On Monday, February 17, hundreds of Holocaust survivors joined KKL-JNF and Israeli, Lithuanian and German government representatives in dedicating a new forest commemorating Lithuanian Jewry.
Jewish life had flourished in Lithuania since the late fifteenth century. On the eve of World War II, Lithuania was home to 168,000 Jews. Almost 85% of Lithuanian Jewry - 141,000 Jews - were decimated in the Holocaust.
Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) is planting the new forest in the Negev desert in Israel’s south. The Forest for Lithuanian Jewry forms part of a series of ecological and forest rehabilitation projects the organization is implementing in this semi-arid region. The project was made possible thanks to a significant donation from businessman and philanthropist Roman Abramovich, who himself is of Lithuanian-Jewish descent.
The ceremony was held as part of Tu Bishvat celebrations in Israel, during which the Negev is in peak flowering season. Two-hundred and fifty Holocaust survivors, together with their close relatives, travelled from all over Israel to participate in the event.
Also in attendance were the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Israel H.E. Lina Antanavičienė, the Consul-General of Germany, officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the heads of leading NGOs assisting Holocaust survivors in Israel. All guests were invited to plant a tree with their own hands in the newly inaugurated forest.
In his remarks at the ceremony, KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar said, “Especially in these days of growing concern over global warming, Mr. Abramovich’s generous support is assisting KKL-JNF in doing its important work – taking care of our trees, combating desertification, and helping the Negev and the Israeli desert revive and thrive. We are proud to be leading the way in afforestation and in setting a global example of ecological progress in water and agriculture.”
Alongside the commemorative event, a virtual commemorative platform was launched under the title "Plant a Tree, Seed a Memory.” The website is an online tribute to the Lithuanian Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The website encourages people anywhere in the world to name a virtual tree in memory of a lost Jew of Lithuania, with the help of an expanding, searchable database of names entitled the ‘Memorial Wall’.
The new website will also call on people from around the world to donate to plant a real tree in Israel through KKL-JNF.