(photo credit: KKL)
Emphasizing the strong historical bonds between Lithuania, Israel and the Jewish people, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Mr. Andrius Kubilius, said that his first visit to Israel was a “very emotional moment” as he prepared to plant a tree in KKL-JNF's Grove of Nations on December 19, the first full day of his state visit to Israel.
“Beginning our visit at such a place is really very touching. The first time you come to the Holy Land, you feel some very strong feelings,” said Prime Minister Kubilius. He was accompanied at the tree planting ceremony by his wife Rasa, Mr. Darius Degutis, the ambassador of Lithuania in Israel, and Mr. Chen Ivri Apter, the Israeli ambassador to Lithuania and Latvia.
The prime minister added that he identified with the KKL-JNF tradition, according to which planting a tree symbolizes the common bond between Israel and the nations of the world. “For us as Lithuanians from Vilna, this is especially important, because I think there is a special bond between our nation, Israel, and the people of Israel,” he said
He noted that Lithuanians are very proud of the learned Jewish “Litvaks” from Vilna, whose great knowledge and erudition gave the city its nickname, “the Jerusalem of the North.” Unfortunately, he added, the great tragedy of the Holocaust left Vilna bereft of its vibrant Jewish community. “The bond between us, however, is very strong, which is why we are very happy to be here in Israel,” he said.
Mr. Zeev Kedem, director of KKL-JNF fundraising division and Mr. Andy Michelson, KKL-JNF's Head of Protocol, greeted the prime minister on his arrival to the grove. Kedem invited the prime minister to unveil the special plaque commemorating the planting of his olive tree sapling, the 46th tree to be planted at the Grove of Nations in the Jerusalem Forest, where visiting heads of state are invited to plant trees.
“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today, to this very
special place. Even the weather is smiling on us this morning,” said
Michelson. “Planting trees is very important to us, because it is a
symbol of life. Although you will be going back to Lithuania in a few
days, you will have left something here in Israel, a little tree that is
living and growing. We hope that whenever you come back, you will come
here and visit this site.”
In his remarks to the prime minister, Kedem recounted a legend that when God created the world, He first decided to make a model, to try out different ideas. He made a shoreline, different types of mountains, one lake with salt water and another with sweet water, and a river connecting the two. God looked at the model and liked what He saw, so He decided to create the world using the model. “The small model is the Land of Israel, the land people often call the holy land,” said Kedem.
He noted that Israel is the cradle for both Judaism and Christianity, where the Bible comes alive for those visiting it: “You can take the Bible and go to the sites it mentions. You can take the New Testament and follow in Jesus' footsteps, from Nazareth to Bethlehem and from Bethlehem back to Nazareth.
"Over the last 2,000 years, however, the land was neglected, so much that in his
famous novel about his trip to the Holy Land 150 years ago, the American writer Mark Twain describes it as deserted and ugly. But if you travel around Israel today, you will see a beautiful country, uniquely positioned as a bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa. If you study Israel's plants and birds, you will discover that there are so many different species in such a small country.”
KKL-JNF has planted some 240 million trees in Israel, Kedem noted, and is a leader in recycling water in Israel, where about 70 percent of the water is recycled. Israel is also the realization of the dream of the Jewish people to return to their homeland after 2000 years of exile."
Michelson recited the Planters Prayer in English, and then a jovial and friendly Prime Minister Kubilius walked on the blue carpet that was laid atop of the soil still moist from the winter’s first rainstorm to the tree planting site. Together with his wife Rasa, the prime minister planted and watered the olive tree sapling. He jokingly remarked that if the rains did not continue, he would send people from his embassy to water the trees.
After completing the planting of the sapling and receiving a special honorary certificate commemorating the occasion, Prime Minister Kubilius recalled a traditional Lithuanian proverb: “Every man should have a son, to plant a tree and build a house,” he said. “Now I have done my part.”
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