Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Yuli Edelstein visited Moscow last week, where he spoke at the Russian Parliament and later met with the heads of the country’s Jewish communities and participated in FJC’s YAHAD youth forum.
Mr. Edelstein was invited to speak at the Russian parliament (Duma) by his Russian counterpart, Valentina Matvienko, who is a long-time friend of FJC’s Petersburg and Moscow Jewish communities. Upon completing the official part of his visit, Mr. Edelstein joined Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, FJC Russia President Alexander Boroda and other community leaders at a Jewish youth forum on Thursday.
The forum, organized by YAHAD youth programs platform, brought together hundreds of young Jewish adults aged 18-30 from all over the country. Mr. Edelstein met with the participants and spoke to them about his experiences. “It is symbolic that my address to the Russian Duma earlier was in Hebrew, which is precisely the reason I was sent to prison in the Soviet Union. Jail sentences were handed down for learning Hebrew in the Soviet Union only a quarter of a century ago,” he said.
In an emotional and intimate discussion with the youth, Mr. Edelstein shared his personal journey to Jewish tradition. Born in Chernovtsy, Ukraine under the Soviet rule in an assimilated family, young Yuli covertly learned Hebrew and became a Zionist activist. He spent three years in Gulag labor camps on fabricated charges for his desire to immigrate to Israel and was finally released in 1987. Mr. Edelstein especially stressed the extent to which Jews in the Soviet Union were willing to sacrifice everything in order to keep their heritage alive.
Also speaking at the forum, Cheif Rabbi Berel Lazar said that Russian Jews are proud that their former compatriot was able to assume such an important role in the Israeli government. “This is an example of how a person’s dedication to their Jewish heritage helps them ‘move mountains’,” he said.