Yiddish

Little Jewish Streets


Little Jewish Streets
by Leyb Stotsky (Leib Stocki) [לייב סטאָצקי]

(Vilna, 1902-Vilnius, 1967)

[ יידישע געסלעך / Yidishe geslakh]

 

Read by Pinchos Fridberg

Raya Shapiro and Howard Jarvis translated the poem for those who don’t know Yiddish from a translation into Russian by Polina Pailis and Pinchos Fridberg.

Hanukkah Menorah Lit for First Time Ever at Lithuanian Presidential Palace

The candle marking the sixth day of Hanukkah was lit for the first time ever Sunday in the Hall of Columns of the Lithuanian Presidential Palace in Vilnius. Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Choral Synagogue Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, Lithuanian Bishops Conference chairman archbishop Gintaras Grušas, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, chairmen of the regional Jewish communities, ministers and politicians attended.

The Hanukkah story was told at the event and tenor Rafailas Karpis and pianist Darius Mažintas delivered a performance of Yiddish song. Composer Anatolijus Šenderovas’s work “From a Forgotten Book…” was also performed.

The Israeli embassy to Lithuania organized the event.

Lithuanian Students Experience Hanukkah in Perth for Second Time in Two Years

For the second year in a row students from Atžalynas High School in Kėdainiai, Lithuania, experienced Hanukkah in Perth, Australia, via skype on a large screen in their classroom.

Last year they heard Dylan Kotkis, Carmel School captain for 2018, sing Maoz Tzur while Western Australia’s Chabad Rabbi Shalom White explained the festival and the message of Hanukkah to the 15-year-olds.

This was probably the first time in 75 years this Hanukkah song had been heard in this town in central Lithuania once so important to Jews. No Jews live in Kėdainiai today.

This year teacher Laima Ardavičienė and her class attended the candle-lighting ceremony at Ben-Gurion Park in Perth with members of the Western Australian Jewish Community via skype. The ceremony performed by Rabbi Shalom White of Chabad Lubavitch House was preceded by an enjoyable performance by the entertainer Mickey Shaked. The Lithuanian students also had the opportunity to meet some of the locals via skype.

One of these was Heiny Ellert, a 95-year-old Lithuanian Holocaust survivor from Neishtot-Tavrig, today known as Žemaičių Naumiestis. I filmed his testimony for the Western Australian Holocaust Institute in 2014. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/118HN2_NYHs

You can read more about this and last year’s Hanukkah activities and about Heiny and his shtetl at http://elirab.me/chanukah-in-the-park/

Eli Rabinowitz
Perth, Western Australia
December 13, 2017

Dmitrijus Kanovičius Donates 250 Grigorijus Kanovičius Books to LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Dmitrijus Kanovičius for the wonderful gift of 250 books of the selected writings of Grigorijus Kanovičius.

Everyone, not just Jews, read Grigorijus Kanovičius’s books written with his great talent and profound emotional notes because they give the true story of the life of Lithuania made more charming with a sincere sense of nostalgia. These books are like living portraits with images of the past, of our forefathers, memories with color, words, laughter and pain. Today they stand as a monument and testament to all the murdered Jews… Grigorijus Kanovičius’s works for us are important as a treasury of memories, of those we have lost who shall live on forever in their shtetlakh, now mostly abandoned towns. It is said truly that Jews will live on even when there is no one left to remember them. We are so glad that thanks to the creative work of Grigorijus Kanovičius Lithuania has a rich saga of Jewish life featuring our ancestors from the 18th century to today.

Thank you, Dmitrijus.

Simas Levinas Remembers Hanukkah in Šiauliai

Vilniaus žydų religinės bendruomenės vadovas Simas Levinas prisimena savo paauglystės Chanuką Šiauliuose

Šiauliai was a strange town in 1960. It was the Soviet time, there were still some “synagogues” illegally operating in apartments. Almost all of the local Jews used to go there to pray. It wasn’t entirely clear whether this was to satisfy a religious need, or the need to spend time with people of the same ethnicity. Or to speak Yiddish. Or to remember the horrible experiences of the Holocaust.

Or perhaps it was the instinctual psychological need to heal one’s wounds. Everyone wanted to enjoy the life which the miraculous lottery of fate had given them.

The town’s Jews stuck together and were ready to support anyone who needed it. This really wasn’t any kind of official community. Its leader was… a family with a larger apartment. We held all traditional and Sabbath evenings of Saturday talks and meetings there. This took place at the home of Josif Burshtein (the chairman of the Šiauliai Jewish Community until last summer) where Jews congregated right up until the restoration of independence.

Hanukkah was the holiday to which the town kids (they called us little Jewies) really looked forward. We were treated to hanukkahgelt, ponchikes and latkes. The parents carved dreidls out of wood. Some had managed to preserve their family heirlooms, a really miracle!, and we lit candles on pre-war menorahs.

Now I realize our parents did everything they could so that we wouldn’t know what they experienced. Everyone chipped in and used to hold the holiday, the miracles of Hanukkah, for us.

And even today most of the Jews who come from Šiauliai know and speak Yiddish. Those us “fun Shavl” [from Šiauliai] scattered around the world by fate maintain our ties.

This year on the eve of Hanukkah another miracle has taken place! We are witnesses to history. The world has begun to remember that King David’s city, whose age goes back more than 3,000 years, is the capital of the state of Israel!

The victory of the Macabbees has again lit the oil lamps of the Hanukkah miracle.

Vilnius Ghetto Chronicler Yitzhak Rudashevski: The Teenager Whose Thoughts Were Beyond His Years

Yitzhak Rudashevski, the young chronicler of the Vilnius ghetto, would have turned 90 today (December 10). Imprisoned in the ghetto with his mature values and a gift for writing, he wrote down in his school notebook the reality around him, images of the ghetto, struggle and faith in the future.

Trapped in the ghetto and seeing the suffering, Yitzhak didn’t stop taking pride in his Jewishness and he wasn’t overcome by hopelessness and self-pity. On the contrary, his thirst for life propelled him forward.

“I am ashamed to be seen on the street, not because I’m a Jew but because I am ashamed of my powerlessness. The yellow patches are sewn to our clothes, but not to our minds. We are not ashamed of the patches! Let those who put them on us be ashamed,” he wrote in his diary.

The young man’s thoughts about the dignity of man and freedom might seem obvious today, but the entries from 75 years ago paint a much different picture of that period. They speak of a world where the concept of human rights didn’t exist. Taken in context, we marvel at the maturity, courage and talent it took for a teenager to write about what he did.

Forgetfulness Is an Incurable and Dangerous Disease

An interview with Litvak writer Grigory Kanovich by Stephan Collishaw

SC – To what extent is the novel Shtetl Love Song autobiographical?

GK – True, Shtetl Love Song is an autobiographical novel.

Your character in the novel seems very close to his grandmother and goes with her regularly to the synagogue. Is the synagogue still a part of your life?

My grandmother Rokha was a very religious person. When I was a child the synagogue played a big role in my life. There was not a single Saturday, nor a Jewish holiday when my grandmother wouldn’t take me to synagogue. My grandfather was religious, but didn’t go to synagogue so often. He joked, ‘If you hear something interesting from Him, you won’t be able to keep it from me long, you’ll tell me.’ I, myself, am not religious; the synagogue doesn’t play such a strong role in my life now as in my childhood.

Hanukkah Greetings

The Abi Men Zet Zich Club greets all our clients and friends on the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah!

At 1:00 P.M. on December 6 students and teachers from the Saulėtekis will perform in a concert called “Let’s Light the Hanukkah Light” on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius.

At 3:00 P.M. on December 12 you’re invited to the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle at the same location.

For more information contact  Žana Skudovičienė, zanas@sc.lzb.lt, +370 678 81514

The Woman Who Rescued Jewish Books from the Vilna Ghetto


by Erika Dreifus

Some 75 years ago a group of Jews under German occupation in Vilna was assigned to assist Nazi authorities in curating books and other cultural items destined for shipment to Germany. There, the selection of Judaica materials was to be conserved as a collection of artifacts from an extinct people.

Some items were indeed shipped away as ordered. Some the authorities destroyed and diverted to be used for scrap.

Others were smuggled and hidden by the same Jewish scholars, teachers and writers who had been designated to sift through and catalog them. The heroism of this Paper Brigade has recently received new attention, thanks largely to two developments: the discovery of another trove of materials that the squad managed to squirrel away, and the publication of historian David E. Fishman’s fascinating new study, “The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race To Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis” (ForeEdge).

Grigory Kanovich: A Good Book is a Life Teacher

G. Kanovičius: gera knyga visada yra gyvenimo mokytoja
by Donatas Puslys, www.bernardinai.lt

Rūta Oginskaitė’s book “Gib a Kuk: Žvilgtelėk” recently hit the book shops, in which the author, Grigory Kanovich and his wife Olia paint a portrait of the Lithuanian writer and an entire era. On November 29 London’s Central Synagogue will host the launch of the English translation of Kanovich’s book “Shtetl Love Song.” We spoke with Grigory Kanovich about his relationship with his readership, love of homeland and the painful moments in our history.

There’s a proverb that a prophet is not recognized in his homeland. Your work is an important monument to the history of the Jews of Lithuania and their memory. The book requires, however, a reader who is able to enter into a dialogue with the text. Do you sense the presence of such readers in Lithuania, do you think there is a dialogue and discussion going on with your texts? Should we conclude from your recent works published abroad that your work is more interested to foreign than Lithuanian readers?

I hold to the view that prophets are rare in their homeland, and one more frequently encounters only clairvoyants and the righteous. I think “prophet” is hyperbole. I won’t deny that my novels are an attempt to create a monument to pre-war Jewish history and to commemorate my compatriots.

I wouldn’t dare claim some wide-ranging discussion is taking place between me and my readers in Lithuania, but I do receive a lot of good-willed responses from different locations from readers reading my work in Lithuanian and Russian. I can’t complain about that. I am happy foreign publishers are interested in my work. For instance, the recent publication of my Shtetl Love Song by a leading London publisher.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

The Litvaks: 900 Years of History

You are invited to a multimedia presentation called “Litvaks: 900 Years of History” by the students of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius. The Saulėtekis school has presented a number of plays on Litvak culture and the Holocaust. The school has a strong Holocaust education component. In addition, student choirs often perform songs in Yiddish and Hebrew, most recently at the Holocaust commemoration at Ponar at the end of September where they performed the Vilnius ghetto anthem, Zog Nit Keynmol.

The presentation will take place at the Russian Drama Theater at Basanavičiaus street no. 13 in Vilnius at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, November 29.

Admission is free.

Tens of Thousands of Jewish Documents Lost during Holocaust Discovered in Vilnius


YIVO announces the discovery of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis. Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for YIVO

NEW YORK (JTA)–A trove of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis during World War II has been found.

On Tuesday the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research announced the find which contains unpublished manuscripts by famous Yiddish writers as well as religious and community documents. Among the finds are letters written by Sholem Aleichem, a postcard by Marc Chagall and poems and manuscripts by Chaim Grade.

YIVO, founded in Vilnius in what is now Lithuania, hid the documents, but the organization moved its headquarters to New York during World War II. The documents were later preserved by Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis who kept them in the basement of the church where he worked.

Most of the documents are currently in Lithuania but 10 items are being displayed through January at YIVO, which is working with Lithuania to archive and digitize the collection.

“These newly discovered documents will allow that memory of Eastern European Jews to live on, while enabling us to have a true accounting of the past that breaks through stereotypes and clichéd ways of thinking,” YIVO executive director Jonathan Brent said Tuesday in a statement.

United States Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, democrat from New York state, praised the discovery.

“Displaying this collection will teach our children what happened to the Jews of the Holocaust so that we are never witnesses to such darkness in the world again,” Schumer, who is Jewish, said in a statement.

Israeli consul general in New York Dani Dayan compared the documents to “priceless family heirlooms.”

“The most valuable treasures of the Jewish people are the traditions, experiences and culture that have shaped our history. So to us, the documents uncovered in this discovery are nothing less than priceless family heirlooms, concealed like precious gems from Nazi storm troopers and Soviet grave robbers,” he said.

Full story here.

LRT TV Program Author Vitalijus Karakorskis Wins Prize for Intercultural Communication

November 16 is UNESCO’s International Day of Tolerance. Under the UNESCO definition in its Declaration of the Principles of Tolerance, tolerance doesn’t mean a tolerant attitude towards social injustice, nor the renunciation of one’s principles and their replacement with someone else’s. It means everyone is free to hold their own convictions and recognizes the right of others to do the same. It means recognizing people are born with different appearances into different social conditions, learn different languages, behavior and values, and have the right to live in peace and preserve their individuality.

The Ethnic Minorities Department under the Government of Lithuania named winners of its prize for intercultural communication November 13. There were 37 separate works in the running this year, including television programs, articles and interviews.

The judges’ panel awarded the prize to journalist, editor and filmmaker Vitalijus Karakorskis for originality and for discovering incredible connections between the ethnic communities resident in Lithuania in his making of an episode of the Lithuanian public television (LRT) program Menora on the topic of Dr. Jonas Basanavičius and Lithuanian Jews, on the 90th anniversary of the death of the patriarch of the Lithuanian state. They also awarded the prize to Siarhey Haurylenka for exceptional treatment of the cultures of Lithuanian ethnic minorities and the Belarusian language in the LRT television series about culture and history called “Cultural Crossroads: The Vilnius Notebook.”

Unique Jewish Archive Emerges in Vilnius

Vilnius, November 3, BNS–As Judaica studies intensify in Vilnius, scholars have identified thousands of important Jewish manuscripts this year which had laid forgotten in a church basement during the Soviet years and were scattered to separate archives for two decades following Lithuanian independence.

Some of the newly identified documents are currently on display in New York City and there are plans to exhibit some of the collection in Lithuania in the near future as well.

Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library director Renaldas Gudauskas said the identification of ever more documents makes him confident the library currently conserves one of the most significant collections of Judaica in the world.

Hidden at a Church

Vilnius had hundreds of Jewish communal, religious, cultural and education organizations before World War II. YIVO, the Jewish research institute founded in 1925, was an important member of that group. YIVO did work on Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, from Germany to Russia and from the Baltic to the Balkans, collecting Jewish folklore, memoirs, books, publications and local Jewish community documents, and published dictionaries, brochures and monographs.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz Visits Bagel Shop Café, Investigates Litvak Recipes

Jeffrey Yoskowitz, viešėdamas Vilniuje, apsilankė “Beigelių krautuvėlėje” ir domėjosi litvakų virtuvės receptais

The Bagel Shop Café received an extraordinary guest today, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, an expert on Ashkenazi cuisine, author of the Gifilteria , author of the gefilte fish pop-up concept and the force behind #gefiltemanifesto. He is visiting Vilnius with a friend and is searching for the secrets of Litvak cooking. Both visitors spent a good hour writing down Faina Kukliansky’s family recipes in Yiddish and tasted Riva Portnaja’s Litvak carp.

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.

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.

One Hundredth Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Soldier and Poet Abba Kovner


Abba Kovner with Jewish partisans and ghetto underground, July 14, 1944 (standing in center). Photo: Ilya Erenburg

by professor Pinchos Fridberg, for the web page of the newspaper Obzor

I am writing before the event: a half year remains until the birthday of the famous figure, but decisions need to be made now.

Don’t look for legendary Litvak Abba Kovner on the Lithuanian-language wikipedia, the hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the fighter for Israeli independence, the famous poet and writer, has no entry there. There are entries in the Hebrew and English wikipedia, in the Polish and Russian, but not in Lithuanian.

He apparently doesn’t merit a wikipedia page in Lithuanian. Every people has their heroes. On March 14, 2018, Abba Kovner, z”l [zikhrono livrakha, of blessed memory], turns 100.

I hope the Lithuanian Jewish Community remembers this significant event.

Abba studied at the Tarbut gymnasium, the building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius which now houses the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I therefore think “God Himself” commands us to hang a memorial plaque (in Lithuanian, Yiddish and English) to his memory in the foyer of this building. I foresee a question arising: why in the foyer and not on the outside of the building. My answer: I don’t want to see the issue of a memorial plaque get bogged down in endless negotiations.

Commemoration of Šeduva Shtetl in Lithuania and Abroad

Milda Jakulytė-Vasil,
museum curator,
Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund

The beginning of the Šeduva Jewish community should be dated to the first half of the 18th century when Šeduva, having received Magdeburg charter self-government rights and after becoming a city, underwent rapid development the Jewish population grew remarkably. In 1793 the writer Fridrich Schulz (1762-1798) in his description of his impressions of visits to Poland (Fridrich Schulz “Reise eines Livländers durch Polen,” 1793) described Šeduva as a small town very similar to many he’d seen along the way. The traveller’s eyes didn’t miss the fact that almost none of the homes in the town had chimneys. Of course this sort of observation in a travelogue probably wasn’t intended to kindle the interest of readers and get them to visit the location, and beyond being an observation by the writer and traveller probably only meant that fires could and often did ravage these sorts of towns and cities.

In essence Šeduva wasn’t especially known for anything in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We can say Šeduva was a typical town where Jews formed a significant part of economically active residents, and if their activities didn’t cause urban development, they at least had an influence over it. There were many such shtetlakh/towns in Lithuania, but upon closer inspection each has surprising and interesting events and stories, and the descendants of these towns are found now around the world.

In the shtetl of Šeduva in the period between the wars, constituted of about 900 Jews, the residents knew (or at least recognized) each other. The historian Saulius Kaubrys found the entire Jewish population Šeduva fit more or less along three streets, and this dense residency led to more intimate mutual interaction. There’s a story which illustrates the maxim that there are no secrets in a small town: “Shlomo had a brother named Nisan, an old man, about 60, but in his father’s eyes he was still ‘the kid,’ so he took him to buy a pair of shoes once. The two entered the shop and the father told the shopkeeper: ‘Give me some kid shoes.’ The shopkeeper looked around, but where was the child? At that point the father pointed to his 60-year-old son, ‘the child.’ Of course the entire shtetl knew about ‘the kid’ (that’s how it is in the shtetlakh)… They also lived in Šeduva.”

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Presidential Ceremony to Honor Rescuers

As Lithuanian marked the 76th anniversary of beginning of the Holocaust, president Dalia Grybauskaitė September 27 bestowed awards on 43 Lithuanians who rescued Jews during World War II. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the ceremony.

Faina Kukliansky:

It is a great honor for me to be here and to honor the true heroes of Lithuania together. They provided the haven of goodness, they lit the hope of life in the darkness of the dogma of hate, they provided reason in the irrationality of brutality, they became guardians of life and the teachers of humanity.

“They said it’s like this: if I cut my finger, it won’t be painful for him,” this is the insight of a person who lived near the Treblinka death camp. Assuming the role of perpetrator or passive observer seemed to many to be the natural choice. Because of this choice, or more precisely, this moral surrender, Lithuania lost entire shtetls or towns with all of their intellectual potential, the cultural and economic nucleus of Lithuania was destroyed, the destinies of whole families were cut short and the agony of the Holocaust and culpability in the mass murder of Jews became our inheritance, our legacy for centuries.

Unlike others, those who rescued Jews didn’t see the situation at that time as hopeless and without solution. Even as they suffered the worst conditions, they never thought of compromise or collaboration, but instead performed the sacred mission fate entrusted to them, the saving of lives. Without weapons these people fought for humanity without thought of risk, without succumbing to fear, without becoming hostage to the decision to shed blood.

The names of the rescuers must be known and spoken, and their memory celebrated. Our heroes have done their work, and now it is time for Lithuania to do hers. I hope that fourteen years now after the late Icchokas Meras appealed to Lithuania leaders, a monument will grace the capital, before which children will say the names of the rescuers, before which those who were rescued and their descendants may pray. A monument which will be only a small symbol of our eternal gratitude. The gratitude of the Jewish people for the life given them, and the gratitude of the Lithuanian people for their rescued honor.