Kaunas Jewish Community News for October

Kaunas Jewish Community News for October

In October the Kaunas Jewish Community experienced moments of celebration and painful losses, and commemorated the past.

The most momentous event in October was the celebration of the Community’s 30th birthday with a concert. The Kaunas State Philharmonic hosted the Klaipėda Chamber Orchestra accompanied by harpist Gabrielė Ašmontaitė, baritone Stein Skjervold and VilhelmasČepinskis on violin. Orchestra art director Mindaugas Bačkus presented a rich program of well-known and lesser-known works by Jewish and Litvak composers of different times and in different genres. He both played cello and presented the event.

The historian Linas Venclauskas told the audience about the history of the Jewish community and current events. He spoke about the Litvak contribution to Lithuania and together with KJC chairman Gercas Žakas presented thank-you letters from the Kaunas mayor and municipal culture department to long-standing and outstanding members of the Community, including Fruma Kučinskienė, Judita Mackevičienė, Motelius Rozenbergas, Basia Šragiene, Julijana Zarchi, Simonas Dovidavičius and Gercas Žakas himself.

Hanukkah Coming Soon

Hanukkah Coming Soon

Hanukkah is coming soon and several events are already scheduled. On December 2 there will be a Hanukkah celebration for children at 12 noon at I Future Live, located at Upės street no. 9 in Vilnius. A Hanukkah celebration for the whole family will be held at the Radisson Blu Hotel at Konstitucijos prospect no. 20 on December 9, with music by the Israeli neo-klezmer band Gefilte Drive. More information to follow.

Reflections in a Broken Mirror Exhibit Opens

Reflections in a Broken Mirror Exhibit Opens

The exhibit Reflections in a Broken Mirror detailing Litvak life in the period between the two world wars opened at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library November 12. Judaica Research Center director Dr. Lara Lempert presented the exhibit, talking about Jewish social life, modern art, literature, books, reading culture, publishing and medicine in the interwar period. The rich collection of multimedia exhibits presents Lithuanian and Vilnius Jewish life including the social welfare and medical system, education, art, learning and literature. It also demonstrates the importance of the Lithuanian and Vilnius Jewish communities in the context of world Jewry.

Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Chairman Visits Lithuania

Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Chairman Visits Lithuania

United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad chairman Paul Packer has visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community during his trip to Lithuania from November 6 to 8 to discuss Jewish heritage issues in Lithuania and participated in a prayer service at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius where he discussed the need for a mikvah with members of the Community. Chairman Packer also visited the Zavl shul on Gėlių street in Vilnius, currently undergoing renovation.

It was due to Packer’s initiative and concern that an information stand was erected to mark the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood of Vilnius. He and members of the Vilnius municipality discussed future commemoration of the Jewish cemetery during his most recent trip to Lithuania. Packer visited the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street in Vilnius and said it, too, needs more information for visitors. He also visited the only working Jewish cemetery in Vilnius on Sudervės road.

In Kaunas Packer visited the Hassidic synagogue building which, if restored, could serve the needs of Lithuania’s second largest Jewish community and Israeli exchange students living in Kaunas. The chairman expressed unpleasant surprise at the state of the old Jewish cemetery in the Žaliakalnis neighborhood of Kaunas where a number of notable Jewish religious and cultural figures are buried. Many of the headstones are broken and overturned in the cemetery near the city’s center, and Packer said this didn’t serve to demonstrate the city’s pride in its rich Jewish history. LJC representatives also contacted the appropriate institutions regarding technical problems with video surveillance at the cemetery.

Eightieth Anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938

Eightieth Anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938

Today marks 80 years since Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass when Nazis in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland went on an organized rampage murdering Jews and looting, burning and destroying Jewish businesses and synagogues. The pogrom of unprecedented scale was supposed to leave shattered glass in streets around the Third Reich, like crystals, and the staged event even had an official name, Reichskristallnacht. For many Jews and Germans it marked the beginning of the Holocaust, with hundreds murdered, thousands wounded and many women raped by the brownshirts. In leadership circles the Nazis actually called it the Week of Broken Glass. Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels issued an order on the evening of November 9, 1938, calling for “spontaneous demonstrations” to be “organized and executed” that night. Reinhard Heydrich, second in command in the SS after Himmler, was in charge of operations at the street level. The Nazis overplayed their hand and forced themselves into a corner: following Kristallnacht, insurance claims threatened to bankrupt a large number of German insurers, leading the Nazis to seek desperately for an early, financial Final Solution.

Nazi Germany’s “break-the-glass moment” led to the seizure of Jewish property and Jews who were sent to concentration camps. In just over two years the Holocaust began in Lithuania as well, where between 140,000 and 150,000 people were murdered in just three months.

Renaissance Photo Exhibit at Pakruojis Wooden Synagogue

Renaissance Photo Exhibit at Pakruojis Wooden Synagogue

by Vilijus Žagrakalys (pictured above)

Renaissance, an exhibition of photographs at the Pakruojis synagogue from November 10 to 30, 2018, with the opening at 5:00 P.M. on November 9.

Everything that’s old comes back around. The 19th century was the period when photography began and flourished. The application of various techniques for forming an image on a plate progressed from wet-plate collodion to silver compound gelatin which dominated until the advent of digital cameras. The silver process gave rise to a surge in photography studios which captured portraits of their time in single and group portraiture. All sorts of visual photo albums were made. Silver gelatin emulsion was relatively easy to get and made this possible.

At around the same time the platinum method was discovered, dated at 1873 in the history of photography. William Willis patented the method in 1881. He received official awards for this in Great Britain in 1885. The method was popular until World War I, when platinum acquired greater value, and the technique gradually dropped out of use.

Around 1970 the technique was revived in the USA. It is now known as the king of the printing process.

When I began to get interested in photography techniques, I attempted to print several photographs. After much experimentation I seized upon the platinum/palladium method. The fragments of photographs in this exhibition were printed using this method.

Inside the Swarm on Jewish Street: Poverty and Prayer

Inside the Swarm on Jewish Street: Poverty and Prayer

The current city government talks about the density of population in the city center, but they should look back into history when, before World War II, there were from between 200 and 500 residents living in every building on Jewish Street. The most highly-populated buildings in Vilnius. Although it’s difficult today for us to imagine a building with ten people living in every apartment, that’s how it was in the Jewish Street neighborhood. In the 19th century and the period between the two world wars, Jewish Street was the Jewish center and axis, known not just for the number of its inhabitants but also for its abundance of houses of prayer. The buildings were filled to overflowing with shops and different venues for study and entertainment.

Full article in Lithuanian here.

Discussion on Prospects for Jewish Heritage Conservation

Discussion on Prospects for Jewish Heritage Conservation

The Lithuanian Jewish Community held a discussion October 24 about Jewish heritage protection from the present till 2020, about the priority tasks and goals in the context of 2020 being named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History. The discussion mainly focused on the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius and how to protect what remains of it.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, members of the Community, US embassy adviser on political and economic matters Shai Moore and foreign members of the LJC’s own heritage group, including Lyudmila Sholokhova (YIVO), Assumpcio Hosta (AEPJ) and Sergey Kravtsov (Hebrew University), took part in the discussion.

Chairwoman Kukliansky reminded participants Jewish heritage is important to the Lithuanian state and everyone concerned with heritage conservation, as well as to Jews. Discussions have been going on for years about how to protect the Great Synagogue site, the LJC’s role in that process and what to do with the school there, under which archaeologists last summer unearthed a portion of the synagogue’s central bimah. The situation is complex concerning the site: the school was scheduled for demolition but this year it was leased for two years to several organizations. There is clearly a commercial interest in this special location, Kukliansky noted.

It’s difficult to find experts in Vilnius who could be asked how best to commemorate the Great Synagogue, so the arrival of the international group of heritage specialists, their participation in LJC meetings, their perspectives and discussion of these perspectives is an important event.

Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė, the head of the history department at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, said the Great Synagogue of Vilnius is not just a symbol belonging to Lithuania, but to all Jews of Eastern Europe. It is a priority heritage site but sadly there hasn’t been any break through in the cultural community on this issue, she added.

Choral Synagogue Commemorates Jews Murdered in Pittsburgh

Choral Synagogue Commemorates Jews Murdered in Pittsburgh

The Jews murdered in the tragedy in Pittsburgh were commemorated on Monday, October 29, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Lithuania. Lithuanian Jews expressed their solidarity with American Jews and lit candles in remembrance of the victims.

Members of the Lithuanian Government came to pay their respects along with foreign diplomats and non-Jewish members of the public as well. Lithuanian Government chancellor Deividas Matulionis, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris attended, as did a number of ambassadors to Lithuania.

United States ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall said: “I never though these kinds of mass murders could happen in the USA. We have to all we can so similar sorts of tragedies don’t happen.”

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris spoke about unacceptable anti-Semitism and the ideology of hatred.

Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas said: “It’s difficult to imagine a more horrible and cynical crime than murder committed during Sabbath prayers.”

Choral Synagogue rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky said: “Despite the tragedy of this terrorism, we must be stronger in our faith, to follow G_d’s commandments, because over the ages religion has inculcated the eternal values in people, the universal morality of man, upon which this challenge has trampled.”

Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang the prayer Merciful G_d in memory of the victims.

Rabbi Sacks Issues Statement on Pittsburgh Attack at Tree of Life Synagogue

Rabbi Sacks Issues Statement on Pittsburgh Attack at Tree of Life Synagogue

Upon hearing the horrific news of the attack in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Sacks issued the following statement:

The deadly attack inside a synagogue earlier today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has pierced the heart of Jewish communities worldwide. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones–may they be comforted among all the other mourners of Zion. I wish those injured a complete recovery, both physically and mentally, from this traumatic ordeal.

This attack, which is being reported as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, is a tragic reminder that, somehow, within living memory of the Holocaust, we still live in a world where anti-Semitism exists and deadly attacks on Jews take place.

The fact this attack happened inside a synagogue, whose name is the Tree of Life, makes it all the more horrific. The synagogue is a place where people come together, in peace, to celebrate and give thanks for all we have, above all for God’s greatest gift, life.

Today lives were lost and shattered. We are the people who were commanded by Moses to “choose life” and ever since, despite the tragedies of our history, past and present, have always striven to choose life and sanctify life. That is what the community of Pittsburgh will now do, and Jewish communities around the world will support them as they rebuild and remember the lives lost.

Text of statement here.

Vigil for Pittsburgh Victims at the Choral Synagogue Tonight


Saturday morning during Sabbath services an extremist opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, shouting “All Jews must die” and killing eleven worshipers. At least another six people were wounded, including police officers who entered the synagogue to stop the shooting.

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius will hold a vigil to express the deep loss we feel and to express solidarity with the Pittsburgh Jewish community today, October 29, at 6:00 P.M.

Everyone is invited to come a light a candle in memory of the victims.

Vilnius Jewish Religious Community
Lithuanian Jewish Community
Lithuanian Jewish Religious Association

Eleven Murdered at Pittsburgh Synagogue

The Lithuanian Jewish Community was shocked by news of the mass murder at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue taking the lives of eleven worshipers.

“This reminds all Jewish communities around the world that we must stick together and stay alert. Anti-Semitism remains a great challenge threatening to disintegrate our societies. Jews cannot be powerless in the face of hate,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is shocked and saddened by the senseless murder and expresses deepest condolences to the families of the dead and the wounded, including at least two police officers. We would like to express our solidarity, along with so many others, with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. In each and every generation the scourge of anti-Semitism rises up, but never prevails.

Book Launch: And the Goat Does Bring Happiness

You are cordially invited to attend the launch of Ilja Bereznickas’s book Ir ožka neša laimę [And the Goat Does Bring Happiness] on Monday, October 29 at 6:00 P.M. at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The author will be there along with illustrator and publisher Leonardas Armonas, and there will be a screening of Ilja Bereznickas’s animated film Ne ožkoje laimė [Happiness Is Not Found in a Goat], perfectly suited for adults and children alike (film and book in Lithuanian).

Global Sabbath

The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invites you to come celebrate the Sabbath during the global Shabbat project on Friday, October 26. Millions of Jews around the world are participating. We’ll be meeting at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Friday evening, with prayer services scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M. Food will be served after. Wherever you find yourself, you can keep Sabbath in solidarity with millions of others.

It all started in South Africa in 2013, when Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein called on the community to keep the Shabbat of October 14 together–to astonishing effect. In the days and weeks that followed, communities across the Jewish world lit up with the excitement of the prospect of bringing the Shabbat Project to their city.

Happiness Is Not Found in a Goat (Or Is it?)

The tailor Mendel Katz lived with his prolific family in a small village together with other tailors, cobblers, poor musicians and strange and wise rabbis… They lived in poverty and as head of the house Mendel worked from early in the morning to late at night, sewing shirts, vests and trousers. The work had to be done very carefully and peace and quiet was required to concentrate, otherwise all sorts of things happened: a sleeve was sewn to trousers, or a pant-leg to a shirt. Mendel often made such mistakes. Why? For several reasons. His wife Sonya was a great village gossip. The children–five girls and even worse, ten bone-headed boys. And wife Sonya also had a spinster sister, a mother dissatisfied with everything and a father who was going deaf. This was reason enough for someone to be driven out of their mind.

The entire family lived in a tiny house. Mendel’s sewing machine stood next to a dark window. How can one possibly work when the scandals never end from the morning onwards? But, as the local wise man Josef said, an end comes to every person’s patience, even that of a Jewish tailor. And one morning Mendel’s patience ended.

This is how it happened. Mendel began sewing in the morning, the entire famished family sat around the table, the children banged their spoons waiting for the porridge to be ready. Sonya put a pot of porridge on the table and stood there in silence, but not for long. The eldest daughter, blue-eyed Riva, a real boss, pointed her finger towards, she told the youngest daughter, a fly which had alighted on the ceiling, and this young fool of a girl turned her head upwards and began searching for the fly. You understand that this was exactly what Riva had wanted. As soon as the youngest understood she had been tricked and her porridge eaten, she began to howl so that even the deaf father-in-law was awakened from his slumber, the mother-in-law in fright and the unexpectedness of the thing sat on the cat. And so it began… Mendel’s wife grabbed the broom and began chasing the eldest daughter through the small house with it. The brush flew off the handle and hit the wedding dress which Sonya’s quiet spinster sister had been sewing.

Meeting/Discussion “Prospects for Jewish Heritage in 2020”

You are invited to attend and speak at a meeting and discussion called “Prospects for Jewish Heritage in 2020: Major Tasks and Goals during the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish History” at 5:30 P.M. on October 24 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius.

Members of the LJC’s heritage protection group will attend, including Lyudmila Sholokhova from YIVO, Assumpcio Hosta from the AEPJ in Spain and Sergey Kravtsov from Hebrew University.

To register, contact

Remembering the Holocaust Victims in Švenčionys

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and residents of Švenčionys remember the victims of the Holocaust from this Lithuanian city at the Menorah statue in the city park October 7. Those who turned out for the event then went to the Švenčionėliai polygon [military reservation] mass murder site in the forest between Platumai village and Šalnaitis lake where about 8,000 Jews from around the Vilnius region were murdered.

The commemoration is always held on the first Wednesday in October by the Menorah statue in what was formerly the Jewish ghetto.

Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro personally thanked all who arrived, especially those who travelled long distances. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Beit Vilna [Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel] president Mickey Kantor and Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska attended the event, among others. Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom performed the prayer.

Exhibit of Michailis Duškesas’s Document Collection

The third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community is now hosting an exhibit of documents to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. All of the documents relate to Vilnius and the people of the city, including Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, banker Israel Bunimovich, the businessman Isak Shuman and others. The documents are from around the world with the majority from Germany, the USA and Israel.

One interesting document appears in the first display case at the new exhibit. It carries the inscription in Russia “Proyekt ustava dukhovnogo obschestva Vilniuskoy sinagogi” and the date 1888. It was acquired in Israel and comes from the collection of Leizer Ran, a well-known collector of Judaica.

There are many photographs from various angles of the Great Synagogue and the Choral Synagogue.

Document collector Michailis Duškesas says he began collecting pre-Holocaust Lithuanian Jewish documents about 15 years ago, and began collecting stamps since about 1980. He has an extensive stamp collection from around the world featuring the game of ping pong. He says he’s constantly enlarging his Judaica collection and now has a great number of documents concerning Lithuanian cities and towns where Jews lived. His documents have been exhibited before at the Lithuanian parliament, the National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum and the Lithuanian Historical Presidential Palace in Kaunas. He says they have also been used in documentary films about Jewish life in Lithuania before the Holocaust.

Lithuanian Public Television Features Program about Litvaks

The Lithuanian Radio and Television television program Misija: Vilnija [Mission: Vilnius Region] about ethnic communities and minority cultures in Lithuania featured Litvaks as the program entered its fourth season at the beginning of October.

In the interview with Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius, he remarked how much freer children have become in Lithuania, which he said has its plusses as well as minuses. He said he never sees students carrying books during breaks between classes anymore and that the current student body was born into a technological society they know better than his generation does. Hostess and interviewer Katažina Zvonkuvienė and Jakobas discussed the sense of loss and sadness in which the post-war generation of Lithuanian Jews lives and which is sometimes unperceived as such. They also talked about the role of the state in guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic communities in Lithuania and the multiethnic and interfaith composition of the Sholem Aleichem school’s student body.

Interviewed at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas spoke about the glorious reputation for scholarship Jewish Vilna once had, and the slow path to drawing back more Jewish families to tradition and to restoring what existed before.

Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke about the durability of Jewish tradition in the face of assimilation. She said rather than grandparents passing on tradition to children, the reverse process seems to be at work now: children are learning Jewish traditions at school and teaching their parents.

Riva Portnaja, the chief chef and baker at the Bagel Shop Café, recalled her childhood in Žemaitija when keeping a kosher kitchen was the customary thing, and spoke about the great demand in Vilnius for Jewish cuisine among Lithuanians.