I was included in the delegation which went together with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė to Israel. As the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community I participated in everything and I can say the visit was historic. Despite the tension in the air because of the terrorist attacks by Palestinians, the leaders of Israel found the time to meet with the Lithuanian president on her working visit and to discuss the most urgent issues in regional security and bilateral cooperation. The Lithuanian president also discussed measures for strengthening Israeli and Lithuanian ties with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, who emphasized his Litvak roots. The two leaders also spoke about the situation of the Jewish community and the commemoration of Holocaust victims in Lithuania. The Lithuanian president said Jews had contributed very much to the establishment of the Lithuanian state and that the two countries could combine forces in creating their future and prosperity. I remember moving moments when Litvaks in Israel met the president with tears in their eyes and how they spoke about the most beautiful times of their lives in Lithuania. These were times of youth, of the struggle for Jewish identity and for freedom. For them, Lithuania is the land of their forefathers from the time of Vytautas the Great, the land they call home and which they often recall even now.
Before her meeting with the president of Israel, the Lithuanian head of state visited the Yad Vashem museum to commemorate Holocaust victims and planted an olive tree in the Garden of the Righteous among Nations there. In her meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Lithuanian president said could help Lithuania directly with security. “Israel is prepared to help Lithuania directly in the sphere of security: by training our military personnel, in the area of cyber-security and can even organize courses for our personal protection.”
In her meeting with the World Jewish Congress and Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Dalia Grybauskaitė said: “The Lithuanian people recognize their own history. Our Jewish heritage is a part of Lithuania’s heritage. Our support for Israel comes automatically because we understand what is happening in the Near East and we coordinate our positions with the United States of America.” Robert Singer, CEO and executive vice-president of the World Jewish Congress also praised the solid relationship between Israel and Lithuania, and added: “Lithuania’s support is very much appreciated.” Singer raised the issue of the annual neo-Nazi marches and rallies in Vilnius and Kaunas. He said the Jewish world was very concerned by this, especially considering the tragic history of the Jews in Lithuania. Recently Lithuania has made efforts to maintain good relations with the World Jewish Congress in Israel. A month ago Lithuanian prime minister Algirdas Butkevičius told the World Jewish Congress and ICFR that all Jewish cemeteries and graves in Lithuania would be “commemorated and marked” by 2017.
The World Jewish Congress has established the International Yiddish Center in Vilnius to foster interest in the cultural treasures created in the Yiddish language and to teach Yiddish as well, ensuring the continuity of scholarship. Conferences organized by the Rothschild Foundation and the LJC and held just recently in Vilnius discussed issues for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Europe. The situation in Lithuania is not the worst and is similar to that in other Eastern European countries. The Lithuanian Government is cooperating in finding a solution to the problem of the Jewish cemeteries and grave sites, and this is much more than merely a one-off gesture by the Government, but something which is especially important to us: their attitude and position.
It would be a good thing if the World Lithuanian Economic Forum held in Israel, whose patron was president Dalia Grybauskaitė, yielded real fruit in bilateral business cooperation. “Lithuanian competitiveness continues to grow and the economy is one of the fastest-growing in the entire EU. So there is no better time than now to make use of the advantages provided by Lithuanian and Israeli relations and to find unique ways to work together in the fields of business, science, education, information technology and innovation,” president Dalia Grybauskaitė said at the forum.
Addressing Jews with roots in Lithuania and their offspring, the Lithuanian president emphasized the major contribution Litvaks have made in establishing Lithuania’s ties with the world and invited them to celebrate that which unites the Lithuanian and Jewish peoples. According to law, monies from the Goodwill Fund are to be allocated to the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and the spirit of the law is that this money is for Jews living in Lithuania. It encourages Litvaks to work together, because there is the possibility to carry out joint projects. I speak about this as an absolute positive thing. The LJC invites everyone to work together. The president’s visit to Israel is a big event for Lithuanian Jews since Lithuanian Jews in common with Jews throughout the world call Israel their historical homeland. They will always support Israel. Lithuania is especially friendly towards Israel, and during her trip to the country president Dalia Grybauskaitė offered Lithuania’s help in mediating between Israel and Palestine at a time when our friends and relatives in Israel are in danger. This is an incredibly important step from the point of view of Jews, and especially among those who have migrated from Lithuania. It is important to these people that the president of the country has visited them, and that the Lithuanian embassy pays attention to them and considers them one of their own rather than expatriates.