Meet LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Watch the Film Dialogue with Joseph by Elžbieta Josadė

We kindly invite Jewish young people and the general public to a screening of a documentary film by Elžbieta Josadė called  Dialogue with Joseph on at 7:00 P.M. on May 18 at the Pasaka Theater (Šv. Ignoto street no. 4/3, Vilnius). After the film you may meet and discuss with film director Elžbieta Josadė and editor Rareş lenasoaie. Entrance is free to the public.

Dialogue with Josef was honored with a special jury award at the international competition Jihlava IDFF 2016 in the Overseas category and Best Central and Eastern Europe Documentary Film subcategory. The national premiere was November 2016 at the Scanorama film forum.
About the film:
Joseph paints the earth and the sky with no other ambition than to observe and to gain a better understanding of the landscape‘s visual structure. Shyly, the filmmaker follows her father in his work and in this so particular space which surrounds him.
At 6:00 P.M., just before the screening of the film, we invite young people from the Jewish Community to an informal meeting at the restaurant La Boheme (Šv. Ignoto street no. 4/3, Vilnius, right next door to the Pasaka Theater) with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky. We will discuss Jewish heritage, future prospects for the Jewish community and other issues. 

Lithuanian Jewish Community Celebrates Leonidas Melnikas’s Birthday

The Destinies program of evening cultural events celebrated the birthday of Lithuanian musician and composer Dr. Leonidas Melnikas last Thursday, May 11.

The evening began at the Jascha Heifetz hall at LJC headquarters in Vilnius with the airs of a tango, an overflow crowd and the birthday boy smiling on stage. Leonidas Melnikas is a piano player, organ player, musicologist, a tenured doctor, the head of his cathedral at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater, chairman of the academy’s senate and professor. He’s also a member of the board of directors of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. He turned 60 Thursday.

The birthday celebration was part of the Destinies program of evening cultural events initiated and organized by LJC deputy chairwoman Maša Grodnikienė, who used the occasion to honor the memory of Melnikas’s father Isaiah Melnik, who would have turned 110 that same day. He was a well-known pharmacist at the Vilnius Central Pharmacy (on what is now Gedimino prospect) and at the Žvėrynas Pharmacy in Vilnius, where he made his own preparations in his time. He survived both Stutthof and Dachau. He was beloved by all and was a calm and warm person who enjoyed attending all sorts of concerts. His son Leonidas’s musical career began when his mother took him to the Ąžuoliukas school. His first teacher was the famous pianist Nadežda Duksdulskaitė. “My entire childhood was illuminated by my parents, the very best, the very wisest people, and family remains extremely important to me,” Melnikas said of himself before embarking on a performance of tango melodies with violinist Boris Traub, cellist Valentinas Kaplūnas and accordion player Gennady Savkov.

Attend Opening Ceremonies for New Judaica Studies Center

The Judaica Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library was officially established May 3, 2017, but will only open to the public May 22 and May 23 with several events and exhibitions.

The Center’s main function is to further research on the Jewish documentary heritage, carrying out educational and informational projects and publicizing the results. The Center is an open enterprise and aimed at educational cooperation. According to its mission statement, the Center actively publicizes information about the Jewish textual heritage at its events, in the national and international media and on the internet, and also conserves collections of modern Judaica publications.


May 22

1:00 P.M. Opening ceremony (foyer, fifth floor)
2:00 P.M. Launch of exhibit People and Books of the Strashun Library (exhibit hall, third floor)

May 23

1:00 P.M. Samuel Kassow (USA) lecture Uniqueness of Jewish Vilna (conference hall, fifth floor)
2:30 P.M. Presentation The Vilnius YIVO Project (conference hall, fifth floor)

Full announcement in Lithuanian at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library web page here.

LitvakSIG Delegation Visits Lithuania

LitvakSIG delegation visit Tolerance Center, Vilna Gaon Museum, Carol Hoffman third from left

The Litvak genealogical web site LitvakSIG‘s board of directors have recently been travelling around Lithuania as part of their important work. The board currently includes nine members: Amy Wachs, Barry Halpern, Carol Hoffman, Dorothy Leivers, Garri Regev, Jill Anderson, Phil Shapiro, Ralph Salinger and Russ Maurer. Six of the nine board members visited Lithuania this past week to meet with archivists and members of the Vilnius and regional Jewish communities. We managed to interview Carol Hoffman at the Bagel Shop Café in Vilnius last Sunday.


Tell us something about yourself.

My names is Carol Hoffman. I was born and raised in the United States. My father was born here in Lithuania in 1892 in Kapčiamiestis, in Yiddish it’s Kopcheve. My mother was born in the United States but her mother was born in Kapčiamiestis, in Kopcheve, in about 1858. So my entire family from my mother’s side and from my father’s side are Litvaks.

So, my entire family are Litvaks, they’re from the same place, from the same shtetl, and I was raised with a strong sense of being my brother’s keeper. I came to Israel in 1972 with three young children and a husband and we settled in the northern part of Israel. I worked as a librarian and a teacher of computer science in the university for many, many years, and I retired seven years ago when began working full-time as a volunteer for LitvakSIG. This is my seventh or eighth or ninth trip to Lithuania, I’m not sure. My first trip was in 2000. I had never been here. I met Regina Kopelevich on the border and we went to … Kopcheve and then to Vilnius. So I feel the strong sense of roots.

Goodwill Foundation Project: Jews of the Vilna Guberniya

Jews of Vilna Guberniya: Recruits of the Tsar, Cantonists, Conscripts of World War I

The project contains a rich collection of early 20th-century photographs conserved by the Lithuanian State Central Archive. These are photographs of Jewish young people and conscripts to the Russian army from the Vilna guberniya from 1900 to 1915 with authentic inscriptions identifying the subjects, with surnames written on the photographs and confirmed by stamp and seal. The reverse sides of the photographs contain the signature of a Vilna guberniya police official confirming identity, and an oath to the that effect is sometimes attached to certain photographs.

The collection is comprised of 1,222 portrait photographs. This is the largest portrait-photo collection preserved in the archive and is important part of the historical legacy of the Jews who lived in Vilna guberniya. The photographs are very expressive, young men dressed in their finest clothes, looking with hope and aspiration to the future. The fate of many is unknown: did they serve in the Russian army, were they cantonists, or did they manage to avoid serving? This unique period of Jewish history has been little studied and very few publications about it exist. Research on the origins and fates of the people in the photographs is a subject for a separate historical study.

Most of the portraits were taken in Vilna, but others were done in Warsaw, Minsk, Kiev and St. Petersburg. These century-old photographs taken in the salons of famous photographers of the period (Rembrandt, E. Binkovich, A. Straus, S. Fleri and others) are both cultural and historical treasures and an important part of the history of photography about which the general public knows very little at the present time.

Old Jewish Cemetery in Šeduva Receives Special Mention in Europa Nostra Heritage Protection Awards

Šeduvos žydų kapinių įamžinimą įvertino Europos Komsijos įkurta Europa Nostra!

Work in Šeduva, or more precisely work already completed, hasn’t gone unnoticed by Europa Nostra, the heritage protection organization established by the European Commission.

Europa Nostra under a jury selected by the European Commission awarded the Lost Shtetl Project special mention.

Special mentions in the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards 2017 were made public today by Europa Nostra and the European Commission. This year the jury granted special mention to 13 heritage achievements from 11 European countries taking part in the EU Creative Europe program.

Special mention goes to outstanding contributions in the conservation and enhancement of European cultural heritage which are particularly appreciated by the jury but did not make it into the final selection to receive an award.

Old Jewish cemetery in Šeduva, Lithuania

In restoring and maintaining the Jewish cemetery in the town of Šeduva, the local community has succeeded in its efforts to restore, commemorate and respectfully maintain the memory of members of their community who, since the Holocaust, no longer live in the town.

For more information, see:

Happy Birthday to Gercas Žakas

Sveikiname Gercą Žaką, Kauno žydų bendruomenės pirmininką su gimtadieniu!

Happy birthday to Gercas Žakas, soccer referee, trainer and expert and chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community! Our warmest wishes for the birthday boy! May health remain ever with you, may you also enjoy such energy, may your activities remain always so interesting and may your nice big smile continue forever!

Mazl tov!

Veisiejai Commemorates Jewish Resident and Inventor of Esperanto

At the invitation of his old soccer friends from Veisiejai (Vishai, Vishey), Lithuania–Viesiejai alderman Zenonas Sbaliauskas and true Veisiejai patriot Linas Masys–Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas personally visited this once predominantly-Jewish town. Žakas said he was impressed by how well the town is kept up and by its silence and romance, provided by Lake Ančia, which divides the town into two parts. He was also pleasantly surprised by how seriously the small town takes the commemoration of its one-time resident, Dr. Ludowik Lejzer Zamenhof, the Jewish doctor and linguist who gave birth to the artificial language of Esperanto. The town is also taking excellent care of the Jewish cemetery, although its appearance has changed, and the Jewish homes still standing there, Žakas reported.

Kaunas Community Marks One Year since Death of Yudel Ronder

A year has passed since the Kaunas Jewish Community lost one of our most senior and most honored members, Yudel Ronder. His memory was honored with a prayer before Sabbath began, and later over dinner many shared their memories of the extraordinary man. Highly intelligent, cultured, warm, sincere and honest, his bright wit and wisdom accompanied him even during grave illness at hospital until the last moment of his life. He was extremely active and interested in a broad range of subjects. He began many projects and activities. Even in the dark Soviet era, he sought out rescuers, told their stories and concerned himself with making sure they were honored and taken care of. He also looked for Holocaust perpetrators and without fear met with them, trying to get inside their consciences and disturb their peaceful sleep. He was one of the first Jews involved in volunteer club activities during the Soviet era, the enthusiastic director of a drama group whose performances attracted scads of viewers. The performances were in Yiddish and he sought out actors fluent in the language. The current chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, Gercas Žakas, who knows Yiddish well, was invited to join the troupe and became one of main actors there. Ronder took care of his people and organized welfare for the poor. He made contact with German welfare organizations, earned their highest respect and received funding for material aid for members of the Kaunas Jewish Community.

Originally from Kėdainiai (Keydan), he lost his family and relatives in the Holocaust. He survived by being evacuated to the Soviet Union and served in the 16th Division. Ronder dedicated all his energies and devoted his heart to others. People who had the opportunity to make his acquaintance have never forgotten him and his warm stories about his grandfather. Yudel’s grandson Dovydas remembers them well and he came from Germany especially to mark the one-year anniversary of Yudel’s death. Kristina, the daughter of Yudel’s long-time care-giver Stefa Ancevičienė who became very close to him, also remembers his stories well.

Meeting with Actors from Moscow’s Vakhtangov Academic Theater

In mid-April a meeting with an overflow audience was held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius to meet the actors of the famous Vakhtangov Academic Theater in Moscow who are performing the play “Nusišypsok mums, Viešpatie!” [Smile upon Us, O Lord] under the direction of Rimas Tuminas. Actors at the meeting included Sergey Makovetsky (playing the character Efraim Dudak), Aleksei Guskov (Shmule-Sender Lazarek), Yevgeniy Kniazev, Viktor Suhorukov (Avner Rosental) Julia Rutberg (Ožkytė) and Viktor Dobronravov (playing Hloyne-Geneh).

Twenty years after its premiere at Vilnius’s Small Theater, the play was performed at the Yevgeniy Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow in 2014, where Tuminas has been director since 2007. The tour of the play in Lithuania this time is dedicated to the late actor Vytautas Šapranauskas, who died in 2013 and was unable to play again the role of Chloinė Genech in Tuminas’s presentation of the drama in Moscow. The play originally performed at the Little Theater on Gedimino prospect in Vilnius travelled around the world, winning numerous awards at drama festivals. In 1995 Tuminas won the title of best Lithuanian director for his direction of the play and the prestigious Kristoforas statue. Drama score composer Faustas Latėnas and Gediminas Girdvainis, who created the character of Avner Rozental, also won the same awards in separate categories.

The new production of the play is also a world traveller and has been seen in New York, Toronto and Tel Aviv.

ORT and Non-ORT Schools Join in Partisan Anthem Project

With each Yom haShoah the number of Survivors dwindles making the challenge of engaging new generations more difficult and more urgent. We have found a way to involve ORT students across the former Soviet Union.

We have started an international push to popularise the partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol by linking ORT and non-ORT schools in an online programme to not only learn its Yiddish – and Hebrew – words but also to delve into its meaning and historical significance and to share what they learn.

The result has moved groups of students at World ORT schools in Kiev, Odessa, Kishinev, Vilnius, Chernivtsi, Tallinn, Moscow, Kazan and Samara to prepare videos for Yom haShoah singing the anthem written by the Vilna poet Hirsh Glik to a melody by the Soviet-Jewish composers Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass.

This is a powerful statement and shows that we can link the generations this way and honour the legacy of the Survivors.

World ORT has added a new video: A Song for Yom haShoah:

The next stage will evolve into a program in which our youth learn about their family histories within the context of our Jewish cultural history.

Find out more about my project here:

Best regards,
Eli Rabinowitz

Kaunas Jewish Community Celebrates Inventor of Esperanto

Zamenhof’s grave in Warsaw, visited by members of the Kaunas Jewish Community

The Kaunas Jewish Community marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the inventor of the artificial international language Esperanto who sought to bring the races and linguistic groups of the world closer. Dr. Zamenhof sought to make Esperanto the world’s second language. The residents of Kaunas are proud L. L. Zamenhof called the city home for a time and proud of the legacy he left the world in the form of Esperanto.

According to wikipedia: “By 1878, his project Lingwe uniwersala was almost finished. However, Zamenhof was too young then to publish his work. Soon after graduation from school he began to study medicine, first in Moscow, and later in Warsaw. In 1885, Zamenhof graduated from a university and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai and after 1886 as an ophthalmologist in Płock and Vienna. While healing people there he continued to work on his project of an international language.”

More about Zamenhof and the language he created is available in the Lithuanian language:

Zamenhof and Kaunas

What happened to Esperanto?

Website for learning Esperanto and learning about the history of the language.

How is Lithuania connected to Esperanto?

Silenced Shtetl of Divenishok Speaks Again

by Ieva Elenbergienė

A conversation with Dieveniškės Technological and Business School director Ilona Šedienė

Ilona, tell me about “your” Jews.

Today there are none left alive in Dieveniškės [Divenishok]. The amount of history we revive, that’s the amount we’ll have. The surviving historical material isn’t generous. We only know the center of Dieveniškės was one of many Lithuanian shtetls. In Jewish history a shtetl doesn’t mean just any town, the term is applied to towns where the Jewish population was truly large and was part of the life of the entire town. Most of ours were craftsmen. They also had their own synagogue, but the think was it was at the bottom of the hill so it didn’t stand above the Catholic church.

A significantly lesser amount of information remains about Dieveniškės than, say, Eišiškės [Eyshishok]. For those seeking information, the internet page Jews in Lithuania, zydai.lt, explains all shtetls in Lithuania were more or less similar. There was a customary order to life, a specific rhythm, and they were to a greater or lesser extent the same. Read about other ones and you’ll find they are similar to yours. But authenticity is always wanted… We’ve discovered material from local collectors, we’ve translated a portion of memoirs by Jews, and when we had a bit better picture put together, we staged an exhibit about the life, history and present situation of the Jews of Dieveniškės.

Full story in Lithuanian here.


Project supported by:

Zog Nit Keynmol: The Partisan Song Project

Imagine a high school student in 2017, singing a Yiddish song with confidence and understanding. It may seem like an impossible dream, but Eli Rabinowitz is making it a reality.

Rabinowitz, who is ex-South African and resides in Perth, is passionate about Jewish education, genealogy and history. On a recent trip to South Africa, he was asked by Rabbi Craig Kacev (Head of Jewish Life at King David Schools) to address over 1000 students on the meaning of ‘Zog Nit Keynmol’ (‘Never say this is the final road …’) – known as the Partisan Song or the Holocaust Survivors Anthem or Hymn.

The words may be familiar to an older generation as they are often recited at Yom Hashoah ceremonies, but Rabbi Kacev felt that young Jewish students had no understanding of the meaning or inspiration of the song. By teaching them the words and their meaning, a legacy and a link could be created between young Jews and Holocaust survivors.

Indeed, when Eli Rabinowitz presented this to a group of Holocaust survivors in Johannesburg, they were thrilled and very moved. Inspired by their enthusiasm, he decided to encourage organisations and schools around the world to teach the song to students, in the hope that they will perform it at Yom Hashoah ceremonies across the globe on 23/24 April.

Rabinowitz took the initiative one step further in Cape Town, where he hosted a live ‘online classroom’ with six schools. These included Herzlia High School and a range of schools in Lithuania, Moldova and the Ukraine. This technological feat was achieved using ‘Google Hangouts’ and YouTube, with the expertise of Steve Sherman of Living Maths.

Nechama Lifšicaitė Has Died

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is sad to announce the death of Nechama Lifšicaitė (Nekhama Lifshits, נחמה ליפשיץ) and we send our condolences to her daughter Roza. The older Litvak generation remembers well Nechama’s enchanting voice and her lyrical-coloratura soprano song. As we express our condolences, we say: let the ground be soft for her, and recordings of her songs will remind us all of the wonderful songstress and her interesting personality for a very long time to come.

Nechama was born in Kaunas in 1927 and grew up in a traditional Jewish family. She attended a Jewish school where her father Yehuda Tzvi was principal from 1921 to 1928. He later became a doctor. During World War II Nechama and her family found shelter in the Soviet Union and lived in Uzbekistan. They returned to Kaunas after the war. From 1946 to 1951 she studied at and was graduated from the Vilnius Music Conservatory. She performed concerts of her songs in Yiddish beginning in 1956. According to Solomon Atamuk, “Both in Lithuania and throughout the [Soviet] Union, Lifšicaitė provided refreshing national and spiritual sustenance to the Jews thirsting for their culture. Nechama’s songs expressed the deepest experiences and aspirations of the Jews of the Soviet Union; they were moving and spiritualizing.”

Overcoming limitations on doing her repertoire was not a simple matter during the Soviet era, but Nechama Lifšicaitė was able to turn her concert tour across many Soviet cities into a wake-up call for cultural and ethnic identity. Despite the negative view taken by government agencies towards the ethno-cultural activities in which Nechama Lifšicaitė was engaged, she was recognized in 1958 for her exceptional artistic expression and vocal abilities with first prize in the Soviet music maestro competition, and was granted permission to tour abroad. She performed in Austria, Belgium and France. Her songs were released on two records in 1960 and 1961, which were reissued several times in later years.

Nechama Lifšicaitė and her family made aliyah to Israel in 1969 where two more records of her songs were released that same year. She performed in cities and villages, on the radio and on television. Her appearances were great successes. In the period from 1969 to 1972 she did concert tours of the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Brasil and Australia. In 1976, without retiring from her musical career, she completed library science studies at Bar-Ilan University and became director of the historical archive of the Tel Aviv Municipal Music Library.

Never Give Up

There’s a song sung in Israel, and when the first bars ring out, most people stand. It’s called by several names–Zog Nit Keynmol, Don’t Say Never, We’re Still Here, the Partisan Hymn or Anthem–but the title isn’t important. The content is. And the content comes from the Vilna ghetto, a poem in Yiddish by the young Hirsh Glik, put to music by his friend Rachel Margolis, a young blonde, blue-eyed Jewish girl who joined the underground, survived, and spent much of the rest of her life engaged in Holocaust education.

Glik died during the Holocaust; Margolis passed away only a few years ago. According to Margolis, Glik read the poem to her on a cold winter day on a corner in the Vilnius ghetto where Rudninkų square is now located. She said there were buildings there then. As Glik read the poem, she began to hear music between the lines, from a Russian film she had seen. Both young people went to the FPO, the underground partisan organization in the ghetto, and asked permission to make the words and music the official anthem of the FPO youth section. The leadership agreed.

Now there’s a project for Jewish day schools around the world to teach the song to a new generation of young people. Eli Rabinowitz of Perth, Australia, is teaching children in Australia, Israel and South Africa and there are plans for new performances around Yom haShoah, Holocaust Day commemorated in Israel, this year on April 23.

The Jewish press in South Africa and Australia has done extensive coverage of the Partisan Hymn Project and the Vilnius ORT Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium in Vilnius is a pioneer in making the project happen. The World ORT organization is supporting the project and plans to post some video performances before Yom haShoah.

For more information, see here.

Holocaust Escape Tunnel

At ground zero for the final solution, scientists uncover a story of hope and bravery.
Airing April 19, 2017, at 9 P.M. on PBS

Program Description

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North” until World War II, when the Nazis murdered about 95% of its Jewish population and reduced its synagogues and cultural institutions to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists is trying to rediscover this forgotten world, excavating the remains of its Great Synagogue and searching for proof of one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

PBS program announcement here.

For more, see:

Vilna Gaon Museum on New Jewish Museum Proposal

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum has issued a statement via press release about a recent proposal by Lithuanian officials to set up a Holocaust-free new Jewish museum in the Palace of Sports or next to it on land which contains the centuries-old historic Jewish graveyard of Vilnius.

Let’s Create a Strategic Strategy for Jewish Heritage, Not Disneyland

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum was disappointed by information appearing in the press last week about plans by government institutions to establish another Jewish museum in the Lithuanian capital instead of assuring support for existing projects.

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, whose sections are housed in authentic buildings closely connected with the Jewish history of Vilnius, has recently been undergoing an intense and productive period. We host international events at the highest level, for example, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance conference held on March 22 and 23, and the number of visitors is constantly growing. New permanent exhibitions are being created for installation in our historic buildings, including the opening this fall of a new Samuel Bak Museum, showcasing the Litvak painter’s life and works, and in the near future we also intend to open the Museum of Lithuanian Jewish Culture, aka the Litvak Center and a dedicated Lithuanian Holocaust and Vilnius ghetto memorial museum, which has attracted the attention of international museum organizations including ICOM.

The latter museum is to be housed in the historical building on Žemaitijos street (former Strashun street) which was listed as a cultural treasure last month. This is the building which housed the Mefitsei Haskalah library before World War II and the Vilnius ghetto library during the war. which organized cultural events inside the ghetto and served as a secret meeting place for members of the ghetto resistance organization. In 1945 Holocaust survivors established the short-lived Jewish Museum in the building, quickly shut down by the Soviet government. The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum intends to reutilize the building for Holocaust education. After the museum has these additional sections, a unique route will be created for the visitor to explore Jewish Vilna.

Klaipėda Jewish Community Celebrates Purim with Concert in Yiddish

The Klaipėda Jewish Community held a concert March 22 by the Klezmasters led by Lev Sandiuk and vocalist Alina Ivakh with solo performances by Mikhail Blinkov on clarinet and Aleksei Rozov on violin. The group performed songs in Yiddish as well as Hebrew, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian and even Azeri. The concert was held as a sort of joint celebration of Purim, the happiest of Jewish holidays, and the International Day of Happiness. The Purim holiday was presented to the multicultural audience. The concert went late into the night and Klaipėda municipal officials and members of the various ethnic communities in Klaipėda thanked the organizers for the good time had by all.

For more, see here.