College Park, MD – Students, faculty, staff and community members were treated to a very special guest on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. Natan Sharansky a former Soviet dissident, human rights activist, author, and veteran Israeli politician, provided the campus community with numerous opportunities to hear him speak about his new book “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy”.
Mr. Sharansky’s schedule included a faculty luncheon attended by 40 professors, a student leadership luncheon for over 20 student leaders, an AEPi dinner at Hillel for 75 brothers, and a dessert reception, book-signing and lecture which was attended by 300 people.
Sharansky brought his interesting background to light and explained how his experiences shaped his philosophy and identity. Sharansky was detained by the Russian government following his application for a visa to immigrate to Israel. Over the course of his decades of incarceration, Sharanky became a symbol of the plight of Soviet Jewry. His name was at the forefront of the world-wide campaign to ensure that Russian Jews, and Russian society in general, were afforded basic political rights.
During his presentations, Sharansky referenced his years in Russian captivity as being amongst the most informative in shaping his identity. His current book, a treatise on the interrelationship of personal identity, nationalism, freedom and democracy, is in large part informed by the insights he developed during his years in prison.
Following emancipation Sharansky made aliyah and became an influential figure in Israeli society, and a veteran politician. He has served in multiple sessions of the Israeli Knesset and held numerous ministerial roles including- industry and trade, internal affairs, housing and construction and Jerusalem affairs. Presently, he is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center.
The day’s events were made possible by “Caravan for Democracy”, an initiative of Jewish National Fund and Media Watch in collaboration with Maryland Hillel and the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.