Shcharansky's new life in Israel: change and challenges ahead. Ex-prisoner must deal with status as symbol of rights movement
Jerusalem — The process of easing Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky's transition from prisoner to Israeli citizen began in the midst of his tumultuous welcome here. At Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, moments after Mr. Shcharansky stepped off his plane Tuesday, Minister of Immigration Yaacov Tsur handed him a ``new immigrant's certificate.'' Every Jew who immigrates and accepts Israeli citizenship is issued this certificate.
The certificate entitles Shcharansky to a range of special privileges and rights that the government grants all immigrants in acknowledgment of the difficulties they face in making a new life in Israel.
``Obviously, we did not want to get into the details with him immediately,'' said Gad Ben-Ari, spokesman for the Immigration Ministry. ``But we have a special team that will meet with Shcharansky next week, and he will also meet with the minister.''
Israel is anxious that the transition of its most famous recent immigrant go as smoothly as possible.
Already, his release is believed to have given a tremendous boost to those working for the release of other Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate. It has also given at least a temporary boost to morale here in Israel.
``We need these sorts of historic occasions sometimes, as Israelis, to remind us of what we suffer so much for, of what is the essence of our being here,'' said Mr. Ben-Ari.
Seeking to keep the momentum going, the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center held a roundtable discussion Wednesday on what steps the movement would take next. Israeli officials cautioned that they have no evidence yet that the Soviets will allow large numbers of Jews to leave.
Shcharansky had been a leading Soviet Jewish activist and ``refusenik'' before his arrest and conviction on espionage charges. He spent nine years in prisons and labor camps, part of that time in isolation.
``Within 24 hours, he went from a jail in East Berlin to being in Israel with his wife,'' said Uri Savir, spokesman for Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Mr. Savir and Mr. Peres were on the tarmac with other senior Israeli officials to greet Shcharansky. Peres referred to Shcha-ransky as ``Natan,'' the Hebrew name he adopted.
``It really was amazing to see how lucid, how in control, how eloquent he was,'' Mr. Savir said.
But Shcharansky is expected to face potential challenges in adjusting -- not the least of which is that his wife, Avital, has become a devoutly observant Jew during their 12-year separation. The couple were married only one day before Avital left for Israel in 1974, believing Anatoly's visa would be granted within six months. Not only has she devote her entire married life to fighting for her husband's freedom, but has also closely identified with the nationalistic religious movement in Israel.
Anatoly is secular and was not wearing the skull cap of the religious Jew when he arrived in Israel. It was his wife who pressed one on his head as he spoke to a crowd of mostly Orthodox Jews who had gathered to welcome him at the airport.
Shcharansky also must deal with his status as an international symbol of the human rights movement, as well as a continuing symbol of the Jewish activists remaining in the Soviet Union.
On his first full day in Jerusalem, Shcharansky appealed to the Soviet Union to allow his mother and brother to follow him to Israel under the family reunification program.
Although he has not said what his career plans are, it is likely that the former computer expert will remain active in the cause of Soviet Jewry.
Ben-Ari said the Immigration Ministry is determined that the Shcharanskys will be allowed to lead as normal a life as possible once the initial media attention lessens.
Despite the special pressures on Shcharansky, Ben-Ari said it is likely Shcharansky will succeed as an Israeli. The spokesman pointed out that the 165,000 Russians who have come to Israel in the last 15 years have, as a group, integrated well into society.
``They are what we call a `contributing aliyeh,' '' he said, using the Hebrew word for a Jew who has immigrated to Israel. ``Only 5 percent of those who came subsequently left Israel -- that's a much, much lower number than average.
``They [Soviet Jews] occupy the upper half of the spectrum in terms of income. In our surveys, we find that more of them find adequate housing and are more or less satisfied with their jobs than in other immigrant groups,'' Ben-Ari said. ``They doubled the number of engineers in Israel -- they contributed 10,000. They added 3,500 doctors and dentists, 3,000 scientists, and more than 2,000 artists and musicians.''
Shcharansky joins not only his wife, but also many friends who also were Jewish activists in the Soviet Union and who made it to Israel before him.
He therefore is coming into a community that regards him as a leader and hero and is likely to lend him much support as he adjusts to Israel.
``You cannot expect all the people who became active to have special qualities,'' said Sasha Luntz, a longtime Shcharansky friend who was on hand for the airport arrival.
``Many became active not because of their will to fight but simply because the KGB turned down their visa requests. They are ordinary people who want only to lead ordinary lives,'' he said.
``But sometimes, the one who was selected is special. Such is Tolya [Anatoly].''