We have duty to free captives
By Laura Seymour

We continue our exploration of tikkun olam. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
Herut is the mitzvah of seeking freedom, which began with the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Since then, we have been told to remember and tell the story.
Judaism understands that freedom does not mean you can do whatever you want — it means the chance to live and work for a better world. A special mitzvah that goes along with Herut is Pidyon Sh’vuyim (freeing of captives). It is our responsibility to help Jews who are held captive, whether from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia or other places of oppression.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world: Natan Sharansky
Anatoly Sharansky was born in the Soviet Union, where Jews could not practice Judaism or leave Russia. Sharansky became active in the movement to gain freedom for Jews and for all those suffering under the Communist regime.
Because of to his work, he was denied an exit visa, harassed by the KGB and imprisoned. He became the best-known Jewish dissident.
Sharansky’s wife, who changed her name to Avital when she arrived in Israel, worked for his release. In November 1985, President Ronald Reagan persuaded Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to let Sharansky go to Israel.
When he arrived in Israel, he kissed the Western Wall and said, “Baruch matir asurim. Blessed is the One who liberates the imprisoned.” He changed his name to Natan — a gift from God.
In our ancestor’s footsteps: Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a Jewish army officer in France who was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans in 1894.
Despite all kinds of errors in his trial, he was found guilty and sent to Devil’s Island Prison. Finally, in 1904, a new court re-examined the case and declared that the evidence was unsubstantiated and Dreyfus was innocent.
Theodor Herzl was a journalist covering the case. He was so upset about the anti-Semitism that caused this that the “Dreyfus Affair” prompted Herzl, the Father of Zionism, to begin his quest for a Jewish state.
The information for this summer’s weekly themes comes from “Jewish Heroes Jewish Values — Living Mitzvot in Today’s World” by Barry L. Schwartz, published by Behrman House, Inc., 1996.
Family talk time

  • We all know the story of the Israelites in Egypt who were slaves until Moses came along. The people came to Mount Sinai and received the Torah — a book filled with rules. Did that mean we were no longer free? How can you be free if you have to follow rules?
  • Find out about one of your friends who is from Russia. Why did their family come to Dallas? What does freedom mean to them?
  • The mitzvah called Pidyon Sh’vuyim (freeing of captives) is about a responsibility we have to help others gain their freedom. What are some ways we can do this mitzvah today?

Laura Seymour is director of youth and camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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