Sent to gulag for teaching Hebrew, refusenik speaks to Russian parliament

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein becomes the first Israeli to do so - and spoke in Hebrew and Russian - 33 years after his release from a Siberian gulag


Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Knesset and a former Russian refusenik, has become the first Israeli to address the Russian parliament.

Mr Edelstein, who was released from a gulag in Siberia for teaching Hebrew 33 years ago, gave his address in both Hebrew and Russian

Wearing a kippah, he told the parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council: "Even in my finest dreams, I never believed I'd reach this moment. For me, this brings double closure: For me, Yuli Edelstein, and for the entire Jewish nation, which I stand here as its representative.”

Describing the injustice of what he suffered under the Soviet regime, he added: "I was imprisoned because I was teaching the language which spread to the world the ideas of rejecting tyranny, upholding the rule of justice, love of mankind and the hopes of freedom; the language in which the prophets of Israel foretold the day on which 'Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; nor will they learn war anymore’.”

According to a report on Ynet, Mr Edelstein continued: “I was imprisoned because I worked to disseminate the language in which Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion, was told: 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you’."

The politicians heard how he was barred from making aliyah for nine years – three of which were spent in the gulag. But he finally made the historic move to Israel 30 years ago.

He continued:  "This is the state in which the miracle of my people's revival, from the ashes of exile and the Holocaust, happened; where my people made the desert bloom, defended themselves, and lived in prosperous national liberty; where Hebrew, the holy language, was revived, after being dormant for 2,000 years.”

He spoke of historic relations between the two countries and praised the growing rapprochement, while also addressing the scourge of global terrorism. 

"Terrorism has taken the place of Nazism as the ultimate evil of the 21st century, and the spirit of 1945 must be revived to fight it,” he said.

 "Today, I stand before you as the Speaker of Israel's Knesset, and, in the same language which I was imprisoned for teaching, I bless you with the ancient Jewish blessing: 'Shalom Aleichem'!"

Mr Edelstein had been invited by chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, who visited the Knesset last year. At that time, the two countries signed a cooperation agreement.

While in the city, he took the opportunity to revisit some of his old haunts, including the Moscow Choral Synagogue, a former meeting point for Zionist activists. His packed schedule included stops at the courthouse where his trial took place, the prison where he was jailed and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

During his vist to the court, Mr Edelstein had a pleasant surprise. He tweeted: "After 33 years I was surprised to have my birth certificate returned to me by the manager of the courthouse."


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