Czech Republic Prime Minister Plants Olive Tree in the Grove of Nations

July 2009

"It is very symbolic for me to be standing here, with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial - which reminds us of a terrible past - on the hill above us, and to be planting an olive tree, symbol of a better future." The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Jan Fischer, was speaking at KKL-JNF’s Grove of Nations tree-planting site in Jerusalem, where he planted an olive tree. Upon arrival at the site, which is located on Mount Herzl, just below Yad Vashem, Prime Minister Fischer unveiled a plaque marking the special occasion.

The brief but moving ceremony was presided over by Andy Michelson, KKL-JNF Director of Protocol and VIP Ceremonies, in the presence of KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Ygal Yasinov, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Israel Michael Zantovsky, Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic Yaakov Levy, Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan and Judr. Michal Pacovsky, president of KKL-JNF Czech Republic.
Prime Minister Fisher at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Prime Minister Fisher at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
"We must do our best to bring more visitors to Yad Vashem so that the horror of the Holcaust will never be forgotten and rationalized away by those who speak in the name of moral relativism," Prime Minister Fischer continued. "I am hearing peculiar voices and reading peculiar articles about the Holocaust. I would recommend that the authors of these articles and voices go up this mountain to Yad Vashem to see and to listen to the terrible testimonies.

"I am very pleased to be planting a tree here. Trees, like human beings, may have long lives and are well-rooted in the soil. Planting a tree is a positive message for future generations, and I hope and pray that they will never be exposed to the evil and cruelty witnessed by the generation of our parents. I would like to thank KKL-JNF for giving me this opportunity."

KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Ygal Yasinov welcomed the Czech prime minister on behalf of KKL-JNF. "Today's ceremony is somewhat different from other ceremonies, and I know why. It is an opportunity for us to thank the Czech people for their help and friendship to the Jewish people and the state of Israel since the time the State was founded. I have a very personal connection to the Czech Republic. In 1968, when Soviet troops entered Prague to crush the Czechoslovakian uprising, my grandfather, who was living in the Ukraine at the time, demonstrated against the Soviet brutality with about thirty other refuseniks. Needless to say, they were all arrested immediately and my entire family was put under house arrest. As a result, I have the honor of saying that I was arrested when I was two years old thanks to my grandfather and the brave Czech people. Mr. Prime Minister, by planting a tree in the Nations Grove, there will always be a small part of you here in the holy city of Jerusalem."

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Andy Michelson invited the Czech prime minister to read the "Planter's Prayer" in Hebrew, after which the prayer was read in Czech by KKL-JNF Czech Republic president Michal Pacovsky. Prime Minister Fischer planted his tree close to the tree planted by the President of the Czech Republic; Mr. Vaclav Klaus in September 2005. He was then presented with a special album by Mr. Yasinov.

After the ceremony, Michal Pacovsky explained to us that the history of KKL-JNF in the Czech Republic is as old as KKL-JNF itself! "We all remember our grandparents going around, asking for donations for KKL-JNF with the Blue Box. Unfortunately, our ability to support Israel and KKL-JNF came to a halt in 1948 owing to the Communist revolution. We had a dream to plant a Czech forest grove in Israel, and in 1990, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, we were able to realize this dream in Yatir Forest. Our supporters at home will be happy to know that Prime Minister Fischer expressed his appreciation for KKL-JNF by planting a tree in Jerusalem. Mr. Fischer is an old friend of Israel and in fact, his son, Jan Fischer Jr., is on the board of KKL-JNF Czech Republic."

KKL-JNF Grove of Nations is home to many trees that were planted by heads of state from all over the world. It is an integral part of the "Olive Tree Route” project in Israel, which is part of UNESCO and the Council of Europe’s initiative to establish an Olive Tree Route around the entire Mediterranean basin. This Friday, Yitzhak Eldan, Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol, will be presented an award by the Israel Public Relations Association for his part in promoting and initiating the Olive Tree Route in Israel.