The Lithuanian Radio and Television television program Misija: Vilnija [Mission: Vilnius Region] about ethnic communities and minority cultures in Lithuania featured Litvaks as the program entered its fourth season at the beginning of October.
In the interview with Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius, he remarked how much freer children have become in Lithuania, which he said has its plusses as well as minuses. He said he never sees students carrying books during breaks between classes anymore and that the current student body was born into a technological society they know better than his generation does. Hostess and interviewer Katažina Zvonkuvienė and Jakobas discussed the sense of loss and sadness in which the post-war generation of Lithuanian Jews lives and which is sometimes unperceived as such. They also talked about the role of the state in guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic communities in Lithuania and the multiethnic and interfaith composition of the Sholem Aleichem school’s student body.
Interviewed at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas spoke about the glorious reputation for scholarship Jewish Vilna once had, and the slow path to drawing back more Jewish families to tradition and to restoring what existed before.
Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke about the durability of Jewish tradition in the face of assimilation. She said rather than grandparents passing on tradition to children, the reverse process seems to be at work now: children are learning Jewish traditions at school and teaching their parents.
Riva Portnaja, the chief chef and baker at the Bagel Shop Café, recalled her childhood in Žemaitija when keeping a kosher kitchen was the customary thing, and spoke about the great demand in Vilnius for Jewish cuisine among Lithuanians.
On Sunday the Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, 5779, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.
Rosh Hashanah symbolizes the sixth day of the creation of the world: on this day the Most High created the forefather of mankind, Adam.
Rosh Hashanah is first mentioned in the Mishnah (the oral Torah) where it is called Yom Troy (Pipe Festival), which is connected with the commandment to blow a horn on this day. In synagogues the shofar horn is blown on Rosh Hashanah, whose sound is supposed to confound the enemy and bring clear thought and repentance to believers. The shofar tradition goes back centuries and the ram’s horn is associated with the ram which Abraham substituted for his son in making a sacrifice to G_d. The word “shofar” comes from the words for improvement and correction.
Everyone who’s interested is invited to attend European Days of Jewish Culture. For several years now European Days of Jewish Culture are held beginning on the first Sunday in September. The theme for the next year is chosen as soon as the Days have concluded so that organizers have time to prepare. This year the theme is “Jewish Stories” allowing for broad interpretation and broad public education on Jewish heritage with a special emphasis on true stories, jokes and visual work.
The story-telling tradition remains current in the Jewish collective memory. Stories come from the Torah, and there is a rich oral tradition from the shtetlakh. Stories is an inclusive theme which offers a number of opportunities. All European Days of Jewish Culture coordinators are free to choose and propose their own topics and organize this interesting event. This is what the Lithuanian Jewish Community is offering this year:
2:00 P.M. Richard “Sco” Schofield’s installation “Back to Shul” at the Zavel and Levinson synagogue, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius
September 6, LJC
3:00-5:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café invites you to come learn how to make challa. Registration: goo.gl/bstFEC
6:00 P.M. Presentation of the 5779 LJC calendar
4:00-5:30 P.M. Concert by Vitalijus Neugasimovas, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius
September 9, Leipalingis, Lithuania
11:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café presents Jewish dishes on the eve of the Great Autumn Holidays, Leipalingis manor square, Leipalingis, Lithuania
Attorney and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania”:
I am truly glad the Lithuanian Jewish Community was given the opportunity to implement the EVZ project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania.” Appreciating the great importance and appropriateness of inter-institutional cooperation, the Community carried out the project with experienced and trusted partners: the Roma Social Center, the Lithuanian Human Rights Center, the Women’s Information Center and a specially formed group of experts.
Speaking of expressions of anti-Semitism in Lithuania, the positive changes are obvious. Celebrating 30 years since the restoration of our organization, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is experiencing a real, contemporary cultural renaissance. Our organization is stronger than it was, and interest in Jewish topics in Lithuania is greater than it has been ever. The Community has contributed at least partially, within our powers, to this positive breakthrough. Since 2013 we have been carrying out the Bagel Shop tolerance campaign which to the present has attracted more than 7,000 friends and followers on social media. The year 2017 also saw several important achievements in the field of human rights and the commemoration of historical truth: a jubilee March of the Living at the Ponar Jewish mass murder site, Lithuania’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, and the LJC taking the leadership position in the international memory campaign We Remember, which culminated in a commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry with high state officials, members of the LJC and various public figures. In February of 2018 the Community published our Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary. This publication, an authentic primary source on the history of the Holocaust, attracted great public interest, and we hope it will be accepted as an aid to teaching the Holocaust in the nation’s public schools and educational institutions.
Despite the evolving discussion by the public and the political class regarding these important issues, the fight against discrimination continues. The history of Lithuanian Jews, spanning 700 years, is still not integrated appropriately in the Lithuanian educational system, the Lithuanian experience of the Soviet occupation is often equated with the Holocaust and the internet is full of expressions of hate directed against Jews as well as Romani.
I am convinced the successful implementation of this project will contribute significantly to the further expansion of human rights and the fight against anti-Semitism and Romophobia, and to encouraging dialogue between distinct communities who share similar problems and institutions in the state and non-governmental sectors.
Monika Šinkūnaitė and her colleague appealed for help to the Panevėžys Jewish Community on June 11 regarding a project called Orientational Walking Tour and a discussion called Jewish Culture in Panevėžys. During the meeting both parties discussed scenarios for the event and topics for the discussion.
The point of the project is to get young and older people interested in Jewish heritage.
The educational walking tour happened on June 29 and was called Along Jewish Roads, including important historical Jewish heritage sites in the city. The youth group began the tour at Freedom Alley where there was a thriving Jewish neighborhood before World War II. There were Jewish residences, stores, workshops, dentistry and medical clinics and attorneys’ offices. Some streets were named after Jewish public figures, including Dr. Mer, Rabbi Gertzel, the industrialist Kisinas, Dembas and others.
The discussion was held after the walking tour at the café Kavos Dėžutė. Panevėžys publicist Donatas Puslys, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskas, bishop emeritus Jonas Kauneckas, nun Eleonora Kasiulytė from the Congregation of the Sisters of God’s Love and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman participated.
The World Lithuanian Community sponsored an event July 1 at Old Town Hall Square in Vilnius where for the first time since independence Lithuanians in Lithuania had the chance to learn about Lithuanian communities living around the world and Lithuanian ethnic minority communities at the same time. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Nerija Lithuanian Community in the State of Israel participated with stands on the square. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė visited the LJC’s Bagel Shop stand and tried the imberlakh. The event also featured a concert and art exhibition in and around the Old Town Hall.
Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.
LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.
Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community held a picnic/barbecue celebration of Lag baOmer at Didžiulis Lake May 3. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Rabbi Shalom Ber Krinsky and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon attended.
Lag baOmer is the holiday of the unity of the Jewish people and usually includes fun and games, singing and dancing and prayers to the Creator. Bonfires are lit at night. The most important celebration takes place with the lighting of a bonfire above the tomb of Simeon bar Yochai in Meron in Upper Galilee in Israel. The light from the fire is meant to recall the Sefer haZohar, or Book of Splendor, the earliest written work in the Kabbalah tradition whose authorship is ascribed to the tannaitic sage.
The book sheds great light on the wisdom of the Torah, about which King Solomon said: “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” And according to the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator says: “Is not my word like as a fire?”
The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a second, more public launch of the new Lithuanian translation of the Yitzhak Rudashevski Vilnius ghetto diary Tuesday, following last month’s and exclusive initial presentation at the Vilnius Book Fair.
Rudashevski was 14 when he and his parents were imprisoned in the Vilnius ghetto. He celebrated his 15th birthday there. The family hid during the ghetto liquidation, were discovered and then murdered, presumably at Ponar outside Vilnius. Over the last two decades Rudashevski’s diary has emerged as one of a handful of testimonies by children. It was initially published in extracts in the original Yiddish in Israel, and then in English in 1973. An older and newer French translation ha4xandra Zapruder’s books about children in the Holocaust and in a documentary on the same topic aired on MTV.
The literary monument of a fifteen-year-old chronicler of the Jewish ghetto to the suffering of the Holocaust, Yiddish culture, the will to survive and hope. For those who haven’t yet had a chance to learn about the Vilnius ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski, we invite you to come to the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on March 27, 2018, for a public books launch. Participants: LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, translator Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, designer Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, Holocaust historian Neringa Latvytė-Gustatienė. Dr. Lara Lempert will serve as moderator.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Religious Jewish Community hosted a Purim spectacular at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius February 28 including a reading of the Book of Esther accompanied by audio-visual aids in English and a concert.
The cold snap enveloping Eastern Europe precluded a large number of children turning out, but those who did had adorable costumes, including a small bear, a policeman, at least one doctor, a king with golden crown and perhaps the most contemporary costume, a slightly older child wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and seemingly dressed in full-body ninja attire. Some adult women also dressed up, including synagogue regular Ruth Bloestein with wig, hat and ultra-rosy cheeks sitting in the women’s gallery.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky began the event slightly after the starting time of 6:30 and presented a number of gift baskets to leaders in the Community including Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky. He also greeted Litvak guests visiting from Israel in the women’s gallery. He followed with an animated reading of the Book of Esther during which he exchanged hats with children in the wings, first adopting an undersized top hat and then exchanging it for a London bobby’s helmet about three sizes too small for him. While he read from the scroll, a projection television system played a series of comic panels from the story of Esther in English.
Thursday evening the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of Živilė Juonytė’s new book “Izraelis ir jo žmonės. Viena šalis. Daug veidų” [Israel and Its People: One Country, Many Faces]. Juonytė and the LJC’s new liaison for social media Viktorija Pajarskė formed a small panel for a brief Q&A session after the author described her experience of Israel as an exchange student there for one year and in trips made after that. Juonytė said she wanted to portray Israel differently from that of the media, which paint a picture of conflict. Juonytė was the editor of the Bagel Shop Newsletter before her trip to Israel and now works for the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. The softcover 200-page octavo, A5 book (ISBN 978-6098-105-41-4) is full of color photographs on glossy paper and costs 12 euros from the publisher, Aukso pieva.
Photo, from right: Prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Israeli embassy deputy chief of mission Efrat Hochstetler, PM’s wife Silvija Skvernelė
An international Christmas fair fundraiser was held again this year at the Old Town Square in Vilnius. Visitors were invited to purchase handicrafts, Christmas decorations, sweets and other knick-knacks made and sold by the spouses of foreign ambassadors resident in Vilnius, embassy personnel, social welfare organizations.
Photo: President Valdas Adamkus, Faina Kukliansky, former first lady Alma Adamkienė
The international Christmas fair is an annual initiative by the International Women’s Association of Vilnius, which includes women from Lithuania and foreign women temporarily living and working in Lithuania as members.
Photo: Apostolic nuncio archbishop Pedro Quintana
Lithuanian Jewish Community and Bagel Shop volunteers went all out this year to make this event a success. The Israeli embassy’s booth sold Lithuanian and Israeli products and collected almost 4,500 euros for charity, three times more than last year’s amount.
More photos here.
The Israeli embassy and the Bagel Shop Café presented Jewish foods for the Christmas Fair at the Old Town Hall in Vilnius Tuesday. The fair will take place on Saturday, December 2. The fair is held annually by foreign embassies in Vilnius with all sorts of handicrafts, Christmas decorations and food on offer. Revenues generated go to welfare programs in Lithuania. More than 30 embassies and 5 international schools will man booths at the fair. A lottery will be held with valuable prizes awarded and traditional song and dance will be performed. The fair will be open from 12 noon to 6:00 P.M.
After skipping a beat this summer, the newest Bagel Shop newsletter has hit the stands. The fall issue includes a complete news round-up from spring to the present, the usual sections and articles about the history of the Bund, efforts to restore Jewish headstones removed from Soviet-era public works projects around Vilnius to their rightful locations and the history of the Jews of Skuodas. The Jewish Book Corner this issue features a book about the tractate Nazir from the Babylonian Talmud and the Telšiai Yeshiva.
Look for the newest issue at the Bagel Shop Café, available for free, or download the electronic version below:
Writing about memory in Eastern Europe, Alexander Etkind observed in his book Warped Mourning that various groups are likely to cultivate different versions of the past, define their friends and foes, thus creating separate memory communities that are likely to engage in memory wars. Etkind’s observation raises several fundamental questions about historical memory in Eastern Europe: Can a major historical trauma start uniting various groups to combat current expressions of prejudice and violence? How should major historical traumas be commemorated so that memory wars are avoided? Are there proper ways to remember horrendous events to make sure that history does not repeat itself?
The Bagel Shop Café received an extraordinary guest today, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, an expert on Ashkenazi cuisine, author of the Gifilteria , author of the gefilte fish pop-up concept and the force behind #gefiltemanifesto. He is visiting Vilnius with a friend and is searching for the secrets of Litvak cooking. Both visitors spent a good hour writing down Faina Kukliansky’s family recipes in Yiddish and tasted Riva Portnaja’s Litvak carp.