Maša Grodnikienė recalled for us the first Hanukkah celebration by the constituent Lithuanian Jewish Community back in 1988.
Lithuanian Jews who survived World War II celebrated Hanukkah quietly at home. In 1987 the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association formed and Emanuelis Zingeris became chairman.
On December 4, 1988, Lithuanian Jews came together and collected funds for a shared Hanukkah celebration. This was a memorable holiday in Vilnius, a big event with a beautiful group of people at the Dainava restaurant. Yiddish was spoken and sung. The cultural events group of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association drafted the program and organized the event. The Fayerlakh Jewish ensemble with directors Griša Kravecas and Ana Kravec performed, as did the ethnographic ensemble conducted by Amos Traub and the Kaunas Jewish stage ensemble. Chaimas Gurvičius directed the concert. About 370 people attended. Chairman of the board of the Lithuanian Cultural Fund Česlovas Kudaba greeted the audience, and deputy chairman Tarvydas also took part. This was a grand Hanukkah evening celebration with a concert and speeches.
Remember what that time was like in Lithuania–the independence movement Sąjūdis had formed and Lithuanian Jews from different cities and towns came together and were part of Sąjūdis. Everyone was exhilarated, excited, happy that finally with the national rebirth of Lithuania the Jews of Lithuania could celebrate together that great holiday of the triumph of the spirit, Hanukkah. The majority sought to attend, there weren’t enough places and it was impossible to get in. At that time there were 17,000 Jews living in Lithuania.
A week later on December 11 the second Hanukkah, an evening for adults, was held at Dainava. The same concert program was conducted and about 400 people attended. Algimantas Čekuolis joined the holiday celebration and gave a speech in which he asked Jews not to leave Lithuania because a new life had begun. At that time Jews were already making aliyah–resettling in Israel–en masse.
On December 17 a Hanukkah celebration for children was held at the Palace of Professional Unions in Vilnius with 500 children in attendance.
On December 19, 1988, the Klaipėda section of Lithuanian Jews was established.
A Hanukkah celebration organized by the Kaunas section was held at the Palace of Professional Unions in Kaunas. The Kaunas Jewish volunteer stage ensemble performed. The founding congress of the Kaunas section was also held in that building, a board was elected and more than 300 people attended. V. Jelinas was elected chairman, later Markas Zingeris became chairman.
In 1989 the Lithuanian Jewish Community was established and Grigorijus Kanovičius was elected chairman.
The Jews who established the community realized culture wasn’t enough. “It became clear the community needed social welfare programs and we had to take care of that,” Maša Grodnikienė recalled. She remembers all the important moments and milestones in the creation and development of the community; her father Solomonas Atamukas was one of the main figures who made important things happen.
International Zionists helped provide social welfare. About 50 women in Lithuania were part of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, WIZO, whose president became Rachelė Kostanian, a Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust survivor. Social welfare was provided to Jews in other parts of Lithuania as well. WIZO allocated welfare and took care of the disabled, the ill, pensioners and those living in poverty.
The Ilan children’s club directed by Sofija Zibuc opened. The children loved to come together at the club, there were over 100 of them who did so, and there was no lack of fun activities and exciting games. Ilan is still there. When Zibuc and family moved to the USA, they asked Maša Grodnikienė to direct the Ilan club.
A Sunday school for Jews opened in Vilnius with Simas Levinas as director.
Jewish intellectuals supported by Lithuanian intellectuals petitioned state institutions to recognize the culture of many centuries of Lithuanian Jews and its importance to Lithuania.