Bravery of a Japanese Diplomat on Exhibit in Cape Town

“Sugihara didn’t only save my grandfather, he also saved me. Because if not for Sugihara I may very well not be standing here today.” These were the words of Rebbetzen Sarah Feldman of the Gardens Synagogue in Cape Town, speaking on Monday at the opening of the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai exhibition at the South African Jewish Museum. Her grandfather, Rabbi Shimon Goldman, hailed from the city of Shedlitz in Poland.

by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Feb 02, 2017

When Hitler invaded Poland, signalling the start of the Second World War, Rabbi Goldman, then a teenager, escaped to Lithuania and was fortunate to have been issued a visa by the Japanese consul there, Chiune Sugihara, acting contrary to his government’s express instructions.

“Sugihara was faced with a huge moral dilemma,” Rebbetzen Feldman related.

“His humanity won. Together with his brave wife Yukiko, this righteous couple worked non-stop issuing 300 visas a day – the amount that would usually take a month to issue.” In so doing, the couple saved 6,000 Jewish lives.

Full story here.

Australian PM Turnbull Gives Warm Welcome to Israeli PM Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared inseparable during Netanyahu’s visit. They made several joint appearances, with Turnbull dedicating two full days to his counterpart.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

SYDNEY – Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull used prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to his country this week not only to showcase the extremely close ties between Australia and Israel, but also to salute the contributions of Jews to Australia.

At an extraordinary event at the Moriah College Jewish day school on Thursday morning, Turnbull told the hundreds of high school students jammed into an auditorium that “we could not imagine our modern Australia without the extraordinary contributions of Jewish Australians like yourselves, your parents and your grandparents. And I thank you for that contribution.”

Just minutes earlier, the Australian prime minister urged primary school students, who sat with incredible discipline for an hour on the floor of a gym waiting for Netanyahu and Turnbull to arrive, to be anything they wanted.

“Believe in yourselves, hold to your Jewish ideals,” he said.

Full coverage here.

About Jews and a Dream

[Note: The proposal Mr. Ivaškevičius makes in the following opinion piece in no way reflects the position of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. In fact, on several points it contradicts the positions of the LJC stated publicly in the past. Also, at least three Litvak museums, much like the one he proposes, are currently in the planning stage, two in Vilnius, and one scheduled to open in the shtetl of Šeduva in late 2017 or early 2018. The following translation is presented to our readers merely for the sake of information and the interest of our readers.]

by Marius Ivaškevičius

Yes, again, about Jews. Although, not really, this is perhaps more about us. About Vilnius, really, of which they were a part, and now we are. And this time not about repentance, guilt or about what we’ve lost, on the contrary, about what we can still get back. I want to propose a plan for how our dead Jews could still serve us.

About Vilnius

I love this city and I always tell my foreign friends it is a hidden pearl. When you need peace, it is peaceful. When you want noise and excitement, it has something to offer. The beauty here is obvious, brick-and-mortar and alive, the old architecture, the beautiful men and women, in a word, something to look at. For a long time my stories hit a polite wall of promises: “yes, of course, we will have to go there someday.” Someday, never. But suddenly it began to work. As if my foreign friends had made an agreement among themselves, they began to flood into Vilnius, asking what they should see first in this city.

So I got the opportunity to look at Vilnius not through the eyes of an insider living here, but through the eyes of someone who had just arrived. And I realized Vilnius doesn’t have anything to offer them. The Old Town, sure, it’s charming. But that charm wears off after a half day. You can spend the evening and night on the weekends in the bars. Then what? Then they want museums, but here these, it turns out, are each more boring than the last. Old armor, weapons and glazed tiles they have already seen, the picture galleries are only of local significance, there are no masterpieces and it takes a real fanatic, a tourist dedicated to art, to “consume” what is on offer.

The only thing which is truly not disappointing is the theater. The theaters of Vilnius are world-class and many drama enthusiasts come just for this, to see Nekrošius, Tuminas and Koršunovas in their hometown. Perhaps sometimes they murmur after the show about a lack of subtitles or translation, but essentially they’re satisfied. The plays fill their evenings, and during the day, seeking new experiences, they visit the Museum of Lithuanian Theater and Cinema, certain that it will be of the same high caliber as our theater which it represents. But they find that same museum boredom instead. A stoppage of time and museum women knitting.

Lesson by Rebbetzin Esther Isaacson


Dear women and girls,

You are invited to a lesson by Rebbetzin Esther Isaacson called

The Laws of Washing Hands

at 6:30 P.M. on February 22 on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius.

Serbian President Awards Efraim Zuroff Gold Medal


Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolić presented Serbia’s Gold Medal for Merit to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter and director for Eastern European affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on February 16 as part of celebrations of Sretenje, Serbia’s day of statehood. The award was presented for “exceptional achievements” by Dr. Zuroff and noted his “selfless dedication to defending the truth about the suffering of Jews, and also Serbs, Roma and other nationalities, during World War II.”

Zuroff was the first to be called to receive the award from the president’s hand and was one of only a few foreigners to be honored with the distinction. He is only one of two Israelis ever to have received the medal, along with Serbian-born Israeli justice minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. Efraim Zuroff has deep Litvak roots and has worked on Holocaust justice and education in Lithuania for many decades now.

Was Hebrew Ever a Dead Language?

Frequent VYI summer course student Sonya Yampolskaya at her doctoral defense in Russia

Frequent student at the Yiddish summer courses at Vilnius University Sonya Yampolskaya has successfully defended her doctoral dissertation casting serious doubt on the alleged morbidity and revival of the Hebrew language.

If Hebrew were a “dead language” before its revival as the official language of Israel, as is commonly accepted, then why was it being used by Russian Jews who were even opening new Hebrew newspapers right into the 20th century?

The first chapter of Yampolskaya’s dissertation at St. Petersburg State University details both the genesis of the myth of the death of Hebrew and its alleged “resurrection” by Ben-Yehuda, and a discussion of the concepts of “dead” and “alive” as they are used in different scientific paradigms, and especially their usage in linguistics and biology. The first chapter also explores developments within Ashkenazic Hebrew in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chapters Two and Three get down to the nitty-gritty, detailing the process of lexical borrowings into Ashkenazic and what is called the T-V (tu, vous) distinction in linguistics to demonstrate both innovations and the loss of traditional forms in the language in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Yampolskaya says Ashkenazic did undergo a kind of extinction in public use in the Soviet Union ca. 1925-1926, but that its rapid development from the 1850s to the 1920s resulted in publications in Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia (Moldova), Poland and the Ukraine besides Russia, whose output of text vastly outweighed Hebrew-language publications from Palestine, the Americas and Western Europe. The way words were borrowed from foreign languages carried over into the method used in modern Israeli Hebrew, Yampolskaya found. The idea Hebrew was a dead language, as might be said of Latin and classical Greek, found proponents in the Yiddish side of the battle between Hebrew and Yiddish for the soul of the Jewish people. Yampolskaya also notes the seemingly Christian symbolism ironically involved in the semi-official myth of Hebrew’s death and resurrection by the State of Israel ca. 1948 following 2,000 years of its alleged morbidity. Besides the use of Ashkenazic Hebrew in “high register” venues such as religious books and its “mid-level” use in the periodical press, Yampolskaya discusses its use as an everyday language among Russia’s Jews.

Yampolskaya’s dissertation at the Oriental Studies department of St. Petersburg State University is the first one in 50 years on Hebrew.

Dissertation in Russian with extensive English translation available here.

Photos and details of the doctoral defense in Russian here.

State-of-the-Art Jewish Museum Planned in Šeduva

Preliminary design concept for the Lost Shtetl Museum

Plans have been announced for a state-of-the-art Jewish museum scheduled to open in 2019 as part of the Lost Shtetl memorial complex in Šeduva, Lithuania.

The museum complex is to be designed by the Finnish company Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects who also designed the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. POLIN won the 2016 European Museum of the Year Award. They are towork together with local partner Studia2A established in 1994 and headed by Vilnius Art Academy dean of architecture Jonas Audejaitis.

The museum is to be located next to the sprawling Šeduva Jewish cemetery, completely restored and opened in 2015 as part of the memorial complex. The complex includes memorials at three sites of Holocaust mass murders and mass grave sites and a symbolic sculpture in the middle of the town. A study of the Jews of Šeduva was conducted as part of the project and is to result in a documentary film called Petrified Time by film director Saulius Beržinis.

Memorial statue in Šeduva. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund, said the Lost Shtetl Museum will employ advanced technologies to teach visitors the history and culture of Šeduva and similar Litvak shtetls. It is expected to serve as an educational and cultural center.

“Visiting the Lost Shtetl will be a history lesson which will allow national and international visitors to learn about the lost Litvak shtetl history and culture,” he said.

“Lifestyle, customs, religion, social, professional, and family life of Šeduva Jews will serve a center point of the Museum exhibition,” he said. Visitors to museum will learn “the tragedy of Šeduva Jewish history which in the early days of World War II ended in three pits near the shtetl.”

Lithuanian Women’s Magazine Features Amit Belaitė on Cover

16486907_10154232463426867_5335691874283383955_oA popular magazine for young Lithuanian women has featured Amit Belaitė, the head of the Lithuanian Union of Jewish Students, on its February cover, with a long interview with her and a series of fashion photographs inside.

“Cover girl: Amita honors her people’s past with deeds,” the cover proclaims.

The feature on page 10 is called “Living History”:

“The Jewish girl Amita Belaitė (24) is completing her studies this year at Vilnius University. During her university career this active defender of human rights was able to establish the Lithuanian Union of Jewish Students, to become the vice president and a member of the executive board of the European Union of Jewish Students, to start a Jewish history project called Mayses fun der Lites/Stories from Lithuania, to become a Living Library volunteer and for all of those activities to receive a tolerance award. Amita, who selected social health studies as her major, said her professional career over those years would have been much more difficult if not for her love of her cherished boyfriend, the economist Rokas Grajauskas (31).”

More information in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian State Auditors Find Compensation for Jewish Property Used Appropriately


Vilnius, February 9, BNS–The Lithuanian State Auditor has no complaints on the use of compensation for Jewish religious communal property this year, although they found irregularities last year.

The State Auditor’s Office reported finding no violations in the 2016 audit of the use of such funds.

The year prior to that auditors said the foundation dispensing the funds had used some monies from the state allocated under the Lithuanian law on goodwill compensation for pre-Holocaust Jewish real estate had been used in the 2012-2015 period for matters not defined in the law, namely, to pay for administrative expnses of the disbursing foundation. In 2016 the Lithuanian parliament amended the law to allow for the Goodwill Foundation to pay its own administrative costs.

Jared Kushner, Trump Aide and Son-in-Law, Has Litvak Roots


Jared Kushner is the son-in-law and chief adviser to US president Donald Trump. His roots are in traditional Litvak lands, the areas where Jews lived in the mediaeval Grand Duchy of Lithuania. His grandmother Reichel Rae Berkowitz-Kushner hailed from Novogrudok, known in Lithuanian as Naugardukas, south of Grodno (Gardinas) in Belarus. She was imprisoned in the famous ghetto there where prisoners dug an escape tunnel and fled to the Jewish partisans in the forests.

Born on February 27, 1923, Rae Kushner was the second-oldest of four children in Novogrudok, then part of Poland and spelled Nowogródek.

The city had a thriving Jewish population, comprising just over half of the town’s 12,000 inhabitants. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis invaded Poland at the start of Operation Barbarossa. Though rumors of mass killings had reached Novogrudok by that point, few Jews actually believed that the Germans would carry out such atrocities. Following several massacres, the remaining Jewish population was forced into a ghetto. Rae lived in the city’s courthouse with her family and nearly approximately 600 other Jews. Rae’s mother and older sister were killed in a subsequent massacre on May 7, 1943. Before long, Rae, her father and younger sister were among only 300 Jews left. These remaining Jews managed to dig and escape through a 600-foot tunnel during the nights, using special-made tools in the workshops and hiding the dirt in the walls of buildings. When completed, the 600-foot tunnel was only large enough for one person to crawl through. Upon emerging from it, the escapees were met with gunfire, darkness and disorientation. Consequently, only 170 survived out of the 250 that escaped. Rae’s brother was among the fallen, having lost his glasses during the crawl through the tunnel. Rae and her surviving family spent ten days hiding in the woods, eventually making their way to the home of an acquaintance. The woman fed them and allowed them to sleep in her stable with the cows for one week–a risk that carried the penalty of a violent death. Shortly thereafter, the Bielski partisans took in the escapees from Novogrudok–including Rae and her family.

Lecture by Rabbi Shimshon Daniel Isaacson

Lecture by Rabbi Shimshon Daniel Isaacson

Dear friends,

You are welcome to attend a lecture by Rabbi Shimshon Daniel Isaacson

“Study of the Law in the Book ‘Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: The Code of Jewish Law'”

beginning at 6:35 P.M., Thursday, February 23, at the Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39, Vilnius.

Celebrating February 16 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community with Scouts


The Lithuanian Scouts, the Polish Lithuanian Scouts Union and the Union of Lithuanian Jewish Students celebrated Lithuania’s pre-World War II independence day, February 16, together at the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Head of the Polish Lithuanian scouting organization and former director of the Pope John Paul II Gymnasium in Vilnius Adam Blaszkewicz, members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, actors from the Russian Drama Theater and Polish, Lithuanian and Russian scouts spoke about freedom, civic-mindedness and history.

The event was held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community and was live-streamed on facebook.

ORT Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium principal Misha Jakobas also spoke at the event. “I always tell parents, if you want your child to make a career, if you see your future in Lithuania, you must know several important things. First, you must know the national language perfectly. If you go into the office of the director of an important company and start stuttering, if you write a document with mistakes, if you can’t form a complete sentence, then the director has the right to tell you to get out,” Jakobas was quoted by news internet site

Pope Says Anti-Semitism Opposite of Christian Values

“Unfortunately, anti-Semitism, which I reject in all forms of thinking which are the antithesis of Christian principles, is still very common in our time”, Pope Francis said in a meeting with representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, reports the website

The Pope also cited a document published 50 years ago, Nostra Aetate, which identified approaches to solving the problem of anti-Semitism. It specifically states that the Church “feels obliged to do everything possible to help our Jewish friends to overcome anti-Semitic tendencies.” Head of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt called meeting fruitful.

The Anti-Defamation League is an American Jewish NGO and is considered one of the leaders in combating anti-Semitism.

Pope Francis also recalled his visit to Auschwitz last year, saying: “There are no adequate words to describe the horror and cruelty of sin that was going on there. I pray the Lord have mercy, and such tragedies are never repeated.”

Military History: The Career of a Flight Engineer from Zhitomir from the USSR to Afghanistan, to Independent Lithuania

Gena K

by Nataliya Zverko

We met Gennady Kofman at a former girls’ school which now serves as the headquarters of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Reporters were seated and served tea and cookies in a friendly atmosphere, with only the silent photographs on the walls before us to remind us 95% of the Jews resident in the Lithuanian city were murdered in the Holocaust.

Gennady Kofman, a native of Zhitomir, Ukraine, has been chairman of the Panevėžys Jewish Community since 2001, having returned to the city in 1972 after being graduated from the Kaliningrad Military Aviation School. For a long time he served in the post of software engineer for the Panevėžys military airfield’s radar system, and later flew transport missions in Afghanistan and Armenia. When Lithuania regained independence in 1991, he stayed here, and found himself in a new reality.

Full story in Russian here.

Kaunas Ultranationalist March Ended by… Donald Trump?

Rethinking hate: Annual Kaunas February 16 ultra-nationalist marchers turn whimsical as organizers look at joining mainstream young conservative movement. Photo by Elijau Kniežauskas, courtesy Kauno Diena.

by Geoff Vasil

The annual march by Lithuanian ultra-nationalists on the pre-WWII Lithuanian independence day, February 16, in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, saw record low turnout this year, 2017. According to media reports of police estimates, just under 150 people including parents with children came this year.

Organizers sought and received a permit for 500 marchers.

Even before the march took place this year, there were signs of disarray this year. Instead of the usual organizer, the Union of Lithuanian Nationalist Youth, private citizen and somewhat of a dissident member of that organization, Justinas Daunoras, applied for the permit with Tomas Skorupskas as co-organizer. Both were reportedly convicted of public displays of Nazi logos in the past, according to media reports.

“The core of the march remains the same, although the Union of Nationalist Youth no longer exists. Now this is a club of several people. But we wanted to celebrate the holiday and enjoy our hard-won freedom. But we didn’t want the hate which our leaders have propagated in the past,” Tomas Skorupskas told the Kaunas newspaper Kauno Diena.

Justinas Daunoras told the same newspaper he and his fellow marchers wanted to modernize tradition. “In the narrow sense, that we shouldn’t get stuck in old matters, things such as appearance or style, but instead get in step with the times. In the broader sense, in the context of a changing culture and civilization, tradition must make way and accommodate them.” Speaking before the march was held, he told Kauno Diena they expected the usual number of marchers, several hundred, but added that some were staying away because they were displeased by things which took place in earlier years at the march. Daunoras had expected new marchers to replace the ranks of those staying home.

Lithuanian National Radio and Television reported the march briefly last week under the headline “Nationalist Youth March Organizers Borrow Slogan from Donald Trump”:


Jelizaveta Kacnelson passed away February 15. She was born August 6, 1934. She was a member of the Vilnius Jewish Community. The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community mourns her passing and sends condolences to her surviving family members.

Happy 90th Birthday, Feiga Tregerienė!

Kaunas Jewish Community member Feiga Tregerienė celebrated her 90th birthday on February 17 with cards and birthday wishes from friends and family around the world.

We celebrate her milestone birthday and also wish her good health, good emotions and the love and warmth of family and friends.

May she live to 120!



Our deepest condolences to Bagel Shop employee Valentina Kot-Osipian on the loss of her beloved father.

Portrayal of Other Ethnicities in Shrovetide Traditions

In the run-up to the Lithuanian holiday of Užgavėnės (Shrovetide), the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum’s Tolerance Center will hold a discussion called Portrayal of Other Ethnicities in Shrovetide Traditions. The traditional holiday features people dressed up as Jews with masks with hooked noses. Speakers are to include Dr. Laima Anglickienė, the head of the cathedral of ethnology and folklore studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas; Libertas Klimka, an ethnologist and professor at the Lithuanian Educology University; the writer Dainius Razauskas and representatives from the Lithuanian Human Rights Center and the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Service.

The discussion is open to the public and is to take place at 4:30 P.M. on February 21. The Tolerance Center is located at Naugarduko street no. 10/2 in Vilnius.

Japanese Violinist Yurina Arai Wins Heifetz Contest


Yurina Arai has been named the winner of the Fifth Jascha Heifetz International Violin Competition in Vilnius, Lithuania. The 22-year-old Japanese violinist, who triumphed in the final with her performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, receives €10,000 and a number of performance opportunities. The student of Natsumi Tamai at the Tokyo University of the Arts won first prize at the Grumiaux Competition last year. The second prize worth €5,000 went to 17-year-old Dmytro Udovychenko from Ukraine, while third prize worth €2,000 went to 17-year-old R. Fukuda from Japan who won the Junior Division of the Menuhin Competition in 2014. Moscow Conservatory student 24-year-old Stepan Starikov and 17-year-old Japanese violinist Mayu Ozeki were awarded diplomas and €1,000. For the first time this year winners received a small sculpture of Heifetz by Lithuanian sculptor Romualdas Kvintas. The award was established by the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Professor Leonidas Melnikas who presented the prizes said “We want the winners to always remember Heifetz lived in Vilnius.”

More in Lithuanian here.

Agreement with Jurbarkas on Synagogue Square Memorial

On February 9 the Lithuanian Jewish Community signed an agreement with the Jurbarkas regional administration and the New Artists College CAN of Israel on a projected called “Synagogue Square Memorial.” The memorial is dedicated to remembering the Jews of the shtetl (formerly known as Yurburg or Jurburg in Yiddish and Georgenburg in German) and is to be located on Kauno street in Jurbarkas where one of the most beautiful wooden synagogues in Europe once stood. The memorial is being created by Israeli sculptor David Zundelovich, who comes from Lithuania. It is to portray the waves of the Nemunas River and the wooden synagogue and is to be made of gray and black basalt. It is to include the names of Jews who lived in Jurbarkas and the names of people who rescued them during the Holocaust, with inscriptions in English and Hebrew.

Jurbarkas regional administration head Skirmantas Mockevičius said the group is looking for funding for the memorial. “Jews lived in Jurbarkas for a long time and there is no monument, so sign, even though they were the majority of the community,” Mockevičius told BNS. From three to four thousand Jews called Jurbarkas home before the Holocaust. The head of the regional administration said residents weren’t interested in a graveyard memorial and wanted the memorial to appeal to the people, including the youth. Under the plan the memorial is to be built within 8 months from the signing of the agreement. Mockevičius expected it to be in place in Jurbarkas by the fall.

Ongoing Hommage à Heifetz Project Provides Chance to Learn More about Jewish Culture

A meeting called “Vilnius, Litvak Culture in the 19th and 20th Centuries and Jascha Heifetz” was held in Lithuanian at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on February 9, 2017. It was a chance to reflect both on the past, the deep Litvak roots in Lithuania and the greatest violinist of all time, but also on the present Lithuanian Jewish Community. Speakers included Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, deputy chairwoman Maša Grodnikienė, Eugenijus Laurinaitis, Leonidas Melnikas, Larisa Lempert ir Donatas Katkus and Silvija Sondeckienė.

“Jascha Heifetz’s secret of his achievements was not only a unique talent, but practice, practice and more practice. The notes of his violin are not governed by the years and his life and achievements are not those of a typical Vilnius Jew living in the Pale of Settlement of Tsarist Russia. Heifetz achieved greatness and reached the pinnacle of musical achievement in the world for all time, our fellow countryman, our fellow Vilnius resident, Jascha Heifetz,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky commented.

Snapshots from event on facebook.

Writer Vanda Juknaitė Receives Tolerance Award

2016-ųjų Tolerancijos žmogumi paskelbta rašytoja V.Juknaitė

Info from

The Lithuanian writer Vanda Juknaitė has been named the Person of Tolerance of the Year in the annual Lithuanian award for spreading tolerance in Lithuanian society.

The board of directors of the Sugihara Foundation had narrowed the field down to three candidates: the writer Marius Ivaškevičius, Vanda Juknaitė and the journalist Domas Burkauskas. Ivaškevičius wrote a moving piece about the Jews of Molėtai and organized a Holocaust commemoration there. Burauskas was nominated for reporting on the plight of refugees.

Juknaitė received the tolerance award for calling for reconciliation between Lithuanians and Jews over the Holocaust.

Juknaitei iteikia prem