Roža Zinkevičienė, the principal of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius, invites the public to the opening of a photography exhibit there called “Monument to a Monument (Jewish Cemetery Destroyed in 1964)” by photographer Rimantas Dichavičius. The opening is to take place at 10:00 A.M. on January 17, 2019. The school is located at Kaminkelio street no. 10 in Vilnius. The exhibit is dedicated to marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
by Ona Biveinienė
Lithuanian Jews since olden times engaged in lending at interest. The charter of rights Vytautas the Great granted the Jews of Brest-Litovsk in 1388 included the right to loan money at interest, a rather new thing in the Grand Duchy at that time, along with the right to practice Judaism. According to the charter, “a Jew may accept any object brought him as collateral, no matter what the item is called, without question, except for bloodied or wet clothing and Church clothing and vessels, which he should in no way accept.”
For several centuries Jews were the main lenders, saving neighbors fallen on hard times by loaning them money, at interest, of course.
Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, provided a favorable environment for Jews living here to expand customary and create new businesses. The Jewish people, as no other, seized upon the opportunity; they attempted to restore and expand the shops, workshops and factories they had before World War I. Many courageously started new businesses and in many cases were the first in Lithuania to engage in little known or unprecedented enterprises.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
A meeting of the board of the Goodwill Foundation has resolved to fund the most significant Lithuanian Jewish projects, approved spending limits for 2019 and planned the 2019 budget for administrative costs for the foundation.
One of the more interesting projects is on-going archaeological exploration of the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius. There is also a project to commemorate the Jurbarkas synagogue with a statue by the sculptor Dovydas Zundelovičius. The foundation will also remember conductor, teacher and professor Saulius Sondeckis with the publication of a monograph.
The Goodwill Foundation board also addressed the issue of ownership of the former Tarbut gymnasium building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius, the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
Full text here.
by Sergejus Kanovičius
The internet didn’t exist yet, and the way to connect from Israel with parents and friends left in Lithuania was by fax or telephone. There wasn’t a surplus of money and both means were very expensive, so hearing the voice of a loved one was the greatest gift; letters are fine, but human nature it seems is such that we need living emotion, moments which dissolve in the past… When you hear the voice of your Father, or Mother, or grandfather, it feels as if you are with them, much more than reading a letter which has been in transit for a long time. Sometimes the people who helped us in so many ways in saving our son knew the longing for loved ones, they knew what longing means, because they themselves had experienced these separations and knew what they meant. The independency of Lithuania was going slowly, so it was expensive to call from Israel to Lithuania and from Vilnius to Tel Aviv. As I remember it, from Vilnius you longer had to wait for a previously ordered international call, all you had to do was dial 8, wait for the tone and then enter the number. But it wasn’t raining and isn’t raining money anywhere, neither there where rivers of milk flow along banks of honey, nor there where pack-ice gently caresses the banks of the Neris. Sometimes the worst thing you could pull out of the mail box was a nostalgic numerical reminder for some month, sometimes the telephone bills were such that you wanted to take that apparatus to a bank and lock it in the safe.
The Panevėžys Jewish Community opened an exhibit of works by famous 19th century Litvak sculptor Mark (Mordechai) Antokolski to mark the 175th anniversary of his death at the Panevėžys Jewish Community headquarters in cooperation with the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.
Antokolski was born in the Antakalnis neighborhood in Vilnius in 1843 to a religious Jewish family. From childhood he liked to draw and he learned to carve wood. He matriculated at the St. Petersburg Art Academy in Russia in 1862, was graduated in 1871 and thereafter embarked on a series of works on Jewish and other themes. His bas-relief “Jewish Tailor” won a silver medal. His works were much heralded in artistic and cultural circles in St. Petersburg.
His works reflect a variety of subjects, including scenes from antiquity and Christian, historical and ethnic themes. The sculptor passed away in 1902 and is buried in St. Petersburg. A small street in the Vilnius Old Town was named in his honor following his death.
The Panevėžys Jewish cemetery marked its 300th anniversary this December 18. It opened on the outskirts of the city back in the 18th century, on a plot of land bought by Jews who were moving to Lithuania. People of all different walks of life were buried there, including rabbis, scholars, businesspeople and farmers. During World War I Jewish volunteer soldiers who fought for Lithuanian independence against the Kaiser’s Germany were laid to rest there.
The cemetery expanded in the 19th and early 20th century. It is now listed on the Lithuanian cultural heritage registry as an historic monument and enjoys the protection of the state. Jewish burials ceased after World War II because there were so few Jews left in the city. The cemetery was closed in 1955. In 1966 city officials liquidated the cemetery and created a city park on the site. A fountain was placed in the middle of the cemetery. Headstones were taken and used for construction in Panevėžys, for building fences in the city center and also incorporated into a decorative wall at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater. Way back in 1980 there were attempts to correct the damage done; the fountain was moved to Senvagė leaving an open pit in the cemetery. The newly recreated Panevėžys Jewish Community and friends from Israel, the USA, South Africa and other countries called for fixing the damage in 1991, and in 2003 they all supported Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s idea to commemorate the dead with a statue. The architect Vytautas Klimavičius designed the ensemble and Panevėžys sculptor Vytautas Tallat-Kelpša made the statue which stands there today, “Sad Jewish Mother,” unveiled in 2009.
At the behest of the Lithuanian Jewish Community an international Heritage Advisory Group consisting of renowned global experts on Jewish heritage was formed, including:
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, advisor to the director and senior curator of main exhibits at the POLIN Polish Jewish History Museum; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ); Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Maceva NGO and project manager of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, director, YIVO archive and library; Sergey Kravtsov, senior research correspondent, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University; the Lithuanian Jewish Community was represented by LJC heritage conservation specialist Martynas Užpelkis and architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon.
The expert group now has issued a set of recommended guidelines for the memorialization of the Great Synagogue of Vilna.
Since it is basically clear that attempts to rebuild the Great Synagogue would send a false message, they instead recommended emphasizing the uniqueness of the site’s history and its current state. Commemoration should pursue the objectives of conserving what remains and proper education. The project should focus on recovering and expressing the centrality and unique meaning of the site in Lithuanian Jewish history and memory.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community ushered out 2018 with a concert Monday called Heart to Heart with Markas Volynskis and Marija Drukshna on vocals, Jurijus Sukhanovas on piano and Boris Kirzner on violin.
Shmuel Yatom, the cantor at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, opened the concert by reminding the audience the synagogue is celebrating its 115th anniversary currently. His words and songs, some solo, some with Markas Volynskis, created a warm and comfortable atmosphere in the hall. Well-known Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Judita Leitaitė MCed the concert and sang to a great response from the audience. Her warm and funny introductions of the other performers also contributed to the entertainment. Musical works by Kern, Pakhmutov, Dunayevsky and Olshanetsky, classical Russian favorites and old-time Jewish favorites elicited much applause.
Marija Rupeikienė on the webpage autc.lt writes: “It is a compact space something like a cube with a cupola, constructed of bright yellow bricks with two unplastered façades and a tin roof. The building has two storeys, a basement and three small one-storey side buildings in the corners. The floor plan isn’t standard, with a many-cornered outer shape with steps, with an elongated entrance-way, stairs built on protruding sides and auxiliary spaces: the second storey is surrounded on three sides by a gallery. The main façade on the north east side facing the street is plastered with horizontal indentations. The two-storey portion dominates with short one-storey side constructions hugging it. Protrusions mark the sides of the two-storey portion while an elongated entrance-way in the interior leads to a half-rounded ark with a triangular shield bearing an image of the Ten Commandments on inscribed on stone tablets.”
In 1899 the leadership of the synagogue acquired a plot of land on Zawalna, now Pylimo street.
In 1902 architect Dovid Rozenhaus drafted blueprints for the synagogue.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
The Choral Synagogue was lit with festive lights December 16 as Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinksy and Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas greeted Lithuanian Jewish Community members and guests to a celebration of the 115th anniversary of the founding of the synagogue.
Lithuanian poet, publicist and professor Tomas Venclova, Lithuanian essayist and film writer Pranas Morkus and other well-known figures attended the event.
Professor Donatas Katkus directed a concert by the Vilnius Chamber Orchestra at the birthday celebration.
A complicated early history of seeking permission from authorities to build what was called the Taharat HaKodesh synagogue finally led to the opening of the synagogue at its current location in 1903. Architect Dovid Rozenhaus designed the synagogue in the Moorish-Romanesque style. The only classical Vilnius Jewish synagogue to survive the Holocaust out of more than 110 Jewish houses of prayer operating in the city before the war, the Choral Synagogue became the focus of the post-war Vilnius Jewish community during Soviet times and remains so today.
Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas received the Lithuanian state’s award “For Merit” on International Tolerance Day. Dainius Babilas, the director of Kaunas’s Ethnic Cultures Center, called Žakas one of the most active members of the city working in the cultural and social activities of the ethnic communities, both as head of the Kaunas Jewish Community and as the leader of various projects.
Since taking the post as Kaunas Jewish Community chairman in 2000, Žakas has rallied many Jewish people, initiated dozens of cultural projects and educated people on the history of Lithuanian Jews and the Jewish legacy during public events. Thanks to his resolution and consistency, the city of Kaunas remembers so many of its famous citizens who have made major contributions to Lithuania and humanity.
The newspaper Kauno diena has published an article in Lithuanian about Gercas Žakas and his work, available here.
You are invited to come celebrate the 115th anniversary of the opening of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius at 2:00 P.M. on December 16 at the synagogue, located at Pylimo street no. 39. The celebration is to include a concert by the Vilnius Chamber Orchestra conducted by Donatas Katkus, birthday greetings and a buffet.
The Polifonija music auditorium hosted a concert December 3 held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community.
Most of our current members responded 30 years ago to an invitation published in the newspaper Šiaulių naujienos to attend a meeting of the Sąjūdis initiative group [Lithuanian independence movement] at the Planning Institute. About 100 Jewish residents of Šiauliai attended and the Šiauliai Jewish community was reconstituted, including the Jews of the region and formally called the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community, the successor organization to the formerly large Šiauliai City Jewish Community which ceased functioning in 1941.
Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community chairman Naumas Gleizeris began the evening by welcoming and greeting the audience on Hanukkah and the 30th birthday of the organization. He thanked all guests for spending the evening with Community members.
On December 4 the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a meeting/lecture/discussion and exhibition opening called “Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia” dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. Usually the official accounts of the deportations seem to suppress the multi-ethnic composition of deportees and the diversity of their positions and beliefs. The only thing uniting all the deportees was the fact they were considered undesirable by the new occupational regime.
The event was organized by the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and the Jakovas Bunka welfare and support fund. The photographic exhibition contained pictures of graves in Siberia, including those of Jewish, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian deportees. The photos came from the collections of the Lithuanian National Library, the Center for the Research of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, the photographer Gintautas Alekna and Dalia Kazlauskienė, the widow of photographer Juozas Kazlauskas. The project received support from the Department of Ethnic Minorities under the Lithuanian Government.
LJC board member Daumantas Levas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė spoke to the topic at the event.
A new book about Jewish Street in Vilnius by Aelita Ambrulevičiūtė, Gintė Konstantinavičiūtė and Giedrė Polkaitė-Petkevičienė was launched at the Paviljonas Book Weekend in Vilnius. “Prabilę namai. Žydų gatvės kasdienybė XIX-XX a. (iki 1940 m.)” [with the English subtitle/translation “Houses That Talk: Everyday Life in Žydų Street in the 19th-20th Century (up to 1940)” provided below the Lithuanian title on the cover] was published by the Aukso žuvys publishing house and comprises a kind of guide to the street, detailing the Great Synagogue, the Strashun Library, the house of the Vilna Gaon and the market and restaurants which operated there.
Lithuanian historian Aureljus Gieda presented the book and said it contains 166 illustrations of life in 14 buildings, 5 of which survive. He said the book has an index of names and extensive footnotes.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
“Pašauktieji” [“The Called”] is a set of six documentaries about religious faiths in Lithuania by the Vilniaus Medija group. The premiere of the third documentary film about Judaism in Lithuania “Juaidzmas Lietuvoje” [“Judaism in Lithuania”] coincides with the 115th anniversary of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites you to come to a meeting/lecture/discussion/exhibit opening at 6:00 P.M. on December 4. The LJC is located at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius. The “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia” event is dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. The official telling of the story of the deportations often seems to exclude the multi-ethnic nature of the deportees and their diversity of views and beliefs. They were only united in the fact the occupational regime which swept into power didn’t approve of them.
Dr. Violeta Davoliūtė will give a presentation based on her research. LJC board member Daumantas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė will also speak on the topic of the event.
An exhibit of photographs will officially open at the same time.
Acting Panevėžys mayor Petras Luomanas welcomed speakers and audience to the conference, saying: “It is very significant that we are now for the second time holding a conference in which we remember the remarkable women of our region whose contributions to culture, education, health-care, industry and other areas of endeavor in Panevėžys and throughout Lithuania have been gigantic.” Library director Loreta Breskienė spoke her library’s activities and “Lithuania’s Greats,” an exhibit of hand-sewn flags there. The author of the exhibit is Sofija Kanaverskytė, an artist and former resident of Panevėžys who did scenography at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater there.
The main topic of Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s presentation was historical information about the activities of notable Jewish women of Panevėžys till 1940. He said many of the Jewish women are little-known, including sculptress Marija Dilon, the businesswomen Ana Kisina and Lėja Chazanienė, social activist and doctor Ana Merienė, Panevėžys Jewish Hospital doctors Mirijam Todesaitė-Blatienė and Zinaida Kukliansky and the dentists Vera Dembienė, Golda Izraelienė, Liuba Gurevičienė and Chasjė Feigelienė. Much more widely known was the Jewish women’s Esperanto organization in the city of Panevėžys, whose members included Ana Grinberg, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Grinberg.
Kofman said the topic of notable Jewish women has been neglected in Panevėžys as it has throughout Lithuania. Many write about men and their contributions, while women remain on the margins. He said this conference was a very good idea and should serve to foster a more tolerant attitude towards life and history.
Conference participants included deputy director of the Panevėžys city administration for educational affairs Sandra Jakštienė, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskis, principals and teachers of the gymnasia in Panevėžys and other professionals working in education in the city. Nine presentations were given, including by Panevėžys College library director Vilija Raubienė, Panevėžys District G. Petkevičaitė-Bitė Public Library librarian Albina Saladūnaitė, regional history expert from Šiauliai Irena Dambrauskaitė-Rudzinskienė, director of the Kalba Knyga Kūryba Communications Center Lionė Lapinskienė, museum specialist Donatas Juzėnas, Paįstrys resident and local history expert Stasė Mikeliūnienė and puppeteer Antanas Markuckis.
Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, residents of Kaunas and visitors honored Lithuanian Jewish veterans at the Jewish cemetery in the Gičiupis aldermanship in Kaunas November 23.
KJC chairman Gercas Žakas spoke about the historical relations between Jews and ethnic Lithuanians, Jewish service in the battles for Lithuanian freedom in 1919 and 1920 and later service in the military of independent Lithuania. Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas, president of the Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association, spoke of the patriotism of Jewish soldiers between 1918 and 1940 and presented a medal to chairman Žakas. Lithuanian MP Gediminas Vasiliauskas, Gičiupis alderwoman Jolanta Žakevičienė and Kaunas Ukrainian Association chairman Nikolai Denisensko also spoke.
The old Jewish cemetery in Kaunas was established in 1861 and closed in 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports many notable public, cultural, political and religious figures are buried there, as well as 14 Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who served in the Lithuanian military or fought in the battles for Lithuanian freedom.
The Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association and the 202nd division of the Union of Lithuanian Sharpshooters are implementing a project called “Strengthening Civic-Mindedness and Patriotism through Community Activity in the Gričiupis Aldermandship.”
As families across the country gather to give thanks–for those we love, for the freedoms we cherish, for our shared heritage–I hope we’ll take a moment to consider those in need and those who cannot be with their families on this special day, particularly our brave men and women in uniform stationed around the world.
With the many challenges we face today, the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad remains strong and steadfast in our commitment to preserving the past. It has never been more important to understand our history, to find common ground through our diverse stories, and to appreciate the profound privilege of being an American.
As you spend time with your family this Thanksgiving, I urge you to take the first step toward preserving our history: tell your family’s story, where you came from and how you arrived where you are now. Give your children the gift of understanding where they come from, and on this and every Thanksgiving into the future, I have no doubt they’ll thank you for it.
From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.
U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad
633 3rd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001