פבר 06 2017
Yesterday I had the honor of receiving the Knight Commander's Cross (Badge and Star) of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. This is the speech i carried on the special event:
I accept the Knight Commander's Cross, being presented by Germany's ambassador to Israel on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic, with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation. On the other hand, this gesture is accompanied by reservations and pain.
Like many in attendance today—indeed, like many Israeli citizens—I carry with me personal, family, and national memories. These will stay an inseparable part of me forever. Although the memories fade slightly from one generation to the next, they remain as powerful as ever.
When my sister was born in the midst of the Second World War, my mother named her Ayala ("fawn" in Hebrew) for her own father, Zvi (which means "deer"). He had been deported from the Warsaw Ghetto with his wife, Rosa, their daughter, Nechama, and their son-in law, Sigmund, to Auschwitz, where they perished. When I was born three years later, I was named after Nechama.
My mother constantly talked about her family. It was as if she was trying to hand us her own memories and feelings. She refused to travel to Poland and even to seek any reparations for her family. Only when she turned 80 did she return to her hometown of Włocławek in northern Poland. We found neighborhood, the city square, her street, her house, even her room, but no Jewish life.. After visiting all her favorite city sites—the park, the Wisła River, and many other place that still brought back memories. Than finally she stopped, called us and said, "I have nothing left to do here. This is all over, but I have my new life, my new family, my new homeland. Let's go back."
Some years later, I took a similar trip my wife, Rivka, to her parents' small hometown of Złoczew. This trip, too, was a search for what can obviously no longer be found. These journeys for our roots are somewhat strange. We know that there is no longer anything there, but we still insist on looking for something—a sign, a street name, an abandoned cemetery.
And yes, during another visit to the cemetery in my mother's hometown, I found a large gravestone with the name "Isaac Żychlinsky"—my mother's maiden name. Even then, there was no one who could enlighten me as to the identity of this Isaac Żychlinsky. Perhaps he was her grandfather, my own great-grandfather? No idea.
Maybe, ours is a search for an answer to the ever-present questions, "How did it happen? Why did it happen?"
The Jewish people are occupied with the past, even obsessed with it, because that is where our roots lie. Every Shabbat, we read another section of the Torah, another chapter in the story of the Jewish people and nation. Without the past, our lives have no beginning.
Today, for the third time in Jewish history, we enjoy sovereignty and independence. We have the good fortune to be in first generation of the rebirth, the generation that was born and grew up alongside the new Hebrew State. The Diaspora became distant. For many years, we hated it because we thought everything began here, with us. Nonsense.
We are proud of having an independent, sovereign country with a Jewish majority that can ensure relative security for its citizens and realize the hopes of our national movement, Zionism. The responsibility for running this state and ensuring the future has been passed to us. This is a great responsibility. Less exciting, perhaps, than our parents' fight for independence and laying the foundations for a state, but no less significant and no less of a responsibility.
This was the reason I entered politics eight years ago after successful careers in the media, the IDF, the Jewish world, and academia. The Labor Party and the Zionist Camp best represent the education I received at home, in a youth movement, during the military service. The Labor Party is committed to combining a strong and uncompromising stance on security with sensitivity on social matters and social responsibility.
The Knesset is the place with the greatest influence on the future of the State and of the generations to come. During the past nine years, we have had five grandchildren; I hope there will be more.
In the Knesset, I joined the Israel–Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group, which I have chaired during the 19th and 20th Knessets. That decision required a conversation with my mother who asked for an explanation. And I did, focusing mainly on our commitment to the present Israeli generation as well as to the generations of the future. She was silent, and I will never know whether this was a sign of protest or agreement.
During the past several years, I have come to appreciate the new Germany—democratic, stable, a rising economic and diplomatic power. I met many Germans in politics, academia, and even in the military and was impressed by their dedication to a different and changed Germany.
Israel and Germany, the Knesset and the Bundestag, share common values: democracy, human rights, the rule of law, a commitment to justice, and a sense of responsibility that transcends geographic boundaries. One of the greatest acts of humanity that Germany recently undertook was to admit over one million refugees from Syria and other countries who were knocking on Europe's gates. This at a time when other counties are closing their borders to refugees.
Today, Germany is our faithful friend, second only to the United States. German diplomats and representatives stands by Israel in every international arena. One of the strongest links between our countries is the German–Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group. My colleagues, thank you for your personal friendship and commitment to the State of Israel.
Recently, I saw a documentary from fifty years ago about Ben-Gurion. He reminds us all that we are the chosen people. Our responsibility as Jews is tikkun olam, repairing the world. This mission bids us to aid others, support the weak, and be a light unto the nations. Unfortunately, our state does not realize this vision. We aren't there yet. But we can't give up. Our most important task is to live in peace with our neighbors. We have made some progress, but a major challenge still awaits us—reaching peace with the Palestinians. At the same time, we must maintain the foundational values of the Jewish people and the State of Israel: Jewish, Zionist, secure, and moral.
Every so often, I visit Berlin and, of course, the Bundestag. A gorgeous building that carries the weight of decades of German history. I generally gaze up to the heavens—which are sometimes blue and sometimes grey—and have a talk with my aunt Nechama, or Chomka as she was known. "You see," I tell her, "Eva's son, your nephew, is now a Member of the Knesset of Israel. He has come to the Bundestag to talk with his German colleagues as an equal. You see, Chomka, despite it all, you—we—won in the end."
Thanks very much to all of you. I am so grateful. Thank you.