ADVICE FOR QUARANTINE FROM A FORMER SOVIET PRISONER
Perhaps you recall the name Natan Sharansky who served for almost a decade as head of the Jewish Agency in Israel. If that name’s not ringing a bell, you might better remember him by his former name, Anatoly Sharansky, world-famous Soviet Jewish human rights activist and “refusenik.”
For the “crime” of seeking to leave the USSR, Mr. Sharansky served over nine years in the Soviet Gulag, nearly half that time in solitary confinement. Yesterday he posted a video on Facebook offering some advice on how to get through this quarantine. Given that the man has more than just a little experience with isolation, I thought I’d share his tips with you:
1. One of the things that gave him comfort was knowing that he was part of a global struggle. He advised us to remember that we, too, are part of a global battle against a dangerous and invisible enemy. We're all in this together. “Whether we will succeed in the battle,” he said, “depends upon our behavior.”
2. In prison Mr. Sharansky had no idea when, if ever, he would be released. From this he learned not to make plans for the next days or months based upon the expectation that this it would all end shortly. He reminds us that this, too, is out of our hands. Instead, he suggests, we should make plans that we can control like diving into our reading lists, learning a new language, or anything else we can do that is under our control. Personally, taking an online course in Eastern European Jewish history.
3. One of the other things that helped him survive was his sense of humor. “I remember how in prison I enjoyed telling anti-Soviet jokes to my prison guards,” he said. I know that the jokes that I receive from BT members – some by text, others on social media or email – are really helping me get through this!
4. As a lover of chess, Mr. Sharansky spent hours playing games in his head (quite a skill). Fortunately, we can pursue many of our interests on the internet. We can find sing-alongs, games, streaming entertainment, and almost anything in the world that interests us. And if the internet doesn’t appeal to you, order some games or puzzles from an online store to fill the extra time.
5. Finally, he reminds us to feel our connections. The Jewish experience teaches that connectedness does not require physical presence. The Jewish people, spread throughout the world, always managed to feel a sense of connection. Today we are experiencing it with the entire planet. We are not alone.
If you're suffering from loneliness, boredom, or frustration during this time of isolation, perhaps Mr. Sharansky’s tips can be of some help. I know they've helped me.