by Alex Glass, Assistant Director
This morning Camp Coleman had a video conversation with Natan Sharansky, a prominent Israeli politician, human rights activist, and author. Last week our Kochavim Unit rising 5th graders had a program in which they learned about the Refuseniks, a group of Jews who were denied access to exit visas in the late 1960s through the 1980s. As part of the program Bobby Harris, our Camp Director, shared his personal experience of travelling to the Soviet Union and speaking out for the release of Soviet Jews. During this program Bobby talked a great deal about Sharansky’s entire journey from his re-connection with Judaism to his desire to move to Israel and his eventual prison sentence for nine years in Siberia.
After the program, a few campers approached Bobby and wanted to know more about Sharansky. They asked if the camp community could Skype with Sharansky the same way as we did earlier in the session with the son of a man who survived the Holocaust because of Chiune Sugihara. Bobby contacted the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Mr. Sharansky was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to speak with Coleman’s 600 campers and staff. Because of the interest of these few campers, the entire camp was able to hear about Mr. Sharansky’s incredible story of advocacy, persistence, and amazingly good spirits even while being imprisoned for 13 years; we even learned about his successes playing chess in this year’s Maccabi games in Israel! Our camper Hailey Jewesak from Jacksonville, FL asked, on behalf of her whole cabin of Girls 1B, “How did he keep his hopes and dreams alive while imprisoned for so long?” Marlee Gordon, from Alpharetta, GA asked about his views on the current situation with women equally praying at the Kotel (Western Wall), and Adam Orlow, a Bonim camper from Marietta, GA, asked, “What were the original charges that Soviets had against him that led him to prison in the first place?” Sharansky took his time and answered each question not like he was on stage but more so like he was sitting in our living rooms. This was truly an incredible experience that our campers and staff will remember, and I’m proud that these campers took initiative and interest to learn more about Mr. Sharansky and his experiences firsthand.
You can see and hear the conversation with Mr. Sharansky in the video below: