Learning, History, Culture

“Identitarian” to Speak at University with Largest Jewish Student Body in US

JTA–The University of Florida, home to the largest Jewish student body in the country, is bracing for an upcoming speech on campus by white supremacist leader Richard Spencer.

Only six weeks after Hurricane Irma wrought destruction in Florida, governor Rick Scott declared another state of emergency, this time ahead of Spencer’s speech in Gainesville Thursday afternoon.

The university allowed Spencer to speak after initially declining his request, saying that as a public institution it must uphold the principles of free speech. He was a promoter of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August which turned deadly.

Spencer, the founder of a white supremacist think tank, has advocated a white ethno-state which would exclude non-whites and Jews. The Anti-Defamation League said he has become “more openly anti-Semitic in recent years.”

“Our decision to disallow the September event was based on specific threats and a date that fell soon after the Charlottesville event,” the university said in a statement. “Allowing Spencer to speak in October provided additional time to make significant security arrangements.”

Although the event is not sponsored by any groups affiliated with the university, the public university must pay over $500,000 in security for the event. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled the government cannot charge a speaker for security costs due to potential protesters.

Full story here.

Will We Tell Students the Whole Truth, or Only What’s Useful to Us?


by Mečys Laurinkus, www.lrytas.lt

Toppling (taking down temporarily for restoration) the “idols” on the Green Bridge [in Vilnius] under natural field conditions with no special measures taken, I overheard the complaint: the topplers themselves name streets and hang memorial plaques to the “heroes” who took part in the shooting of Jews. The public is interested in history, reads, listens to discussions and judges the actions of the government. You cannot forbid this.

Virginijus Savukynas in his television show “Istorijos detektyvai” [History’s Detective Stories] returned to this often emotionally explosive topic. Kazys Škirpa, in whose honor a street is named in Vilnius, a noteworthy founder of the Lithuanian state and the organizer of the June, 1941, uprising against the Russians, while under house arrest in Berlin issued a statement about Jews which was totally contrary to his biography and likely his own views, one which was comparable to the spirit of the Gestapo. I will restate my thoughts again a bit later. Jonas Noreika, aka Generolas Vėtra, who had fought against the Nazis and the Bolsheviks and was shot by the latter, appointed head of the Šiauliai district administration by the Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941, blessed with his signature the establishment of a ghetto for Jews in Žagarė, Lithuania.

General Vėtra (actually just a captain) has been honored with a commemorative plaque. Not somewhere marginal. On the building of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. In an even more visible location there still stands the statue to Petras Cvirka, who brought back the sun of Stalin not at all because of any political manoeuvering to help Lithuania in the grindstones of time, but out of conviction that “Mother Russia” would take us in and protect us. Of course she did take us in, but only to a very cold place, where poets such as Kazys Jakubėnas, upon whom Cvirka informed to Soviet security, were sent.

Makabi Athletics Club Teaches Jews How to Shoot

The Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club held a target-shooting contest at the GSKA gun club in Vilnius October 8 in three participation categories: men, women and young people. Contestants shot a pistol 25 times (including five practice shots) at concentric targets 20 meters away.

The Fish family won in all categories. The brothers Fish, Adomas and Nojus, took first and second place in the youth competition with 139 and 116 points, respectively. Their mother Kristina with 109 points beat out Laimina Gurvičienė with 55 points and Marina Balderman with 40 to take the women’s. Julius Fish won men’s with 132, followed closely by Algirdas Malcas with 122 and Boris Kirzner with 116 points.

All contestants won participation medals and the actual winners got handsome trophies. The event was organized by Artiomas Perepelica and refereed and supervised by Anatoly Kapustin and Aleksej Slyčkov.

Congratulations to all the contestants and organizers for a fine showing!

Jewish Gravestone Fragments to be Used in Memorial


by Monika Petrulienė, LRT TV News Service, LRT.lt

Jewish headstones used during the Soviet era for construction in Vilnius are being returned to the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Fragments of grave markers were removed from buildings and stairwells in the capital. A memorial will be made from the remains of headstones at the cemetery.

More than 1,000 metric tons of grave stones are being transported to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Less than half have been brought there so far. They are to be examined by experts to determine to which cemetery they will be returned ultimately. The Jewish cemetery on Olandų street covers almost 12 hectares and is roughly equal to the Rasos cemetery in Vilnius in size and number of burials.

“The first decision made was that the stones should be arrayed somewhere in what we might call an open working area, so that project authors, architects and landscape artists can learn about and get a feel for them, and so that they can be used directly from that area for certain compositions,” Martynas Užpelkis, heritage protection specialist for the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said.

Heritage protection experts say the majority of the Jewish grave markers were used in building stairs on Tauro hill in Vilnius. Many were also used in constructing electrical transformer substations and support walls in the city. Historians have examined about 2,500 pieces so far. The majority of inscriptions have been in Hebrew, but there are also inscriptions in Yiddish, Polish and Russian. The plan is for most of the stone fragments to stay at Olandų street, with the remainder going to the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood.

Lithuanian Government Sets New Deadline for Reconstruction of Palace of Sports


Photo: Tomas Lukšys/BFL, © 2017 Baltijos fotografijos linija

The Lithuanian Government decided Wednesday to push back the deadline for reconstruction of the Palace of Sports in Vilnius for use as conference center and cultural events venue from 2018 to 2021. The move follows law enforcement getting bogged down in investigations of earlier public procurement for the project.

A statement by the Government said under the new scheme the Vilnius Congress Center project would be implemented within three years. The sitting of the cabinet of ministers approved a proposal from the Finance Ministry on the issue.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis said the lack of a modern conference center in Vilnius would hinder greatly the expansion of conference tourism in Lithuania.

Come Make Challa with Us

The Shabbos Project has been called a Jewish spring, a global social phenomenon and an incredible experience.

Last year 6,000 volunteers in 95 countries and 1,152 cities organized challa-making events during a single Sabbath, events which included over 8,000 women and participants speaking more than 10 different languages in Buenos Aires, and five city blocks in Los Angeles were closed to traffic for setting up cooking tables in the streets. In Melbourne 10,000 people attended the havdala concert and the event generated 61,884,223 images posted on the internet.

We’re inviting everyone to the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on October 26 for an evening of challa-making and baking. Challa is the traditional bread served at Sabbath dinner. Please register here.

Much Applause

“The project was conceived in 2014 when Zubin Mehta conducted the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Vilnius. The person who runs the orchestra, Gintautas Kevisas, informed ambassador Laimonas that he was planning a visit to South East Asia with the Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra, and was wondering whether they could give a couple of concerts in Mumbai. The ambassador approached Khushroo Suntook and the two days, the 10th and 11th, were finalized,” says a spokesperson about the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, wich performed to great acclaim at the NCPA this week, and which we had the pleasure of attending on Wednesday evening.

“Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of CIPLA, whose mother was Lithuanian and who was born in Lithuania, came forward to make it happen.”

As was to be expected, the presence of this international group of acclaimed musicians was highly applauded, and the packed auditorium was witness to many shouts of “Encore” and “bravo,” especially when the dapper resident conductor and violinist of the Symphony Orchestra of India, Marat Bisengaliev, participated as a solo violinist. What’s more, we noted: it wasn’t just the usual suspects of well-heeled Parsis savoring the fare.

Lithuania’s ambassador to India Laimonas Talat-Kelpsa with Linas Antanas Linkevicius, minister of foreign affairs in Lithuania, along with the consul generals of Spain, Hungary, Argentina and Holland and minister of external affairs M. J. Akbar were in the audience.

(From the Friday, October 13, 2017, print edition of Mid-Day newspaper, Mumbai, India)

AJC on US Exit from UNESCO

October 12, 2017, New York–AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization, called the United States’ decision to leave UNESCO regrettable, but one that should serve as a wake-up call for the other member-states.

“UNESCO without the United States will be a diminished organization, and the U.S. outside UNESCO runs the risk of reducing our nation’s global role,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “We can only hope that member states will address the U.S. concerns seriously and swiftly. All will be better off with the U.S. in, not out.”

The State Department announced on October 12th that due to “U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO” the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris-based UN specialized agency effective December 31, 2018.

Litvak Sponsors Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra Concert in India

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky at the invitation of the Lithuanian embassy to India attended a concert by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai October 10 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian independence.

Indian pharmaceutical magnate with Litvak roots Yusuf K. Hamied, a close family friend of the Kuklianskys and his wife Frida sponsored the concert through their foundation.

Photo: (from left) Indian minister of state for foreign affairs Mobashar Jawed “M. J.” Akbar, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Cipla Ltd. pharmaceuticals and biotech company director Yusuf K. Hamied.

Save the Date: International Conference #RememberanceResponsibilityFuture

Save the Date: International Conference #RememberanceResponsibilityFuture

Introduction

Dovilė Budrytė, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science
Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia, USA

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?

Vilnius Returns Jewish Headstones to Cemetery


photo: S. Žiūra

This week the Vilnius municipality is sending all known fragments of Jewish gravestones from different Soviet-era sites around the city to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. The headstone fragments mainly came from the historic Olandų and Šnipiškės Jewish cemeteries and were used as construction material during Soviet times. More than 1,000 metric tons of grave marker stone were sent to the Olandų cemetery. All fragments will undergo examination to determine their final destination, either the Olandų or the Šnipiškės cemetery.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius said: “Modern Vilnius must assess, remember and honor appropriately the history of the city and its residents. The return of a huge number of headstones to their historic and sacred sites demonstrates the respect Vilnius residents have for the Jewish community and the commemoration of the dead. Stones from the disassembled transformer station and other sites in the city where the Soviets used Jewish headstones for construction have already been returned to the Olandų cemetery. Our goal is for all gravestones to be returned to the location where they belong.”

About 1,000 metric tons of Jewish cemetery marker stones have been collected and stored at the Vilniaus žaluma company so far.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Cipla’s Journey: How a Muslim-Jewish Romance Shaped One of India’s Biggest Pharma Firms

by Kenneth X. Robbins and John Mcleod

In 1992, the editor of the Times of India telephoned one of Mumbai’s most prominent businessmen–Yusuf K Hamied. The editor asked Yusuf “as a Muslim leader” his opinion on communal riots that were taking place in the city. “Why aren’t you asking me as an Indian Jew? Because my name is Hamied? My mother was Jewish,” Yusuf replied. His maternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust.

Yusuf, chairman of one of India’s largest pharmaceutical firms, is the son of an aristocratic Muslim scientist from India and a Jewish Communist from what is now Lithuania. Defined by his parents’ extraordinary marriage, he unites his father’s scientific skills, business acumen, and Indian patriotism with his mother’s compassion for the less fortunate. He charges the Western pharmaceutical industry with “holding three billion people in the Third World to ransom by using their monopoly status to charge higher prices.” And he has devoted himself to making life-saving inexpensive generic medications for the inhabitants of poorer countries.

NHK World Documentary Painting with Soul

Japan’s largest broadcast NHK invites you to watch their documentary “Painting with Soul.”

The “To-Kon Painters” add color to the lives of people who are short on cash. They’re volunteers who will travel anywhere for a good cause, painting buildings and playground equipment free of charge. Most are former social dropouts who once belonged to biker gangs or quit school. We follow them to Lithuania, where they repaint a memorial honoring Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who helped 6,000 Jews flee the Holocaust during World War II. The painters must overcome cultural and linguistic challenges to get the job done.

Watch here.

LJC Hosts “Person with a Backbone” Discussion on Public Holocaust Awareness

The Lithuanian Jewish Community together with the Polish Institute in Vilnius, the Goodwill Foundation and the Czarne publishing house hosted a discussion September 27 called “Person with a Strong Backbone” on public awareness of the Holocaust and of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles who rescued Jews from death. The guest of honor was Romuald Weksler-Waszkinel who was born in Švenčionys and escaped death due to the efforts of Righteous Gentiles.

The discussion was based on the book of the same name by Polish radio journalist Dariusz Rosiak who discovered a hero in Waszkinel (Człowiek o twardym karku. Historia księdza Romualda Jakuba Wekslera-Waszkinela, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2013). The author and his book’s main character shared with the audience memories and reflections of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles against the backdrop of Waszkinel’s moving story of his salvation by Polish rescuers and how they raised him as one of the family.

Vilnius Polish Institute director Marcin Łapczyński said: “The Holocaust is one of the greatest and most horrific tragedies in the history of humanity. Millions of Jews lost their lives because of the crime planned by the Germans. About half of Poland’s 6 million citizens who died during World War II were Jews. It’s worth recalling Poles constitute about 25 percent of all people awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations for the heroic rescue of Jews. They are in first place in the awards list. Likewise, Polish families in Lithuania helped Jews. Examples include Katarzyna and Ignacy Bujel from Vaidotai, Maria and Antoni Kruminis-Łozowski from i Jašiūnai and of course Emilia and Piotr Waszkinel from Švenčionys. Among the almost 900 Lithuanian citizens who are Righteous Gentiles, Poles form the majority.”

Well-known Vilnius teacher, bibliophile and proponent of multiculturalism Vytautas Toleikis led the discussion, after which Grzegorz Lindowski’s documentary film “Embedded in David’s Star, the Cross” (“…wpisany w gwiazdę Dawida – krzyżm,” 1997) was shown, in which Romuald Waszkinel shares his dramatic story, his dilemmas and thoughts which led him to inner peace and certainty.

Žiežmariai Synagogue One of a Handful of Surviving Wooden Synagogues in Europe

LRT TV News Service LRT.lt

When Lithuania joined the European Route of Jewish Cultural Heritage, the synagogue in Žiežmariai was chosen as the symbolic first site. The wooden house of prayer is a rare surviving example of wooden synagogues in Europe. Even so, it took more than a decade for reconstruction to begin. After work is done, the plan is for the small building located in a town along Lithuania’s main highway to host a museum.

About 500 Jews lived in Žiežmariai when the synagogue was built in the 19th century. Before the war there were up to a thousand. Now the synagogue is getting back its former face, with work on the façade, windows, walls and the already-finished roof.

Restoration experts working on the building say the synagogue succeeded in surviving because of daily care by local residents. They boarded up windows and removed garbage dating back to Soviet times, when the building was used as storage. Neighbor Liudvikas Markuntavičius said the synagogue serves more than just to remind the small town of a glorious past. During World War II the synagogue territory was used as a ghetto and the Jews of Žasliai and Kaišiadorys were imprisoned there.

Sukkot Celebration in Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community set up the traditional sukka for celebrating Sukkot, the harvest festival and recollection of the flight of the Jews through the Sinai living in tents. Each family and community makes a sukka according to their means. This time there was a special celebration in which children were explained the meaning of Sukkot, and they had the chance to “dwell” in the temporary shelter, playing, having fun and eating. There were also photo sessions held in the sukka, photographs being sent to parents and kept in the Community archives. All Community members contributed by bringing in the fruits of their harvests, including apples, watermelons, pumpkins and grapes.

Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas participated at the celebration, greeted everyone in the name of the LJC and wished everyone a happy and full new year, health, joy and mutual goodwill.

Later a prayer was read, the blessing of the Most High. Holiday greetings from Israel, the USA and LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky were read out.

After a sumptuous dinner made by the women of the Community and café staff, games and dances were held. Children gave improvised performances and were rewarded with small gifts. The celebration carried on long into the evening.

Chabad Feuds with Jewish Leaders over Cozy Ties to Eastern European Autocrats


by Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses

In the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, established mainstream Jewish groups are increasingly worried that Chabad, the international Hasidic movement, is allying itself with authoritarian governments.

In countries from Hungary to Russia, they say, Chabad is at times playing down anti-Semitism in a bid to compete with local Jewish groups and win access to financial resources and political influence.

Chabad, in turn, says that mainstream groups are too embroiled in secular and political issues, including polarizing disputes about democracy and civil liberties, at the expense of guarding core communal Jewish interests of physical security and Jewish religious freedom. In some cases, Chabad officials say, these establishment groups are also corrupt.

The increasing tensions between Chabad and more established Jewish groups are playing out in different ways in different countries. Each case is unique:

Survivor Yochanan Fein’s Memoirs Presented in Lithuanian in Kaunas


Photo courtesy Vincas Kudirka Public Library

The Lithuanian translation of Yochanan Fein’s memoirs called “Berniukas su smuiku” [Boy with a Violin] was presented at two locations in Kaunas: the Vincas Kudirka public library’s Panemunė branch and the President Valdas Adamkus Library and Museum. The author impressed audiences with his warmth, humor, humanitarianism and perfect Lithuanian and his story drew both laughter and tears.

Members of the Paulavičius family, who rescued Fein during the Holocaust, attended the book presentation at the presidential library, along with members of academia, Kaunas Jewish Community members, former ghetto prisoners and Fein’s son and daughter, who accompanied him throughout Lithuania on his book tour.

Recalling his life in the ghetto and his rescue as well as what led up to his writing the book, Fein said that although the book is written in blood, it contains no hatred, revenge or attacks. Fein even received some criticism from friends for that reason, so he explained he would never forget what happened and who did it, but he also discovered enlightened people during those dark days who preserved faith in humanity, risking their lives and those of their families. Fein said he didn’t like the word “everyone” and that there is no universal crime or guilt. He said we need to talk about the real heroes of the nation, the extraordinary people who adhered to Fein’s father’s life-long maxim “men darf zayn a mentsh,” one must remain a human being.

Jewish Lithuanian Soldier Volf Kagan Remembered in Balbirishok

A commemorative plaque was unveiled on October 5 to honor the memory of Volf Kagan, Jewish Lithuanian soldier and two-time recipient of the order of the Cross of Vytis, in the town square of Balbieriškis (Balbirishok) next to the local government building in the Prienai region of Lithuania. Volf Kagan (1900-1941) came from this town.

According to Balbieriškis Tolerance Center director Vitas Rymantas Sidaravičius, the plaque honors both Kagan and the former Jewish community of Balbieriškis. The plaque was the brain-child of Lithuanian journalist Vilius Kavaliauskas, author and editor of articles and the book “Pažadėtoji žemė – Lietuva” [Lithuania: The Promised Land] about Litvaks, and was financed by the Prienai regional administration. Lithuanian Jewish MP Emanuelis Zingeris attended the unveiling ceremony as did Prienai regional administration head Alvydas Vaicekauskas, deputy regional administration head Algis Marcinkevičius, representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community, Vilius Kavaliauskas, Prienai regional culture, sports and youth department director Rimantas Šiugždinis, Išlaužo žuvis company director Rimantas Jurgelionis, Balbieriškiis parish head priest father Remigijus Veprauskas, head town doctor Angelė Sidaravičienė, Balbieriškis alderwoman Sigita Ražanskienė, members of the aldermanship council, Balbieriškis primary school students and teachers, Culture and Leisure Center staff and local residents.