AVITAL SCHARANSKY comes to the door of the Capitol Hill townhouse where she is staying, opens her arms to the American supporter she has not seen for months, and then extends a hesitant hand to the stranger. She is as lovely as the newspaper articles have said, with short black hair tipped with gray, big brown eyes and wonderfully high cheekbones. At first she looks the part of a tragic figure cast in one of history's follies, and then she smiles and you get a glimmer of the spirit, humor and confidence that is sustaining her long after the trial, long after the cause of Anatoly Scharansky has slipped from the forefront of public opinion.
It has been eight months since Avital Scharansky led marches through the streets of Paris to save her husband's life, eight months since reporters from the Western world eagerly flocked around her to get interviews and world leaders courted her and protested in outrage when her husband was tried for treason and sentenced to 13 years of confinement and hard labor in the Soviet prison system.
There was momentum and excitement and frenzy then. Avital Scharansky, caught in the middle of the storm, rode it out to the point of exhaustion, holding press conferences, leading demonstrations, giving dozens of interviews, until her husband finally was spared the death sentence he faced. Then she collapsed, cancelled her U.S. tour, and retreated to her home in Jerusalem.
Now, she is back, visiting cities across the United States, confident that the public opinion which she believes kept the Soviets from executing her husband will somehow create pressure to release him.
"I don't understand why a man who is not guilty, and everybody in the world knows he's not guilty, how he can sit in prison for 13 years. I'm here to appeal again to people to help release him," she says.
There will be vigils at the Soviet embassy, receptions for Avital, speeches on the House floor, all in an effort to keep the world from forgetting Scharansky who has now been in isolation for 24 months.
She tells the story of the Russian professor talking over the Scharansky case with a Boston lawyer who tried to help Scharansky. "The professor was very cynical. He said to the lawyer, 'I promise you after three months, everybody forgets about Scharansky. You Americans, we know you very well. You have so many problems, everyone will forget.' I think he is wrong," she concludes. "It's not going to be forgotten."
It hasn't been forgotten -- not yet anyway -- and that, in some part, has to do with the indelible impression this woman has made on the minds of people who've seen her on television, read the interviews, seen her picture. This is a woman with a strong sense of justice, but that is not all of it. There is something else driving her.
Avital Scharansky has not seen her husband since the day after they were married on July 4, 1973. They had known each other only nine months before he was picked up in the first wave of arrests of Jewish dissidents who tried to go to Israel. He was released from prison for their wedding and then accompanied her to the airport when she was told she was being given her last chance to leave. She thought he would follow within six months. It has been over two years since she has spoken with him by telephone.
She says: "I know what happened is absurd. Five years I wait. It's impossible for me to live without him. I can't have a normal life. For me, it's like I fight for life. I can't be half of our family. We must be together. We're wife and husband. We must build together. I want to be a mother, to have children."
Avital Scharansky has written perhaps 100 letters to her husband in prison, but she says that he has received only a couple of postcards that she wrote in August. He has had almost no communication with his family, and knows little of what she has done on his behalf.
"Maybe the KGB say to him, they do sometimes, your wife leave you. But I think my husband knows I'm staying with him," she says.
She touches her heart. "We have some contact. In this world, it's a very special situation. It's a tragedy. We can't see each other. I can send letters but he can't receive. I'm strong. I'm doing what I do because it's impossible in this world to stay like this. I can't separate my life for his."
Avital says that three days after she met Scharansky, they knew they wanted to marry. "If you met Anatoly, you would know," she says. "He's just a very special person. He's not like a typical Russian. He just shines through. He was free. He's very smart and free. He's never afraid."
Avital is traveling with her brother, Michael Stieglitz, an old friend of Scharansky's. Stieglitz says that he has tried to understand what so moved world opinion on Scharansky's behalf, what touched people from Scandinavia to Lebanon, from Sweden to Panama. "I came to a simple thing. An innocent man is in prison.Period. That was it. But the personality of Anatoly had something to do with it. He has more friends in the West.... He helped personally several hundred families [to leave the Soviet Union]. He gave of himself to them," Stieglitz says.
Avital Scharansky sits next to her brother on the sofa, smiling at the stories of her husband, nodding at the memories. Then she smiles and faint color creeps into her cheeks as he begins to tell about the letters Avital and Anatoly wrote to each other after she left. Parts of the letters will be included in the book she is writing about the case, and Stieglitz is translating them. The love in those letters, he says, "... is the same" as when they were first married.
"I have a jealousy toward their experience," says Stieglitz. "It doesn't happen often in these times."
A column by Judy Mann which appeared on Sept. 1, 1978, discussed Irene Stambler and her business, but failed to indicate that Stambler regularly receives financial support from her former husband, attorney Arthur Stambler. Nor did it specify any details of their financial settlement. The facts are that among the terms of their separation agreement, Arthur Stambler pays Irene Stambler annually a sum of money for her own alimony (no child care being involved) of approximately $20,000 a year; has irrevocably assigned to her two life insurance policies with a minimum face value of $35,000 and maximum coverage of about $100,000; and he has also agreed that Irene Stambler could retain exclusive use of the couple's marital house for eight years, although Maryland law could otherwise compel its sale immediately following a divorce. Nor does the settlement provide for any reduction in alimony payments as a result of Irene Stambler's profitable business reviewed in the column. The Post regrets these facts were not obtained from Arthur Stambler prior to printing and any possible interpretation of the column that Arthur Stambler failed to provide financially for Irene Stambler.