Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Avital Scharansky broke down, finally, about 7 Monday night, during a party for her at the Israeli Embassy. It had been a long run for an inexperienced visitor undergoing her first Washington Media Blitz - up since 5 a.m. for an early-morning news program, then a series of interviews, a visit to the White House for talks with Vice President Mondale and presidential aides, a press conference attended by large groups of representatives and senators.
By 7 p.m., she was still standing, still talking - fluently in Russian, haltingly but clearly in English. The breakdown, when it came, was momentary - she simply stopped talking and was taken away for a few minutes to a place where she could sit quietly, undisturbed.
To her credit, it was triggered not while she was talking of her problems and those of her husband, Anatoly Scharansky, who faces a 13-year term in Soviet prisons, but of those who are even less fortunate.
"I could not sleep last night," she said, "because I was very nervous about my meeting with the vice president, and I will tell you why. I am known, and I am interviewed and people write stories in the newspapers - I can do something, I can speak and people offer me their support.But all the time, I think - okay, I go to the vice president and I ask him to help my husband. But what about people who are in prison too and do not have relatives in Israel . . ."
"Sometimes," said Bethine Church, wife of Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), "when you give help to one, it helps for all, and that's what we're hoping will happen now in your case. That's . . ." she never finished the sentence; Mrs. Scharansky was being taken from the room.
Later, sitting and talking quietly with a few people, she offered a simple explanation of the treatment given to her and others by the Russians.
"They are barbarians," she said, and there didn't seem to be much more to say.
Sala Burton, wife of Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), was one of the many congressional wives at the party, which was given by Valerie Dinitz, wife of Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz. She recalled meeting Anatoly Scharansky in Moscow in 1975 during a congressional visit to the Soviet Union. At that time, Scharansky was already a spokesman for the refuseniks (Soviet Jews who have requested and been denied exit visas to Israel), mostly, she recalled, "because he spoke our language."
"The main issue was why they wanted to get out," she recalled. "They showed us school books that are now starting to be anti-Semitic in the Soviet Union - if someone had just told me and not shown me, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm speaking of ordinary elementary-school books. He was telling us that whereever they go, they have to register not just as a Soviet citizen but as a Jew Soviet citizen."
Avital Scharansky's visit to the United States in being sponsored by a group called Scientists for Scharansky who decided, after attempting telegrams and letters of protest in previous cases, that a visit to the United States by a spokesman for Soviet dissidents might be more useful.
One of the scientists at the party, Dr. Jack S. Cohen of the National Institute of Health, said that Scharansky had been chosen as a victim because he was Jewish and a scientist: "He's both, and it's interesting that they always choose people who are both - and, of course, interested in emigrating. The fact that he spoke good English was also against him."
Valerie Dinitz recalled that her husband, who met Avital Scharansky at the airport when she came to Washington Friday, was the first one to tell her of the message that her husband had spoken in the Moscow courtroom: "I say to my people, my Avital: Next year in Jerusalem."
"We were walking to the car when he told her, and she didn't miss a step," said Valerie Dinitz. "When she heard 'Next year in Jerusalem,' that made her smile."
There were smiles at the party, too - particularly at the news that Scharansky's mother was being allowed to visit him yesterday and at the wide-spread rumours that he may be released soon in exchange for a Soviet spy. "That would be implicitly admitting something that isn't true," objected one partygoer, but most of those present were more interested in one human drama than in the half-tones of diplomatic innuendo.
"Your husband's statement has been printed in every newspaper in the world," one friend told Avital Scharansky - then she paused and added "every newspaper in the free world."
The power of public opinion was at the base of most people's hopes, which were summed up eloquently by Bethine Church: "Soon, perhaps, we will have a reception like this to celebrate your husband's release."
That was just a few minutes before Avital Scharansky broke down, thinking about the others for whom the most realistic prospect is not "Next year in Jerusalem" but "Next year in Siberia."