November 9, 2011 / 12 Kislev 5772
New York, NY — Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, made the wish of nine-year-old Racheli Berger come true when he met with her at the Jewish Agency office in New York City.
Racheli, who suffered a stroke in July 2009, was recently approved by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Her wish was to go to Israel to meet her hero, Natan Sharansky. When the family was informed that--due to State Department travel advisories--the Foundation does not send children to Israel, the Jewish Agency stepped in. Mr. Sharansky, who had recently participated in the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly in Denver, came to visit Racheli in New York.
How is it that a nine-year-old child's hero is one of the great human rights activists of modern times? According to Racheli's mother, Miriam, "When I was growing up, I was very involved in causes working to free Soviet Jews, and Natan Sharansky was perhaps the best-known refusenik. I told my children the story of the activist who spent nine years in the Gulag for defying Soviet authorities and demanding the right to emigrate to Israel."
Racheli was enamored with Sharansky’s story, and according to her mother, her fixation continued for months. She has dolls named after him and his wife Avital. She reenacts their reunion after he was freed from prison and met up with his wife in Frankfort, Germany. She even reenacts the moment when-in a final act of defiance to the Soviet regime Sharansky walked in a zigzag towards the car that would take him to freedom, despite being told by his captors to walk in a straight line. At Racheli’s insistence, Miriam reads sections of Sharansky’s memoirs aloud to her children, and they have watched him in dozens of videos online.
Happily, in the end, the meeting was able to take place. In an emotional get-together, Racheli Berger was finally able to meet Natan Sharansky, not only her hero, but a modern-day hero of the Jewish people.