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American Jews Honor Unsung Hero of Soviet Jewry Movement

June 27, 2013 – Every year, the American Jewish Historical Society presents the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to strengthening the American Jewish community. Past honorees include Nobel Peace Prize laureate and author Elie Wiesel (2002), former Mayor of New York Edward Koch (2005) and former Secretary of State George Shultz (2007).

Emma Lazarus medal, courtesy of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.Emma Lazarus medal, courtesy of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.

Emma Lazarus medal, courtesy of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.

The Emma Lazarus medal used for the award was designed by Gerta Ries Wiener for the Jewish-American Hall of Fame (now a division of the American Jewish Historical Society). It features these famous words of Lazarus in her own hand: “Give me your tired, your poor … yearning to breathe free.” The original manuscript of this immortal poem is one of the prized items in the collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Elie Wiesel presenting the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award to Avital Sharansky, courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, photo Melanie Einzig.

Elie Wiesel presenting the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award to Avital Sharansky, courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, photo Melanie Einzig.

On May 28th, Elie Wiesel presented the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award to Avital Sharansky, wife of famous Soviet Refusenik Anatoly (now Natan) Sharansky, and a hero of the Soviet Jewry movement in her own right. Jonathan Karp, Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, indicated that “Avital hasn’t gotten the historical recognition that she deserves”.

Ms. Sharansky wearing the medal, courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, photo Melanie Einzig.

Ms. Sharansky wearing the medal, courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, photo Melanie Einzig.

Although uncomfortable speaking in English, Avital lobbied among national leaders, marched in Soviet Jewry rallies around the world, and kept an international focus on Natan and other Soviet Jews who sought freedom.” Natan was finally released from a Soviet Russian prison after nine years – largely as a result of the pressures applied by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, in negotiations with President Mikhail Gorbachev.

If you would like to learn more about the American Jewish Historical Society and the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award, please click here.

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