Early on the morning of August 5, a group of 36 people went to Ventspils, Latvia. The trip, financed by the Goodwill Foundation, was intended for the Panevėžys Jewish Community and its youth initiative group to meet the small Ventspils Jewish community which had invited them on the day marking the anniversary of the Latvian coastal town’s founding.
The first stop on the trip was actually Joniškis in Lithuania, where members of the community toured two newly restored synagogues there. Before the war Joniškis has a population of about 8,000, of whom more than 4,000 were Jews. Jews constructed the White Choral Synagogue in the town center in 1853 with financing from affluent Jewish industrialists. The Red Synagogue was built next to it later. After World War II the synagogues were used as a gym and for storage. Now they have become some of the town’s major historical monuments and host cultural events, concerts and seminars.
The next stop was Žagarė, Lithuania, where members of the group visited a Holocaust monument.
In Ventspils, Latvia, they attended different events to celebrate the town’s birthday. The Latvian port town was established in 1263 and a hundred years later received the status of city. The current multiethnic population of 36,300 includes Latvians, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and others. It contains many cultural and historical monuments and surviving Jewish buildings often with Jewish attributes and symbols. The center of Ventspils boasts a restored synagogue.
The weather was windy and wet during the trip, but members of the delegation weren’t put off by it and had a great time, celebrating the founding of the town together with very gracious and welcoming local people.