Litvaks

European Days of Jewish Culture 2018

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:

September 2

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

September 7

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

Sabbath at the LJC with Actor Marius Repšys (Cohen)

What does cohen mean? That was the question for some who came to celebrate Sabbath at the LJC with famous Lithuanian actor Marius Repšys, who turned 34 on September 1. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas moderated the event.

“I wanted to get back my father’s surname, Cohen, which was changed when I was a child, but when I went to the Justice Ministry, I found out I can’t do that, because it’s difficult to prove following my father’s death in Israel,” Repšys told the audience. Marius’s father was Jewish and his mother is mixed Tartar and Russian. When he was 8 his mother decided it would be better for him to change his surname, to be a Lithuanian rather than a Jew, because, she said, “everyone attacks Russians and Jews.” She had divorced his father when Marius was 4. He only learned his father was Jewish when he was 7.

Twenty years later he visited his father in Israel on his father’s birthday and brought as a gift an album of photographs of him in his childhood. “My father was moved and cried, but the next day there was an ashtray on top of the photo album,” Marius recalled. He went to Israel the second time for his father’s funeral.

Renaldas Vaisbrodas recalled it was fairly common to switch ethnicity in Soviet times, and parents did this to protect their children from bullying.

Pope Francis to Honor Holocaust Victims in Vilnius

According to the Lithuanian Government’s planning committee for the visit of Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church will honor Holocaust victims in the Vilnius ghetto after returning from Kaunas on September 23.

On September 23, 1943, the final destruction of the ghetto took place. In Lithuania September 23 is marked as the Day of Genocide of the Jews of Lithuania.

Congratulations to Members and Children on First Day of School

Dear parents, teachers and children,

You have grown strong, relaxed and have begun to miss your friends over the sunny summer vacation, and now with renewed energy you embark with your teachers on a trip to the mysterious land of learning. We wish you the joy of learning new things, much friendship with your classmates and success in your studies. Mazl tov!

Sugihara Week in Kaunas to Include Japanese Culture Component

Sugihara Week celebrations and events will take place in Kaunas from September 3 to 9 this year and will include concerts, a symposium, film screenings, lectures, creative workshops and other events. Visitors will learn more about Japanese culture and friendship between Lithuania and Japan.

The program begins Monday, September 3, with a concert called “Improvisational Music” performed by Japanese and Lithuanian musicians at the Kaunas State Philharmonic.

On September 5 an international symposium called “Diplomats Who Saved Jewish Lives” will be held in the Small Hall at Vytautas Magnus University with speakers from Israel, the USA, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

More information in Lithuanian here.

First New Litvak Scouting Camp, Sabbath in the Forest

The first new Litvak scouting camping trip with children from Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Molėtai took place over the weekend. Litvak scouting has a long tradition in Lithuania until the Holocaust and there were thousands of scouts. Jewish scouting stopped after the Holocaust, making the revival, Sabbath in the Forest, an important milestone. The goal of the renewed organization is to include religious Jewish children, secular Jewish children and non-Jewish children in Jewish scouting activities. The main concern is to make sure minimal standards are adhered to to allow religious Jewish children to attend the camping trips. The camping trips place special emphasis on Jewish religious traditions and prayer, serve kosher food and observe all the requirements of the Sabbath.

Many of the children experienced the great outdoors for the very first time, setting up tents and sleeping in them, setting up wooden picnic tables, cooking bread on the fire and challa in an outdoor oven and going on an evening hike.

Fania Brancovskaja, a member of the Bin scouting organization in Vilnius, ushered out the Sabbath last Saturday. The scouts called her “Sister Fania” as she shared her experience in scouting and stories about the scouts in pre-World War II Lithuania. Fania was presented a Lithuanian scouting necktie.

Binyamin Netanyahu Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community at Choral Synagogue

A long queue of Lithuanian Jews and friends of Israel eager to hear Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu crowded the sidewalk outside the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Sunday. Scheduled to start at 11:00 A.M., Netanyahu arrived about an hour and a half late, which only seemed to increase the audience’s anticipation, with applause when he and his wife entered. The main hall and the balcony were full to capacity as Israeli and Lithuanian security scanned the crowd during the first visit ever by an Israeli prime minister to Lithuania.

Netanyahu appeared very natural at the podium, thanked everyone for coming and singled out Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, MP Emanuelis Zingeris, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon and his wife and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky for special recognition.

In his brief address Netanyahu said he was a Litvak on both sides of his family, that he was returning to Lithuania as the prime minister of a powerful and innovative state and that he took two lessons from the Holocaust: that brutality and extremism need to be stopped as soon as they appear, and that Jews need to be able to defend themselves. He said the state of Israel was that defense. He also said Israel has many friends in the world, none greater than the United States, but that Israel has many more friends than people know, including in the Arab world. He mourned the passing of US Republican senator John McCain of Arizona. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas introduced the prime minister and provided an accurate synchronous translation of his words in Lithuanian.

Rafaelas Karpis performed the Partisan Hymn in Yiddish and several other songs, after which Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yaatov sang a biblical passage about the loss of Israel. Rabbi Ber Krinsky thanked the prime minister for coming and expressed special support for Israel, for the prime minister and for his family. The event ended with the Israeli national anthem.

Israeli PM at Ponar


VILNIUS, August 24, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ponar Friday, part of Vilnius where over 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

After laying a wreath at the Ponar memorial, Netanyahu said that his grandfather had been severely beaten near what he called “a forest of death.”

The Israeli prime minister said that he had learned two lessons from the Holocaust.

“First, we must fight barbarism or it will burn all of us. The second for us, Jews, is that we must never be defenseless again,” Netanyahu said.

“I want to say to my grandfather today: saba, I am back here today and this is a forest of death. As the prime minister of Israel. We will never be defenseless again,” he said.

“We have a state, we have an army and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves”.

Netanyahu’s grandmother Sarah Mileikowsky, née Lurie, was born in Šeduva, a town in Lithuania, and his grandfather Nathan Mileikowsky was born in Kreva in what is now Belarus.

Netanyahu: I Would Like to Balance EU’s Unfriendly Stance on Israel


Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sarah depart Ben-Gurion Airport for Lithuania, August 23, 2018. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

During his stay, Netanyahu will participate in a memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims, an award ceremony for the Righteous Among the Nations, among others.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flying Thursday to Lithuania for a three-day trip to hold bilateral diplomatic meetings with the heads of the Baltic states, who will also be arriving in the European country.

“I would also like to balance the EU’s unfriendly stance towards the State of Israel in order to achieve a more fair and genuine relationship with the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said before he boarded the plane. “I have achieved this through cooperating with groups of countries within the EU, Eastern Europe and now with the Baltic countries and of course, with other countries,” he added.

During his stay Netanyahu will participate in a memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims, an award ceremony for the Righteous among the Nations and additional events.

He will return to Israel on Sunday.

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Arrive in Lithuania


VILNIUS, August 23, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arriving in Lithuania for an historic visit Thursday.

Netanyahu’s four-day visit is aimed at securing greater support from the Baltic countries for pressure on Iran and paying tribute to the Jewish heritage in Lithuania.

Lithuania would like Israel to take a tougher stance toward Russia.

“We need to better understand each other’s security policy challenges, because security is indivisible, and problems in one region can move to other regions, too,” Government vice-chancellor Deividas Matulionis told BNS.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet for talks Thursday evening before being joined by Latvian and Estonian counterparts Friday. Netanyahu is also to meet Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite Friday.

Endowment Fund of the Good Will Foundation

By a decision of the Board of Directors of the Good Will Foundation, funds that have been set aside from the annual payments by the Government to the GWF will now be invested as allowed under the law and according to the recommendations of the Good Will Investment Committee. The Investment Committee (Daiva Gerulytė, Harold Paisner, Krzysztof A. Rozen and Rokas Grajauskas) has proposed equally dividing these funds (now approximately 9 million Euro) between passive, long-term investments and an active investment portfolio managed by a reputable financial advisor. The goal of this Endowment Fund is to provide for the continued support of Lithuanian Jewish communal life once the annual payments have ceased. The Investment Committee will continue to monitor the progress of this investment strategy and recommend changes when and if necessary.

Events to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto


Programme

September 18

2:00 P.M. Reading of the names of prisoners of the Šiauliai ghetto, library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Žygimantų street no. 1 (time subject to change)

September 21 

3.00 P.M.  Ceremony to unveil memory stones commemorating Lithuania’s Righteous                   Gentiles, Garden of the Missionaries, Mairono street.

September 22

6:00 P.M. Premiere of the play Ghetto, Kaunas National Drama Theater, Laisvės prospect no. 71

September 23

10:00 A.M. Reading of the names of Vilnius ghetto prisoners, Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39
12 noon Readings from the diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski in the former ghetto (location to be announced)
2:00 P.M. Commemoration ceremony at the Ponar mass murder site, Ponar Memorial Complex, Agrastų street
* Pope Francis to honor Holocaust victims in ghetto territory in Vilnius Old Town
6.00 P.M. World Premiere by Giedrius Kuprevičius “Under David’s Star”, Vaidila Theatre, A. Jakšto street no. 9

September 26

6:00 P.M. Tenor Rafailas Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and poet Sergejus Kanovičius present “Embrace the Past Tense.” Can Yiddish and Lithuanian meet under one roof? Is it possible to recognize a lullaby if it is sung in unknown words? Is dialogue possible between those singing in Yiddish and those reading their work in Lithuanian? Can love, longing and shared grief meet in memory? The Old Arsenal, Arsenalo street no. 3

September 27

6:00 P.M. Evening of Vilna Ghetto songs by Marija Krupoves, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

September 28

Commemorative Sabbath, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

October 4

6:30 P.M. “Heroism against Destruction,” an evening of creativity by Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble (Israel) dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Theater Hall, Vilnius University, Universiteto street no. 3

For more information write info@lzb.lt or call +370 672 40942

Tunklgold Concert a Rousing Success

Jascha Heifetz Hall on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius was filled Thursday for a concert concluding the summer course of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.

Vocalist Regina Hopfgartner with Gregor Unterkofler on piano and backup vocals performed a program of old Yiddish favorites to the audience of staff and students from the summer course and staff and members of the LJC as well as interested members of the public.

The duo performed in Yiddish but the introduction to each song was given in English. Both the Yiddish and the English had a hint of German, and in “Bei Mir Bisttu Shane,” the culmination of the concert, there was no separating the accents. The audience gave a long standing ovation and came out to give their personal congratulations to the performers in the foyer.

Irena Giedraitienė, Panevėžys Jewish Community Member and Photographer

Long-time member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community Irena Giedraitienė won wide renown and a number of prizes for her photography in the 1970s but hasn’t appeared much lately at exhibits and in the press. Happily, the city newspaper Sekundė has printed an article featuring this wonderful artist with such a surprising biography.

This photographer who has left a real mark in Lithuanian photography has held more than 40 exhibits of her work, took part in another 100 group exhibits around the world and has won dozens of coveted awards.

She still has something to say and something to show, so she’s preparing for more exhibitions, putting her archive in order, taking new series of photographs and thinking about interesting projects for the future.

Right now she’s focusing on the upcoming Fotoskrynia exhibition which is being partially financed by an art grant from the city municipality.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuania Pays Tribute To a Genocidal Monster


Jonas Noreika from the private collection of his granddaughter, Silvia Foti

Jonas Noreika, whose granddaughter confirms he murdered more than 14,000 Jews, is honored as a national hero

Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of one of the worst genocidal monsters in history, has published an explosive expose of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, showing that he was indeed responsible for the murder of more than 14,000 Lithuanian Jews. Foti identifies the Lithuanian Government’s odious attempts to revise history as “one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th Century.”

First exposed by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 1984, it has long been known that Noreika was culpable in the murder of his Jewish neighbors in Northwestern Lithuania. Yet Noreika officially and legally remains one of Lithuania’s greatest national heroes, and is honored with a plaque on the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building. Over a decade ago, this incongruous adulation of a genocidal monster struck me, a Jewish Lithuanian citizen, as reprehensible. I immediately began my campaign to remove this monument. I had no idea that the official conversion of monsters into heroes was a deliberate Lithuanian agenda.

Full text here.

Gesher Club Visits Poland

Approximately 30 members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Gesher Club from Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai toured Warsaw and Cracow in late July on an educational and site-seeing journey. Most were already familiar with Warsaw with its unique architecture, wide boulevards and skyscrapers puncturing its centuries-old skyline. Club members said their deepest impressions came from the POLIN Museum of Polish Jewish history.

In historic Cracow the visitors toured the Kazimierz old Jewish quarter there and attended a klezmer concert.

Long-time LJC member and professional tourist guide Markas Psonikas organized and the trip.

Eli Rabinowitz from Australia and Israelis Visit Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community had the unexpected pleasure of a visit by several guests this week. Daniel Veid and his wife Eti and their son Shmuel from Israel visited and Daniel said he was researching his family’s roots. His great-great-grandfather Solomon Veid was born and lived in Panevėžys and his great-great-grandmother Shaike Levine was also born there. Solomon and his family moved to South Africa in the early 19th century.

On July 31 Eli Rabinowitz, who grew up in Cape Town and now lives in Perth, Australia, also visited. He spoke about his project to help teach the Holocaust to young people around the world.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman spoke with Rabinowitz about Community projects with local schools which also teach young people about the Holocaust.

Paul Packer, New Chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Visited Lithuania in July

Paul Packer, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, visited Jewish heritage sites including the Ponar Memorial Complex and the old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės with representatives from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the US embassy, the Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and discussed Jewish heritage topics and directions with representatives of the Lithuanian Government and Vilnius municipality.

The chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish heritage sites together in Kaunas, Kėdainiai, Pakruojis and Joniškis. Packer praised efforts by the LJC and local municipalities to preserve authentic Litvak heritage and especially maintaining authentic synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries.

Packer visited the Great Synagogue archaeological site and learned about the dig there. He was keenly interested in possibilities for commemorating the sacred and symbolic historical site. The LJC plans to continue active cooperation with the chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad who has taken a firm position on the control of the Great Synagogue. He said the Great Synagogue should be under the Lithuanian Jewish Community. A resolution protocol was adopted by the Lithuanian Government on June 29, 2018, tasking the LJC with drafting a study for ways to restore fragments of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

Questions by Pinchos Fridberg regarding the LJC Statement on Noreika

I’ll say right away I’m not a diplomat, I am a person “rough and unrefined,” but I am a member of the Community and that means this statement was written in my name as well. I will quote:

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community asks the institutions responsible to take quick action to solve this political, ethical and legal problem and to pay due respect to the victims of the Holocaust. We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23.”

I would like to ask the authors of this statement several clear and not very pleasant questions. I hope my questions will be posted without delay and I won’t have to look for another place to post it. Note the references are just to the original document.

1. Do the authors of the statement know Jonas Noreika (General Vėtra) received decoration (posthumously), the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis?

Note: The award number and date of the decree is easy to find on the presidential webpage.

Then-president Algirdas Brazauskas signed this decree but I was unable to find the text of the decree, the official presidential webpage only covers decrees promulgated between 2009 and 2018.

2. Do the authors of this “statement” understand the status of this award?

Note: this is article 57 of the text:

“The order of the Cross of Vytis is awarded to people who have demonstrated remarkable heroism, bravery and resolution in defending the freedom and independence of the Republic of Lithuania.”

3. Do the authors of this “statement” understand that it’s not possible to “turn the four screws” on the commemorative plaque without the president first rescinding the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis by decree?

4. Do the authors of the “statement” believe this sort of resolution might really be signed, and moreover, by September 23, 2018?

P.S. I don’t need a response. I will be satisfied if you post these questions, but without editing, please.

Pinchos Fridberg, average Community member

Markas Zingeris Wins Liudas Dovydėnas Literary Prize

Writer Markas Zingeris has won this year’s Liudas Dovydėnas prize for best new Lithuanian novel for the book “Aš sėdėjau Stalinui ant kelių” [I Sat on Stalin’s Knees] published in 2017 by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union.

Zingeris is the director of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum but is an accomplished and prolific writer who has won a number of literary prizes previously. Some of his books have been translated to other languages.

Full story in Lithuanian here.