Netanyahu in Vilnius

August 27, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara have visited the Choral Synagogue and the National Library of Lithuania in Vilnius.

In the Choral Synagogue
Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius is the only synagogue in the city that survived World War II, where the Netanyahus met with Lithuanian Jewish community representatives and leaders including Chairperson Faina Kukliansky. Also in attendance were Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “It’s very moving for my wife Sara and me to be here today with you in the Choral Synagogue with Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas. A great friend. I want to thank you Linas for standing up for Israel and the truth in European forums, for telling your colleagues the service that Israel performs in saving so many European lives by our resourceful and brave intelligence people. We have saved so many European lives in so many countries. Israel in many ways is the defender of Europe and it’s time that Europe understood this.

Yesterday my wife Sara and I walked through the streets of the Jewish ghetto of Vilna. We saw the Jewish homes. Sara said she could see the faces of the little Jewish children from 75 years ago. We saw the Jewish theatre. We could hear the music of the violins. We saw the ruins of some of the 100 Jewish synagogues. We saw the barricade where Yechiel Scheinbaum and his brave colleagues fought to the deaths the Nazi oppressors. We saw Jewish resistance in the heart of the ghetto.  And we saw the courtyards where Jews were assembled before being crated off to Ponar where they were shot by Lithuanian collaborators and the Nazis and then thrown into the death pits. We saw all this.

I saw their pictures on the walls of the ghetto. I heard their stories. I wanted to tell them: We are here. We are back. We are alive. Am Yisrael Chai.

Yesterday we saw the glory of Jewish Vilna that was lost and in this visit we see an expression of what has been retrieved – the rise of the reborn Jewish state of Israel. What a distance we have travelled in 75 years from the death pits of Ponar to a rising power in the world. What a distance we have travelled.

My family has deep Lithuanian roots. I’m a Litvak from both sides. Well, with also some Spanish Jewish genes but we’ll get into that some other time. I come to Vilna, I return to Vilna as the head of a proud, strong, advanced Jewish state. For the Jewish people, what has changed in these 75 years? Not the attempts to destroy us. They’re still [talk-over] to destroy us. Iran says so openly. Hamas says so openly and others. What has changed is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. We are no longer defenseless. We are no longer helpless. We are a power that controls our own destiny with the State of Israel and the army of Israel.

This is a magnificent change of history. This is what the Jewish state means – the ability of Jews to defend themselves.

With this newfound capacity of self-defence, we’ve built an extraordinary state in such a short time. We have science, we have technology, we have culture, we have rabbinical studies, we have faith and we have progress, we have an example – much maligned in the world but nevertheless shining as a beacon of what a free people can do once they are given the opportunity to control their destiny.

I thank the Government of Lithuania too for its strong stance against antisemitism and for standing up to the truth, a constant effort, constantly nurtured. We support you and encourage you to do more and more of this.

We have many friends in the world today, more than people understand, including in the Arab world but none greater than the United States of America. And on this occasion I wish to extend my condolences to the family of Senator John McCain, a great American patriot, a great friend of Israel. I have known John McCain for many many years, I visited him in the US Congress many times and he visited me in Jerusalem many many times, including in recent years. Israel never had a greater champion and a greater defender. The State of Israel salutes Senator John McCain.

Yet with all this friendship and all this support, when I stand here today in the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, in Vilna and after the wrenching visit on Friday to the death pits in Ponar I know there are two lessons of the Holocaust we shall never and must never forget. The first is: Nip bad things in the bud. Stop bad things when they are small. Fight barbarism and terrorism and radicalism when they’re small. Don’t let them become large. The second is: Be able to defend yourselves, Jews, be able to defend yourselves by yourselves. This is the meaning of the Jewish state. This is what we have done and this is what we will always do.

At the library
Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara also visited the Jewish Books Division of the National Library of Lithuania where the curator of the division, Dr. Lara Lempertiene, told them about its books and writings.

The Netanyahus were shown antique books from libraries throughout Lithuania before the Holocaust, including a commentary on the Book of Psalms from 1512 and writings by the heads of Jewish academies (yeshivot) in Lithuania, children’s books and textbooks in Yiddish from the Lithuanian education system from before World War II and the writings of Zeev Jabotinsky, Chaim Nachman Bialik and Saul Tchernichovsky among others.

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “There is a treasure here from ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania’ beginning with books from the Gaon of Vilna and commentaries on the Book of Psalms through the letters of Bialik.

I am very moved to see here a postcard from Tchernichovsky. My father edited Tchernichovsky and Tchernichovsky recommended my father to Alexander Aaronsohn. Bialik was in the same academy (yeshiva), with my grandfather, in Volozhyn.

There is an immense treasure here. Here you see how the Jews lived. There are Hebrew textbooks from 1937, a Shachar notebook; what excellent Hebrew.

What a rich world this was; what has been lost!”

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