Stories & Voices
Coping With Isolation: Insights from Natan Sharansky
March 23rd, 2020
UJA Federation of New York >>  Natan Sharansky talks about resilience during the coronavirus outbreak.
Natan Sharansky talks about resilience during the coronavirus outbreak.

Natan Sharansky is no stranger to the challenges isolation presents. After he was arrested in the Soviet Union for being a refusenik, Natan endured seclusion in the most extreme form — imprisoned for nine years, with more than four years in solitary confinement. After an international campaign, he was released in 1986, immigrated to Israel, served as a member of the Knesset, and from 2009 to 2018 was Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, a UJA partner. Today Natan serves as Chairman of the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.

On a webinar with nearly 400 participants, he shared key insights into how he remained resilient during his secluded period. Recognizing these are far different circumstances, Natan suggested how we might adapt those strategies in these days of the coronavirus:

  • Remember Why We’re Doing This
    Natan said as he sat in a small, dark room with bread and water, he’d remind himself why he was saying no to the KGB and continuing to be jailed. Now as we sit sequestered in our homes, we can’t lose sight that we’re making this effort for everyone’s health and safety.
  • Realize We’re Part of a Bigger Struggle
    Natan realized the challenge was about a struggle larger than himself, the greater struggle of the Jewish people. Now there’s a sense all of us are soldiers in this crisis. All of humanity is in a struggle. Our behavior is important for our mutual success.
  • Focus on What You Can Control
    Natan realized he couldn’t control what his prison guards would do or their timeframe. He could only depend on what he could do to keep himself engaged and calm. For Natan that was playing chess in his head. In this crisis, Natan recommends we don’t think about what we’ll do in the next several weeks, months, or whenever things change. We don’t know when that will be. Instead he advised that we focus on what we can do now: sing, read, study, or take advantage of online resources.
  • Laugh, and Stay Free
    As long as you can laugh at your situation, you remain free. Natan said he liked to share anti-Soviet jokes with his fellow prisoners. These days, he notes, the internet is filled with cartoons and jokes. Enjoy them and let yourself laugh.
  • You Are Not Alone
    A great source of strength for Natan was that he always felt part of the Jewish people. Today, he stresses, it’s important to remember that we are part of the Jewish family around the world.