Solitary assignment

Natan Sharansky gives tips for quarantine based on Soviet gulag

Former politician and Jewish Agency chief urges viewers to cling to their hobbies and humor, make plans that they can control, and ‘remember you are not alone’

Need tips for getting through this period of being stuck at home? How about taking some from a person who spent years in solitary confinement?

Natan Sharansky, the former head of the Jewish Agency who spent nine years in a Soviet gulag due to his Zionist activity, has five tips for quarantine in a new video published Monday.

Sharansky, 72, was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1977 and accused of high treason. He stayed in jail until 1986, when he was freed following a campaign in Israel. He later served as a politician in Israel for ten years, including in ministerial roles and as deputy prime minister.

In the English-language video published by the Jewish Agency, which Sharansky headed between 2009 and 2018, he says half of his nine-year sentence was spent in solitary confinement, including 405 days in the punishment cell.

“So I have some experience of spending time in solitary confinement, and I want to give you five tips,” Sharansky says.

Natan Sharansky pictured with a copy of his book “Fear No Evil,” July 1988. (Express Newspapers/Getty Images via JTA)

The first is to remember why you are in quarantine. Sharansky says he had to remind himself he was part of a “huge, global war,” and that now people should remember that we are “at war with a very dangerous, though invisible, enemy and whether we succeed in the battle depends on your behavior.”

Tip No. 2 is not to assume it all will be over within a few days or weeks, and to make plans that depend only on oneself, such as reading a book or learning a language.

The third tip, which the internet seems to be following anyway, is not to lose one’s sense of humor and to tell and hear jokes about the situation.

“I remember how in prison I enjoyed telling anti-Soviet jokes to my prison guards,” Sharansky says.

The next tip is not to give up hobbies.

Sharansky, who was a chess prodigy as a child and at 15 won the championship in his native Donetsk, could play chess without a board and famously kept himself sane in prison by playing thousands of games against himself in his head.

The fifth and final tip is to “feel your connection and remember that you are not alone.”

“We Jews, for thousands of years, all over the world, were scattered. But we always had this feeling that we are part of a big people, a great people, with our mutual past, with our mutual future, and with our mutual mission,” he says.

“Think about it. Feel your connection.”

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