A year ago, Covid-19 turned the world upside down.
We retreated into our homes and schools, stores locked their doors, and the
streets were suddenly empty. Human right activist and former politician Natan
Sharansky understands isolation, fear and uncertainty more profoundly than most
of us. He was imprisoned for nine years in the former Soviet Union, half of
which were spent in solitary confinement, yet his spirit was never broken. He tried
to keep his sense of humor throughout his ordeal, sometimes even sharing jokes
with his prison guards.
As the world was grappling with the “new normal” of
life during a deadly pandemic, Sharansky offered this sobering advice:
Remember why this is happening. In the case of the virus, you have
been isolated at home because that is how we defeat it.
Focus on what is
within your control. Do not plan your life based on when this might be
over. Instead, focus on planning your life today.
Find reasons to
laugh. Humor can be found in even
Practice your hobbies. Sharanksy, who was a chess prodigy as a child, famously kept
himself sane in solitary confinement by playing chess in his head.
connection to your people. If you do, you will
never feel alone.
In 1973, Sharansky tried to emigrate from the Soviet
Union to Israel. Like other Soviet Jews, his request was denied. Attempting to
emigrate was risky, and perceived as an act of betrayal against the state even
though anti-Semitism was deeply engrained in Soviet life.
The world began to call Jews unable to leave the
Soviet Union refuseniks, and Sharansky’s activism on behalf of the
refuseniks made him one of the most famous. In 1977, at the age of 29, he was
arrested and imprisoned on false charges of treason and spying for the United
Sharansky did ultimately make it to Israel, where he
still enjoys a good joke despite—or maybe because of—the struggles that shaped
Read more about the man who never lost his sense of
humor in Natan Sharansky: Freedom Fighter for Soviet Jews.