“I thank God He has sent us the sun. And I thank God we will be celebrating the 70th birthday of the State of Israel next year,” Miša Jakobas, principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium told a large crowd of students, teachers, parents, prominent members of the Jewish community and well-wishers on Tuesday at a celebration of Yom haAtzmaut, Israeli independence day, in the athletics field behind the school.
Children assembled well before the official start of the celebration to practice singing and dance moves, and slowly the crowd coalesced into a ring around pupils performing songs in Hebrew, including haTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, and Yerushalayim shel zahav, Jerusalem the Gold, as a warm golden sun promised the belated onset of spring. Small plastic Israeli flags were distributed to everyone who wanted one. On the track field a group of primary-grade students performed a flag marching ceremony, followed by a group of speakers on the opposite side of the crowd where the children had sung.
Principal Miša Jakobas was followed by Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky who asked some of the wilder children to settle down, joking such behavior didn’t belong on the playground, although it is acceptable at synagogue. She pointed to a building in the back corner of the school yard and said if things go to plan, this would be a new Jewish kindergarten in Vilnius where Jewish children would receive priority of place. Currently the Jewish kindergarten in Vilnius, Salvija, just across the river from Sholem Aleichem, accepts a large number of non-Jewish children as well and promotes itself as a inclusive multicultural environment, although it emphasizes Jewish holidays and culture.