Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gave a first-of-its-kind speech on Wednesday at the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, 33 years after his release from Soviet prison.
"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," Edelstein said.
"Thirty-three years ago I was imprisoned here in Moscow by the authorities of the Soviet Union for teaching the Hebrew language," he said.
"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.' 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.'"
Edelstein told the Russian parliamentarians that "only after nine years of being barred from making aliyah, three of which were spent doing hard labor in a Gulag, could I too follow the footsteps of Abraham. Exactly 30 years ago I made aliyah to the Land of Israel, where the Jewish state was born anew.
"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 continued
"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'!" meaning 'Peace be upon you.'
Normally, addressing the Federation Council is an honor only reserved for leaders of foreign nations. Edelstein, who spoke both in Hebrew and in Russia, was invited by Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko for a reciprocal visit after she visited the Knesset last year. During Matviyenko's visit, the Knesset and the Federation Council signed a cooperation agreement.
Edelstein took advantage of his visit to Russia to take a personal tour of meaningful stops in his life, including the Moscow Choral Synagogue, where Edelstein was active as a Refusenik, the site of his arrest, the courthouse where his trial was held, and the Moscow prison where he was jailed, among others.