It’s a familiar phenomenon: become interested in a topic, and you begin to notice it everywhere. Then you begin to expect it, and you’re even more likely to encounter it. Parents and teachers see this phenomenon all the time in the dynamic of “catch them being good”. When the adult is primed to notice a child’s good behavior she begins to see more of it.
Similarly, if you have just learned the names of wildflowers that grow in your neighborhood, you suddenly begin to see them all around you. The same happens with unfortunate events: if your friend has been diagnosed with a particular illness, you may start to hear stories of others who have experienced similar diseases.
Knowing this, I guess I should not have been so surprised when just weeks after writing my last blogpost on heroes, a chance encounter at the supermarket led to a casual dinner invitation, and I found myself seated next to two genuine heroes, Natan and Avital Scharansky
Younger readers may have only read about the drama of Anatoly Scharansky, and his wife Natalya. He was a young physicist who lived behind the iron curtain in the Soviet Union of the 1970s. When the Soviets signed on to an international agreement to recognize universal human rights (The Helsinki Accords), Scharansky and 11 other extraordinary individuals formed The Moscow Helsinki Watch Group to monitor and report on their country’s compliance with that agreement. Among them were Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, and 10 others who joined later. The Helsinki Watch group presented an unimaginable challenge to the authoritarianism of the closed Soviet society, which responded with severe repressive measures. Members of the group were arrested, imprisoned, sent to psychiatric hospitals…and worse. One of the human rights guaranteed under Helsinki was the right to emigrate, but when Scharansky and others petitioned the government for that right they were denied, year after year. Thus was born the Refusenik movement; Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Year after year their applications were denied, and they remained isolated in their society, punished with loss of job, education and—as they stubbornly persisted and their movement gained international support—sent to Siberia, where Scharansky served 9 years of very hard time.