Eulogy by Natan Sharansky
February 1, 2014
Well, yes, so I called the Prime Minister and said that I have to cancel our meeting with him today because I’m going to the funeral of Gordon Zacks. He was shocked to know, he said, “Gordy, he was defending us, Israel and America with such a pride.” And then he said, “If I’ll write you, will you read it at the funeral?” I said, “Of course, I will.” I didn’t know that the snow will stop me from reading it, I will read it now. “Dear Cathy and Kim, Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your late father, the wonderful Gordy Zacks. Gordy has indeed been exceptional in his unflinching support for Israel and the Jewish people in his courage and independence of thought. Above all, he was a principle and steadfast friend with the people of Israel that I shall surely miss. With you in grief, Benjamin Netanyahu.” Now, I have few comments of my own but I don’t know, maybe, it’s so cold now.
I had to say, three weeks ago, I came to Columbus because I was told by everybody that that is his last weeks, Gordon’s weeks or maybe the last days. I really had a big problem, I thought, “What you’re talking about with your great friend and comrade in what is the last talk in his life?” But when they came, I didn’t have to choose because Gordy started as he always has, exactly from the point on which we start talking two months ago. He start talking about how he explains to young Jew today why to be Jewish, and what to do that Jewish education will be connected to the modern world and not only with the past, with the grandmothers and grandfathers. How we are building a real bond between Israel and America around the principles and not around some immediate interest. How we are leading it forward and not back. So on and so on, he’s talking, talking, talking and then got to talk about my projects as a Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel he discussed. He said, “Yes, yes, it so important what you’re trying to do to encourage new leadership of the communities and I really wanted to help you with that at least for the next 20 years.” Then I thought, “My god, maybe his family didn’t tell him, maybe the doctors didn’t tell that it is his last week.” Then at some moment, when we’re already– he made sure that nobody sees us, after three hours of talking, he started being weaker, he suddenly told me with broken voice but he make sure that nobody hears. “Natan, I have one request: I want you to speak on my funeral.” Before I answered him, he already moved again to the Jewish identity instead. Then, I really understood, it’s not the he didn’t know that he’s dying; simply, he is like the living example of what we were discussing with him so many times. That if you have strong identity, if you have a special desire to connect freedom and your Jewish rules, if you live through this history with the past and with the future of your people, then physical survival is important of course but it’s not the essential thing, then you really have deep meaning until the last minute of your life.
Then, if you live a certain way until the last minute of your life, it was up to this because you’re so passionate about your identity. And you know, so many, hundreds of thousands of American Jews participate in the struggle for Soviet Jews. They were demonstrating. They were writing letters, they were coming to us in Moscow. By the way, I first met Gordy 1974 in Moscow. But saw hundreds of thousands of separating in this struggle, but only very few was thinking all the time strategically, that it’s not only struggle for one specific cause. Of course, it’s for one specific cause, of course, it is for one location. But that historical struggle between good and evil, and you have to connect to it and to feel it. And Gordy was one of the very few who felt it and that’s why he was such a match to my wife. That’s why, when they met, Avital and your late brother Michael but they met in the night of 1979. They immediately founded a strategic union. Through the good services of Dick Allen, Gordy took Avital to the White House, to President Reagan. It was very important for her struggle. It was very important for giving your leverage to press on the Soviet Union. But everybody who read diaries of Reagan and letters of Reagan, letters which sent I believe of oppression and his speeches knows how important has become also for Reagan. How important it become for him to formulate very clearly his position on struggle against evil empire. There were some other Jews. Like I said, there was another Jew, more or less on the same time who said to him at the times that he cannot give his connections with the White House to the Soviet because he says it’s not right that our leaders will be dealing with one case. Our leaders have to deal with the big problem. Gordy was the one who could explain he might be as wrong. He thought very big, he thought through all the history. He always thought how are all people ago, when they were living in Egypt, how are they on Holocaust, how are they today and where they will be in 20 years from now. At the same time, he knew that to do it all the way through having sympathy, love and readiness to fight for every person, for Jew and not only for Jew. Then, in his– I saw this great picture of a demonstration in 1987, hundreds of thousands Jews came to watch it. What is not known that a year before when this idea was first posed, there were many people who thought it’s impossible, American Jews were not coming in such big number in winter to Washington. Then Gordy told me, “Natan, it’s a great idea but it will never happen.” I said, “What do you mean?” “It will never happen if you will not take responsibility. It’s not enough that you’re talking about ideas. You have to take responsibility, you have to move to America, you have to go to American military to speak.” I said, “Why me? Why I should say to American Jews on Washington where there is snow? Don’t they have their rabbis?” He said, “Because American Jews feel that they are responsible for your release, and that’s why when you come and say that ‘We need you to continue the struggle,’ it means that you said to them thank you. That you express appreciation of their power and that you want them to continue.” And you know what? That moment, I was already quieted and enslaved by Gordy. We have no choice, we really moved within 10 months with our daughter. We moved for three months to America and I went to thirty different communities for three months and they were saying like a parrot what Gordy was saying. And Gordy was right, Gordy happened to be right. And so after this, we met with him, on this platform in Washington, I was a new, freshly released released prisoner of Zion. He was the Vice President Bush, he might sure that Vice President Bush will say all the right things which had to be said to President Gorbachev about opening the gates. That was our last battle for Soviet Jewry. Gordy was very Jewish in his belief in Jewish education, but he was very American in his belief in leadership and taking responsibility, and he was very Israeli in believing that Jews have to take responsibility for their faith and if they take responsibility together, there’s nothing which will stand against us. In his last years of defining moments, he called me and said, “You know what? I published a book and they have a meeting with the readers in a bookshop in New York, and maybe you’ll come.” I came, I saw there’s 20 people listening, it’s definitely not the best seller. You know how wrong I was? Just standing in front of them is Gordy, he’s didn’t want, he didn’t think about the sales. He was able to see that that is the book, with the help of which he will take responsibility and will build future American Jewish leaders. He was doing it by reaching the chosen people, bringing them on trips. Every year he was bringing another group and of course I, as his slave, was meeting with the group. It was interesting to see how he was not trying to speak the language of these people who are 40 years younger than him. He is not trying to compete with their fashion. He is trying to build the bridge between them and know that you need experience of Jews which we got in leading, and he was doing it. He was building it with the help of this book and the help of personal efforts, he wasn’t just helping building new leadership of Jewish-Hebrew. I also very grateful, I didn’t see how he was talking to you when you were small girls but I saw how he was talking to my daughters. When they were 10 years old he was talking to them as they are leaders, as the ones who have to take responsibility, the ones whom he respect because they do more than him and will do greater things in the future. You know what? They really loved it. They loved it, they loved him. In our last meeting when he brought another group with him, we have some young Jews from different parts of the world. Some of them are just criticizing everything and making some cynical remarks, and he became so passionate. He was speaking so strongly. In his idealism and his denial of any [inaudible], especially because he was the youngest in the table. In his wisdom and his experience, he was the eldest one on the table. His love to all of us.