IT SEEMED THAT FOR HER the sun would never set. She had begun the day in Europe and then flown west to America. At the airport she had learned of the sentence - 13 years at hard labor - and then she dealt immediately with the reporters, first at a news conference and then individually, but whenever she had a break she would ask about the sunset - when was it coming? Joshua made the sun stand still, but Avital Scharansky is not Joshua. She is just a Jewish wife and when the sun went down she would light her candles. For a time, she thought the Sabbath would never come.
She was sitting now in the back of a Cadillac limousine, the air conditioning whistling slightly. Her hair is dark, tipped before its time with gray. She is 27 years old - ethereal in appearance, wonderful skin and dark lovely eyes. All day long she had been asked about her husband. Anatoly, about detente and SALT and Jimmy Carter and Andy Young, but now she had another concern. She leaned forward.
"Shabbat (the Sabbath). What time is Shabbat?"
"It's 8:16," said the woman with her.
"I need five minutes to prepare."
"Time magazine is coming to the hotel," said the other woman. "Time magazine is very important. Do you have candles? Did you bring them with you?"
"Yes. I have candles. Tomorrow I do nothing. Tomorrow nothing." She looked out the window - Virginia, the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial, which she asked about. She looked back at us. "What will the Russians do tomorrow?" It was not a question you answer.
Soon she was at WETA in Virginia, sitting around a large table with her interpeter, Giora Hada, and the woman who accompanied her in the Washington area, Irene Manekofsky. They were joined by Sens. Malcohlm Wallop and Alan Cranston and their wives and someone suggested that they all watch the NBC Nightly News since Mrs. Scharansky had earlier taped an interview with David Brinkley. The first item in the show turned out to be a report by Garrick Utley from the Scharansky trial in Moscow. Mrs. Scharansky rose quickly and moved right up to the set.
On the tube, you could see the outside of the Moscow courthouse, the crowds outside, Utley and then, very quickly, Andrei Sakharov. Mrs. Scharansky's hands flew to her face. She cupped her cheeks and then brought her hands down again and then the camera went to the face of the 72-year-old Ida Milgrom, Scharansky's mother. The old woman was crying and then it looked as if she had been jostled. Mrs. Scharansky's hands went to her face again and then the color drained from her skin. The camera went on Utley who said that Scharansky had gotten 13 years at hard labor instead of death. In the end, he said, it might be the same. There was a gasp from one of the women in the room. Mrs. Scharansky's hands went up and then down and then, quickly, the color returned to her face and she was composed.
When it was over, Alan Cranston went over to her and introduced himself and said he hoped he could help and then Norma Cranston came over to do the same. She is a thin, frail-looking woman and she said something about what she felt in her heart, something I did not get down, and then she took Mrs. Scharansky and put her arms around her and hugged her. I envied that. There are some things, after all, that reporters cannot do.
Later, after the show the clock once again became important. Now the Sabbath was coming on and now once again there was concern. The limousince, lent by a television network, sailed back to Washington. Avital Scharansky was back in the deep cushiony seats, asking me once again why I had no questions.
"Should I ask you how you feel? You feel tired."
"Yes. No." She shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
"Should I ask you if you have hope. Of course, you have hope."
She smiled. "Yes."
"Do you think you will ever see your husband again?"
"Do you hate the Russians, the leaders?"
"Hate? No. Brezhnev, the rest . . ." She snapped her fingers to signify insignificance.
"What is there to ask?"
"I don't know. It is your profession."
She sank deepter into the seat of the cuddly Cadillac. She was, she admitted, a bit dizzy - befuddled, time-warped. She had already talked with Cyrus Vance, Andy Young, Rosalynn Carter. She had been in Israel and then Geneva and then Paris and now Washington. We tell her what her husband said when he saw his brother for the first time in years. It was in the Moscow courtroom and Anatoly Scharansky smiled and told his brother he had gained weight. She smiled and leaned forward and says, yes, that is her Anatoly. He is . . . how do you say in English? She gives up. She will tell stories, instead.
She tells of the time he asked a KGB agent for change for the telephone so he could call Western journalists. She chuckles, her face lighting up. She tells of the time the KGB followed him to the Moscow subway threatened to throw him under a train and his response was to tell them that they would have to get permission from their supervisor. She laughed a bit harder his time. Tell about the phone call, Irene Manekofsky said.
She told of the time Scharansky went to the post office in Moscow at midnight to the telephone call from Canada. The KGB followed him there and he took the call, which was from Canadian children. It was the holiday of Hanukah and the children sang him the Israeli national anthem. Ithis called Hatikva and it means "The Hope." he heard the song and then the children asked him to sing it back to them. He was alone in the station - alone with the KGB agents. He looked around and shrugged his shoulders and sang. She laughed and I had to look away.
Now we were in the lobby of the hotel. It was late and the bellboys were told to hurry. She was anxious about the Sabbath. Her lugguage was brought quickly to her room and while a photographer from Time magazine took pictures, she took out her candles. She put two small white candles into a portable candle holder and then took a blue and white silk shawl and held it in her hand. She turned toward the Time photographer, her face showing confusion, reluctance.
"I feel like in theater," she said.
Then as the photographer snapped pictures, she covered her head in the traditional manner and brought her hands to her eyes in the traditional manner and silently said the prayer for the Sabbath candles. Then she sat in a corner of the room and asked the photographer to turn out all but one light for her, leaving her in the shadow, a prayer book on her lap. She looked up at me and smiled. "It is good, the Sabbath. I think today that there would never be a Sabbath."