This story centers around Soviet Jews’ struggle to leave the Soviet Union, against great odds, to find a better life in Israel, and the American Jews who rallied to support them.
In 1977, Anatoly Sharansky (now known as Natan Sharansky), a leader among Soviet Jews in their fight to get to Israel, was arrested due to an allegation that he was collaborating with the CIA. A young rabbi in New York, Avi Weiss, encouraged his congregation to plead for Sharansky’s release. Weiss set off a ripple effect: Sarah, a young girl in his congregation set an extra place at her birthday party table for Sharansky. Soon, Sarah’s friends started leaving extra seats at their Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations. Joseph, another congregant, wore a silver bracelet with the name of another “Prisoner of Zion,” as Jews imprisoned for Zionist activity were called. Soon, students in his school followed.
After Sharansky’s wife spoke about her husband’s hunger strike, Rabbi Weiss also went on a hunger strike. In 1983, tens of thousands of people rallied in front of the United Nations in support of Sharansky’s cause. Finally, after nine long years of protests, in 1986, Sharansky was freed!
The story of Sharansky and the other prisoners of Zion, and the people that supported them so powerfully, reminds us that everyone has the power to change the world through idealism and activism. This book should be read in Jewish schools and youth groups across the country to inspire children (and their parents!) to protest against injustice.
The uplifting story is enhanced by colorful illustrations. It is recommended for children ages 7 – 12.
Sandy Lanton, a former teacher, earned a BA in Psychology and an MS in Early Childhood Education from Queens College. She is the author of Daddy’s Chair (Sydney Taylor Award), The Happy Hackers, Lots Of Latkes, Still a Family: A Young Child’s Book About Divorce (Gittle Honorable Mention), and The Littlest Levine (named one of the best Jewish Children’s Books of 2014 by Tablet Magazine). Her work has appeared in magazines as well as several anthologies. When she isn’t writing stories or visiting schools, Ms. Lanton likes to crochet, line dance, play bridge and pickleball, spend time with her grandchildren, and read, read, read.