Natan Sharansky’s new book “Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People” sums up what he learned from nine years of imprisonment in a Soviet Gulag during the 1970s and 80s, his political life following his release and his nine years as head of The Jewish Agency for Israel, which ended last year. He co-authored the book with the prominent American-born historian Gil Troy, who also lives in Israel.
We asked them recently about their book, to be featured in the Book Festival of the MJCCA Nov. 8.
AJT: You’ve written about the importance of identity. How concerned are you about Jewish identity in the world today? Or are we moving toward a better acceptance of our identity?
Sharansky: Well, we write a lot about this problem. The connection between liberalism and identity is the central theme, in a way, of this book. There is a movement in the world by those who want to restore national pride by destroying liberalism and we Jews are trying to keep these two things together. We want to be a Jewish people and we want to live in a liberal society, and we have to keep these things together.
Troy: Part of the motivation for writing this book, frankly, is it’s almost like a Valentine. It’s a love story about our connection and especially Natan’s connection with the Jewish people. It’s knowing that we’re never alone when we’re part of this amazing network. The real audience is the next generation. It’s a challenge also to the parents and the grandparents saying to them: “Tell the story, tell how American Jews helped save the Soviet Jews. Tell how we’ve passed on the torch from generation to generation.” But it’s also a challenge to them and an invitation to the next generation to say: “Find your identity. You can find your way of doing tikkun olam, helping the world, contributing to the world, being a good person through this amazing framework that we Jews have created.” We say let’s continue the conversation. Let’s learn who we are, who we can be and who we’ve been.
AJT: One of the major changes that has occurred since you wrote this book is the agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. You were very critical about the Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from Gaza. What is your view of these new agreements?
Sharansky: My criticism, over the Oslo Accords, was because I felt they were trying to find a dictator like Yasser Arafat who will rule Palestinians for us and will bring us peace by controlling Palestinians. What happened in Bahrain, of course, and Abu Dhabi is very different. The people there are standing in lines to have businesses with Israel, to visit Israel, to learn Hebrew. I think this normalization can be a turning point.
I hope that this new cooperation will also include Palestinian businessmen and Palestinian culture exchanges. And as a result, there will be more ground for a real civil society, a real civil dialog between Israel and the Arabs.
AJT: At a time when many feel isolated because of the pandemic, the title of your book, “Never Alone,” seems ironic. What advice would you give us at this challenging time?
Sharansky: I would advise Jews to never forget that you are part of a great people who have sometimes felt very separate, and in very lonely places, but who have always felt themselves connected.
We had our own network long before we had the internet and that has been a great force. And that’s exactly what this book is about. It’s what helps us to be optimistic, in spite of all our challenges.
Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy will discuss “Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People” at the Book Festival of the MJCCA at 1 p.m. Nov. 8.