connects me to Israel. You don’t understand this connection,” he said.
“In the underground, we start[ed] reading the books that were brought by Jewish tourists from abroad about the Exodus from Egypt. And, suddenly, you realize that your history doesn’t begin from the Bolshevik Revolution from 1917. But your history – if you decide that is your history – starts from [the] Exodus from Egypt.
“And it continues through thousands of years and there are people who say that we are family, Jews all over the world and the State of Israel, which is ready to send airplanes to the ends of the world to bring you to freedom,” he said of his revelation of what it meant to be Jewish.
“That’s when you find strength to start fighting for your rights, the rights of other Jews, and for freedom. That’s how you become [an] activist for the Zionist movement and the human rights movement in the Soviet Union.
A prominent human rights activist, Sharansky became known as a refusenik – a Jew who was refused permission to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel.
Sentenced to 14 years, he served nine– largely for spreading the truth about human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. He was dramatically released from prison in February 11, 1986, and immigrated to Israel that very day.
Ten years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharansky returned to Russia as a minister in the Israeli government.
“I insisted that I will visit not only official meetings of the ministers but also [the] KGB prison where I spent a year and a half of interrogation. And I took my wife there and when asked by the journalists, ‘Why are you doing it? Isn’t it painful?’ I said, to the contrary. Only thing, that was the most powerful empire of our times. It controlled one-third of the world. KGB was the most sinister, most dangerous secret police in the world,” he said.
When he had been in prison, he said, the KGB told him that everything was finished, all the Jewish activists had been arrested and the world was too afraid to even mention their names.
“I knew that it was a lie, but I was absolutely isolated. Now, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist. KGB doesn’t exist. Two million Jews left [the] Soviet Union. More than one million live in Israel and all the world is a different place,” Sharansky said.
“And that all comes when we go back to our identity, to our values, and when we hear the voice of God and when we’re united in this struggle. So, [the] miracles of Purim and then the miracles of [the] Exodus from Egypt happened in our generation,” he said.
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