Religion

Rosh Hashanah at the Panevėžys Jewish Community

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, on September 9 at the Parko street restaurant. The event began with the lighting of candles, the blessing was read and good wishes were made to friends and relatives. Michailas Grafmanas blew the shofar horn to usher in the new year 5779. Community chairman Gennady Kofman read the prayer of repentance and hope and Community members greeted one another with the wish God would author them a good coming year.

Guests included city council member A. Petrauskas and the history teacher V. Jakonis from Biržai, Lithuania.

The holiday table included challa, pomegranates, apples and honey. Fish was also served along with other traditional Jewish dishes. The celebration included songs and poetry by children who were rewarded for their work. There was also dancing and different games.

Rosh Hashanah Celebration at Choral Synagogue

On Sunday the Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, 5779, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Rosh Hashanah symbolizes the sixth day of the creation of the world: on this day the Most High created the forefather of mankind, Adam.

Rosh Hashanah is first mentioned in the Mishnah (the oral Torah) where it is called Yom Troy (Pipe Festival), which is connected with the commandment to blow a horn on this day. In synagogues the shofar horn is blown on Rosh Hashanah, whose sound is supposed to confound the enemy and bring clear thought and repentance to believers. The shofar tradition goes back centuries and the ram’s horn is associated with the ram which Abraham substituted for his son in making a sacrifice to G_d. The word “shofar” comes from the words for improvement and correction.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

Yom Kippur at the Choral Synagogue

Program of events for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Sunday, September 16

2:30-4:30 P.M. Preparations for Yom Kippur: lessons, kapparot (kappores) ritual

Tuesday, September 18

6:00 P.M. meal before fast
7:00 Kol Nidre
7:10 P.M. beginning of fast

Wednesday, September 19

9:30 A.M. Shacharit morning prayer
12:30 P.M. Izkor prayer
6:15 P.M. Mincha prayer
7:15 P.M. Niila prayer
8:19 P.M. end of fast, meal

Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue

Program for Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Sunday, September 9

7:00 P.M. Mincha/Maariv, holiday prayers, kiddush, buffet

Monday, September 10

9:30 A.M. Shacharit (morning prayer)

12:00 noon blowing of the shofar

12:30 P.M. Musaf (prayer)

6:00 P.M. Tashlich (prayer by the river at Bokšto street no. 9, Vilnius)

6:30 Rosh Hashanah celebration: blowing of the shofar, presentation of new calendar for 5779, holiday meal

8:43 P.M. Maariv prayer

Tuesday, September 11

9:30 A.M. Shacharit

12 noon blowing of shofar

7:00 P.M. blowing of shofar

Sutzkever Exhibit

The Judaic Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library celebrated European Days of Jewish Culture with an exhibit called “Žaibo prisiminimas,” or “Memory of Lightning,” dedicated to the poet Abraham Sutzkever. The poet was a partisan and one of the first authors of memoirs of the Vilnius ghetto. Before the war he contributed to the flourishing of Yiddish literature in Jewish Vilnius; after he chronicled the death of Jewish Vilnius.

Sutzkever’s granddaughter Hadas Calderon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon participated at the event.

Meeting to Discuss Commemoration of Great Synagogue

According to 15min.lt, an international creative workshop of “academic youth,” professors and specialists involved in heritage protection, urban planning, architecture, communications and museum studies from Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine have come up with ideas for commemorating the Great Synagogue in Vilnius and will present their proposals next Thursday at the Old Town Hall in Vilnius.

“The presentation will talk about ideas for commemorating the synagogue, the name of the new cultural space, archaeological findings, the range of activities and the architectural expression of the idea,” the article on the 15min.lt website said.

The article also claims the Nazis burnt the Great Synagogue down, which isn’t true.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Ceremony for Inscribing New Torah Scroll Held at Choral Synagogue

A ceremony marking the beginning of the writing of a new Torah scroll was held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius September 4, initiated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky. This is an historical event, the first time since the Holocaust Jews have written their own “Litvak” Torah scroll.

Calligraphy experts (soferim) with special ink are inscribing the new Torah scroll with special quills on parchment together with members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. This is a centuries-old scribal tradition among Jews. For most, this is the first time they’re witnessing such an event. This is the first time Torah has been copied since Lithuanian independence in 1990 and since World War II.

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th birthday this year, will receive a unique, sacred gift.

Smhuel Levin, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community

Back to Shul Exhibit at Zavl Shul

Richard “Sco” Shofield presented a photography installation at the Zavl Shul at Gėlių street no. 6 in Vilnius September 2.

The exhibit was part of European Days of Jewish Culture which began last Sunday.

Schofield is a photographer and director of the non-profit International Centre for Litvak Photography which he founded. He studied photo-journalism and documentary photography at the University of the Arts in London.

The Zavl and Levinson Shul is still undergoing renovation but the catwalks and platforms were successfully used to hang the works. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky opened the exhibit and Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang.

Statement Regarding False Information in the Media on Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Mass Murder Sites

The Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) is disappointed to report that the text “On the Old Jewish Cemetery Located at Žalgirio street no. 3 in Šiauliai” containing false information was posted on social media and sent to official representatives of the Lithuanian state on August 29, 2018. The text was signed by representatives of the Šiauliai District Jewish Community, the Panevėžys Jewish Support Association, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, the Klaipėda Jewish Community, the Ukmergė Regional Jewish Community, the Klaipėda Jewish-Judaic Religious Community and the Vilnius Jewish Community.

The text, among other things, claims a court has found the LJC leadership to be illegitimate. The LJC notes there is no court decision which found the LJC leadership was elected illegitimately. The intentional propagation of this text with false information harms the LJC’s reputation, insults the Jewish people and possibly violates article 154 of the criminal code of Lithuania, and the LJC reserves the right to defend its interests in the manner prescribed by law.

The text also takes a position on the protection of Jewish heritage. In reply, the LJC notes that over many years of consistent cooperation with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (hereinafter Committee) official positions and assessments have been provided on issues surround the protection and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries and mass murder sites. The cooperation which has come about is founded on the high competence, expertise and experience of the Committee and is beneficial in the attempt to insure the protection of Jewish heritage and to insure that all conservation work would meet the requirements of Jewish law. The state and municipal institutions engaged in protection of Jewish heritage sites also need the expertise and judgment which the Committee provides.

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.

Q&A on Ceremony for Writing of New Torah

What you should know about the ceremony at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius for writing a new Torah to be held Tuesday, September 4, at 6:30 P.M.

1. What are we celebrating?

The unique beginning of writing a new Torah for the first time since World War II. A sofer with special calligraphy skills will write the new Torah on parchment with a special quill and special ink. It will take about a year.

2. Who may participate in the ceremony?

All Jews, men, women and children.

3. How do I participate?

Come to the synagogue at 6:30 P.M. Tuesday.

4. How much does it cost to participate?

It’s free.

5. How does the ceremony work?

Each person individually or with their family may join the sofer and write a letter on the new Torah scroll. The sofer will also write your name on a piece of parchment which you may take home as a keepsake.

6. Where will the new Torah go when it’s written?

It will be used at the Choral Synagogue.

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.

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.

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.

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Make Historic Visit to Lithuania This Week

VILNIUS, Aug 20, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to pay a visit to Lithuania this week, Lithuanian Government officials confirmed to BNS on Monday.

Netanyahu, who is to arrive in Lithuania for the first visit by an Israeli prime minister on Thursday, is scheduled to meet with his Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian counterparts, as well as with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and the local Jewish community.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on the eve of the visit that Israel is a strategic Middle East partner of Lithuania.