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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Grobman

Five Life Lessons From a Political Prisoner

Natan Sharansky advice coronavirus

As we continue to grapple with this new reality, we need our moments of inspiration to keep going.

Natan Sharansky is a Russian Israeli (just like me!) politician and activist, who is known for his great passion for Israel that landed him in the soviet prison in the late 1970s when Jews were not allowed to leave the USSR nor dared to dream about going to their homeland. You can read more about his life here

He recently shared the following words of wisdom with the Jewish Agency to help us better deal with our time in quarantine [translated from this video in Hebrew]:

"Hello, my name is Natan Sharansky. I was born in 1948 in the Soviet Union. 

At the age of 29, because of my Zionist activity, I was sent to prison for 9 years. Half of the time I was in isolation and 450 days I was in solitary confinement. So I have some experience with how to live in isolation and I want to give you five pieces of advice:

1) Remind yourself every day why you're sitting in confinement: I reminded myself every day that I was a soldier and I had a role. You also should remind yourselves that we are in a global war, you all have a role and that a lot depends on your behavior.

2) Don't count on the situation ending soon: it doesn't depend on you. Later, you can face disappointment and it will make you weaker. In prison, I knew that my release date didn't depend on me. I knew that it did depend on me if I were to remain a free man. Make plans that are under your control. For example: in three days, I will finally read that book that I so wanted to read. Then you will gain control over your lives.

3) Don't give up your sense of humor, even for a second. I loved making fun of my jailers and reminding them that while I could laugh at them or ourselves, I was a free man. For example, someone just sent me a joke:

"After receiving many queries, the ministry of health informs: only weddings are canceled. Married people should continue for now as usual" [laughs]

4) Think about a hobby that has always helped you. My hobby was playing chess. I knew how to play chess without a board, in my head [while in prison]. But you don't need to play chess without a board. You can play with a board or maybe dance or sing? Do you like to knit? It is your time to enjoy life a little. 

5) (which is also advice #1,2,3,4,5 and 100) Remember that we are one nation. Feel your connection with everyone else in our country and who is not outside of our country.

Lots of health to our sick people. We will go through this together. The Jewish people are alive."

If you are using this time to reflect on life, you might enjoy one of my favorite books: Man's Search for Meaning by psychologist Viktor Frankl.

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