Natan Sharansky Responds to the Students of B’nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, Maryland

QUESTION: Okay, so our first question is from
the B’nai Israel Upper School, the Beit Cafe Israel class from Rockville, Maryland. And
the question is: Did your Jewish beliefs help you through your ordeal while you were in
prison, and if so, how; and how did you feel and what were you thinking as you were actually
walking across the bridge to freedom? SHARANSKY: First of all, I felt very deeply
that I am inside Jewish history, that I am in the very important battle, which we, the
Jewish people, are having. I felt a deep connection between the exodus from Egypt and our struggle
today. And that was the basis of my optimism. All this connection with the history, with
the Jewish people, with the State of Israel, which I had discovered only a few years ago
— that’s what was giving me the strength to fight and the hope to win. As to what I
exactly thought when I was crossing the bridge, knowing that in a few moments I will see my
wife, whom I didn’t see for twelve years, and will meet my people in Israel, I’ll tell
you frankly — I was given that day the clothes, all the new clothes brought by the KGB for
my release. All this was very big on me, but I was not given a belt because I was still
in prison and belts are not permitted, so my pants were kept with some kind of rope.
And the moment when the American ambassador told me that this line on the Glienicke Bridge
is the border, I said “freedom!” and jumped, and at that moment the rope broke. So I caught
my pants at the very last moment and my first thought entering the free world was how not
to lose my pants.

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