Her fluffy black hair has begun to gray now at age 28. Her large brown eyes look tired. Her smile is soft, her dress demure, and she wears a simple silver wedding band.
Avital Scharansky, wife of jailed Soviet dissident Anatoly Scharansky, hovered between poise and near tears at a reception last night, as she did when she was in Washington last summer to publicize her husband's case.
Russian born, she spoke English haltingly as she greeted members of Congress who trooped through the Russell Senate Office building. The reception was to commemorate the second anniversary of the jailing of Anatoly Scharansky, the 31-year-old computer scientist who has become a vivid and much-publicized symbol of Soviet political oppression.
Scharansky was convicted of treason last summer in Russia (on false charges, most American authorities believe) and sentenced to 13 years hard labor. He has not seen his wife, who lives in Jerusalem, in five years.
"Let's hope we will not have to have a third anniversary," said Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which gave the reception.
A microphone was placed before Scharansky, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) told everyone to be very quiet, and Scharansky swallowed hard.
"I'm happy to be with you today," she said, and all her composure faded. "It's hard to be... I believe... today what we do..." She grimaced and blinked rapidly, her eyes turned red, her mouth twitched, she cocked her head to one side, and finally looked up at Pell in frustration.
Her 30-year-old brother, Michael Stieglitz, rushed up to continue for her. "There is not much to say... Scharansky is an innocent man and he's still in prison..."
This is Avital Scharansky's second trip to the United States on behalf of her husband, and her week-long visit in Washington is just one of numerous stops across the country since late February.
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, a nationwide independent organization of 26 Jewish groups, paid for the trip.
"I have so much support," she said later. "Not just these people, people in Congress, but people on the street. They recognize me. It's very strange, very funny. They say, 'Stay well.'" She perked up briefly at the thought of people recognizing her in the street.
"I have a lawyer in Boston -- Alan Dershowitz," she said, referring to the well-known criminal attorney who is a professor at Harvard Law School. "He has a colleague, a friend in Russia, who said to him once: "You know, these Americans make a big thing about this case, but three months after the trial, they'll say who's Scharansky? They'll forget.' But you see this today," she said gesturing out across the reception room. "And people recognize me on the streets. I'm very happy to say he was wrong."
It appeared that most of the guests at the reception agreed.
Sens. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), David Durenberger (R-Minn.) and Jacob Jav-its (R-N.Y.) came by to talk with her. She was photographed with almost every member of Congress who greeted her during the two-hour reception.
Scharansky is writing a book about her husband's struggles. It will be out in October, she said.
"We can't do anything (for Scharansky) but what we're doing," said Rep. Fascell. "That is to express our concern to the Russian government and get other governments and other groups involved in doing that."