From Prisoner of Zion to Guardian of Zion

June 14, 2019 by Elana Oberlander
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Former Prisoner of Zion Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky has become a Guardian of Zion.

Guardian of Zion Natan Sharansky and MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, with former Soviet refuseniks and their families   Photo: Yoni Reif

At a gala ceremony held in Israel’s capital, Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Centre for Jerusalem Studies awarded Sharansky its Guardian of Zion Award for 2019.  The annual award is bestowed upon those dedicated to the perpetuation and strengthening of Jerusalem.

Sharansky, who served nine years in a Soviet prison beginning in the late 70s, was joined by his wife, Avital, who worked tirelessly to secure his release, and a group of prominent refuseniks from the former Soviet Union including MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset.

In his opening remarks Prof. Joshua Schwartz, Director of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, read a congratulatory letter to Sharansky from the President of Israel, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin: “Up until now, we have usually related to you as a former Prisoner of Zion. From this point on you join the important list of guardians and lovers of Zion… Your personal history and the valiant struggles you faced along the way, your steadfastness in bringing about the fruition of the Zionist idea, your many years in public service… All of these attest to the spirit of service that distinguishes you, to your belief in the ability to bring about change, and to your belief in the importance of building a better reality for our children and future generations.”

Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Lion said: “For many of us you have been a symbol of the Jewish spirit. Generations of young Jews grew up learning about your heroism. You never gave up and you never gave in. We can only imagine what it was like in as you sat in a dark Russian –should be Soviet–prison cell with thoughts of our Jewish homeland the only light to guide you through the darkness. Of course, if this was all you did for the Jewish people, it would have been enough. But after all this, you went on to lead… Today many immigrants can testify how you cared for them and represented them.”

Joshua Schwartz, Director, Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, Guardian of Zion Natan Sharansky, Mrs. Ingeborg Rennert, Founder of the Ingeborg Rennert Center, and Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Arie Zaban
Photo: Yoni Reif

Sharansky delivered the Distinguished Rennert Lecture which he dedicated to the memory of his friend Hillel Butman, founder of the first Zionist youth movement in Leningrad, who passed away two weeks ago. Addressing today’s antisemitism he said: “Today, our enemies who hate us as Jews or Israelis are very dangerous. The hate comes from both the left and the right.  Jews must face the threat together or our disagreements will become so big that we are blind to antisemitism.”

Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Arie Zaban shared a personal story of his aunt who remained in the Soviet Union after most of her family left.  After years of oppression, she was finally able to emigrate to Israel.  During her first Passover Seder in the Jewish homeland, she was astounded to witness guests around the table singing Jewish songs, freely, while the windows surrounding them were open.  That, said Zaban, was the moment that he truly understood and felt the suffering that she experienced.  Zaban praised Sharansky for his remarkable ability to rise from oppression to become a leader of the Jewish people in a variety of different roles in the Israeli government and at the Jewish Agency.  He also acknowledged Avital Sharansky for her quiet leadership through the years.

The Ingeborg Rennert Centre for Jerusalem Studies was established at Bar-Ilan University in 1995 by US Jewish community leaders Ingeborg Hanna and Ira Leon Rennert as an expression of their commitment to the preservation and advancement of Jerusalem’s unique heritage. Integrating studies on the history, archaeology, geography, demography, economy and sociology of Jerusalem, the Rennert Center has become the foremost academic centre in the international academic community studying aspects of Jerusalem’s past and present.

This is the twenty-third year the Rennert Centre has conferred the Guardian of Zion Award. Previous recipients have included US National Security Advisor John Bolton, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, former US Senator Joe Lieberman, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, the late columnist Dr. Charles Krauthammer, author Cynthia Ozick, the late New York Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal, the late author Herman Wouk, and the late author, philosopher and humanist Prof. Elie Wiesel.

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