Religion

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.

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


Programme

September 18

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

September 21 

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

September 22

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

September 23

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

September 26

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

September 27

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

September 28

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

October 4

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

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

Amehaye Summer Camp 2018

In July the Lithuanian Jewish Community sponsored a day camp for members’ children aged 5 to 12. As every year, this year’s camp was held at a beautiful natural location, the Karvys manor in Paežeriai village in the Vilnius region.

Parents and children alike look forward to the camp and the experience of nature, relaxing by a lake and playing with friends. The day camp includes educational activities, walks and breakfast, lunch and dinner. Buses take the children to the camp in the morning and return them home in the evening. The day camps were held from July 16 to 27 this year. This year 49 children attended, from Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Norway, the USA and Great Britain. Children learned songs and Israeli dance, performed skits and learned to bake challa bread for Sabbath. The educational program included discussions about Jewish traditions, art, swimming, athletics and other activities.

Camp counselors took the campers to visit dog trainers and to meet with scouts in Labanoras Forest. The scouts talked about what it means to be a scout and everyone had a nice picnic by the lake.

Lithuania’s Russian Drama Theater actress Yuliana Volodko created a play with the children called Noah’s Ship which the children performed for parents at the closing ceremony. The play was followed by a Sabbath celebration with children and parents, attended by about 90 people in total. The closing ceremony featured cake and fireworks, and children made wishes and then released helium balloons.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanks all the organizers, volunteers and guests who made this year’s Amehaye such a success, and also thanks the company Nikadita, the Bagel Shop Café and the Sluoksniai Café for their support and help.

Paving the Way for Orthodox Couples to Marry

Miami, August 5, 2018–It’s not easy, and sometimes it is not even possible to get married in an Orthodox ceremony in Israel, due to the strict regulations set by the Chief Rabbinate, which is the only body authorized to carry out Jewish marriages. But times are changing, and a new organization called Chuppot is challenging the Rabbinate’s monopoly over who is allowed to marry.

Chuppot is the first organization to openly enable any Jewish couple in Israel to marry in a halachically Orthodox ceremony outside of the framework of the Rabbinate. Targum Shlishi recently awarded a grant to Chuppot to help the organization market itself.

“Chuppot is addressing a real and urgent need in Israeli society. The Chief Rabbinate, in setting forth parameters for weddings that many Jews simply cannot fulfill, has been abusing its power for years,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is a travesty that the Rabbinate routinely refuses to marry Orthodox Jewish couples. Many of those who are affected by the refusal are immigrants who are not able to document their Jewishness according to the unreasonable standards set forth by the Rabbinate.”

Marriage in Israel

The Chief Rabbinate’s strict standards over who is allowed to marry is not the only issue—many argue that the overall climate fostered by the Rabbinate is negative, with marriage just one aspect of a growing polarity between the Rabbinate and much of society (other areas of discord include divorce, ritual immersion, kashrut, and conversion). This negative climate reflects the increasing divide in Israeli society overall, in which the Rabbinate is becoming increasingly extremist and isolated, while more moderate Orthodox and traditional Jews are seeking a Judaism that is more in tune with their values.

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

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

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

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

Three Weeks of Digging Culminate in Discovery of Bima at Great Synagogue

On July 26 reporters were invited to get a better look at the results of this year’s archaeological digs at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

An international team of Israel, American, Canadian and Lithuanian archaeologists made a number of discoveries this year, the third summer in a row digging has been conducted in and around the Soviet-era school built in 1952 on top of the former synagogue. Under one classroom the edge of the bima, the raised platform where the Torah is read, and the base of a column in the elaborate design of the bima were discovered. Lead archaeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority Dr. Jon Seligman explained to reporters the aron kodesh, or ark where the Torah is kept, would like be just under the fence bordering the street in the front of the school. He said the street had slightly shifted in location since the pre-war period. The bima and the ark form the main axis around which activities take place in the main hall of the synagogue.

Digging resumed in the playground and uncovered the men’s mikve next to the women’s discovered last year and suspected the year before. The mikvot constituted a two-storey building behind the synagogue from the side of the street still called Jewish street. A mikve is a bathing facility used for ritual purification. Two areas uncovered displayed what appeared to be almost new, slightly over-sized ceramic bathroom tiles, alternating squares of white and an orangish-red color.

Adjacent to the mikve building archaeologists determined the exact location of the outer wall of the synagogue proper this year.

Great Synagogue Site Compared to Acropolis and Vilnius Castle

15min.lt

Last week the Lithuanian Jewish Community confirmed archaeologists had discovered the bimah, or speaking platform, one of the most important elements of the Great Synagogue. Experts say this gives real stimulus to the digs at the site which have been going on for three years now. The Great Synagogue in Vilnius was one of the most important Jewish centers from the end of the 16th century to World War II. Damaged during the war, the Soviets razed what was left to the ground in the 1950s and built a school there. The green and brown Baroque bimah built in the 18th century was found under the school.

Call to Get Rid of Noreika Commemorations

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the archaeologists who studied historical descriptions and blueprints as well as digging for sharing their finds. “We are in the former ghetto, and this find is comparable on Vilnius’s scale to discovering the Acropolis. Not the shopping center, the historical Acropolis,” Kukliansky said. She thanked the Vilnius municipality for the support and initiative in commemorating the former synagogue, and used the occasion to remind Vilnius city leaders commemoration of the Great Synagogue isn’t compatible with a public plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika. “I want to make this little observation that the Great Synagogue and a monument to Noreika don’t really go together in one city,” the LJC chairwoman said at press conference next to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, asking for the issue to be solved..

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Archaeologists Find Holiest Part of Vilnius Great Synagogue Razed by Soviets


VILNIUS, Lithuania (AFP) — For decades, little did the principal of a kindergarten in Lithuania’s capital realize that her office stood on top of a sacred part of Vilnius’s 17th century Jewish temple, once famous across Europe.

An international team of archaeologists announced THursday the discovery of the most revered part of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania’s major Jewish shrine before it was destroyed by Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Installed in the 18th century, the Baroque bimah was found under the former kindergarten and primary school built by the Soviets on top of the demolished synagogue in the 1950s.

Following this discovery, Vilnius authorities pledged to demolish the school building in a couple of years and properly commemorate the synagogue by 2023.

Bima Found at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

The international team of archaeologists from the USA, Canada, Lithuania and Israel working at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius have located the central feature of the synagogue, the bima, as well as the outer back wall and part of the synagogue floor.

The bima is the central feature of synagogues. It is the platform upon which the rabbi reads the Torah and leads prayer, to which and from which the Torah scroll is taken from the Ark and returned to it.

The bima at the Great Synagogue site was discovered directly under the Soviet-era school built over the site in 1958.

The archaeological dig has been going on for several years and is currently being led by Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Jon Seligman and Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Goodwill Foundation are supporting the dig.

Earlier non-invasive archaeology revealed the presence of the mikve, or ritual bath, complex on the northern side of the site. Digging revealed multi-colored floor tiles and green oven tiles. It is believed to be a male mikveh based on historical documents.

The press and the public are invited to visit the site at 2:00 P.M. tomorrow, Thursday, July 2018, located at Vokiečių street no. 13A (formerly ulica Żydowska or Žydų gatvė no. 6) in Vilnius to get a better look at this unique site and the discoveries made there.

The archaeological group, Vilnius mayor Remigijaus Šimašius and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky are scheduled to attend the press conference, among others.

Contacts for further information:

Dr. Jon Seligman: seligman.jon@gmail.com

Zenonas Baubonis and Justinas Račas: z.baubonis@gmail.com

Monika Antanaitytė, LJC: telephone +37067240942, info@lzb.lt

Extraordinary Guests at Choral Synagogue

An unusual Sabbath ceremony was held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius last Friday evening. About 150 guests and members of the community sat at a common kiddush table following the prayer service.

Israeli soldiers and officers with colonel Avi Motola, students and teachers from the Vilnius University Yiddish Institute’s summer course with director professor Abraham Lichtenbaum from Argentina and others celebrated an authentic Sabbath at the synagogue together. There were speeches and synagogue board member Jakovas Mendelevskis and cantor Shmuel Yatom performed songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Colonel Motola presented several commemorative plaques to the synagogue in appreciation for the work the synagogue does and for hosting the beautiful Sabbath ceremony for IDF soldiers and others.

Mikveh Drawings from 1904 Discovered


Geršonas Taicas, left, hands mikveh documents to Jon Seligman, right, at the Great Synagogue archaeological dig in Vilnius, July 24, 2018.

Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas has discovered architectural drawings made in 1904 and approved in 1908 for the mikveh (ritual bath) complex once located next to the Great Synagogue in Vilnius. The mikveh complex has been the subject of archaeological digs since 2011. Taicas personally brought the old architectural plans to Jon Seligman at the dig. Seligman is one of the leaders of the archaeological team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. He said he hadn’t known of the existence of these drawings and was very pleased and surprised.

Seligman said the drawing might have been drafted when the Vilnius Jewish community received a grant of $50,000 from the Joint Distribution Committee in New York for building a mikveh for impoverished Jews of Vilnius. The drawings from 1904 showed either what the mikveh should look like, or how it should be modified, he reasoned, commenting the architectural plan approved in 1908 showed the mikveh had electricity, a good stone floor, new rafters and supports and a metal roof. Seligmas said there is a good description in Yiddish from 1930 describing the interior of the mikveh.

According to the architectural drawings, the two-storey mikveh building was 70 meters long and 12 meters wide.

My Grandfather Wasn’t a Nazi-Fighting War Hero, He Was a Brutal Collaborator


Jonas Noreika. Photo: personal collection of Silvia Foti

A deathbed promise led to me discovering his complicity in the Holocaust, and what it means beyond my family

by Silvia Foti, July 14, 2018

Eighteen years ago, my dying mother asked me to continue working on a book about her father, Jonas Noreika, a famous Lithuanian World War II hero who fought the Communists. Once an opera singer, my mother had passionately devoted herself to this mission and had even gotten a PhD in literature to improve her literary skills. As a journalist, I agreed. I had no idea I was embarking on a project that would lead to a personal crisis, Holocaust denial and an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government.

Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood–the neighborhood that had the largest population of Lithuanians outside the homeland–I’d heard about how my grandfather died a martyr for the cause of Lithuania’s freedom at the hands of the KGB when he was just 37 years old. According to the family account, he led an uprising against the Communists and won our country back from them, only to have it snatched by the Germans. He became chairman of the northwestern part of the country during the German occupation. According to family lore, he had fought the Nazis and then been sent to a concentration camp in retaliation. He escaped that camp and returned to Vilnius to start a new rebellion against the Communists, had been caught, taken to the KGB prison and tortured. I’d heard how he was the lawyer who had led the defense for 11 rebels before the KGB tribunal, was found guilty and had been executed. His nom de guerre was General Storm. It all seemed so romantic to me.

That is the book I started to write. My mother had collected a trove of material that included 3,000 pages of KGB transcripts; 77 letters to my grandmother; a fairytale to my mother written from the Stutthof concentration camp; letters from family members about his childhood; and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. A few months into the project, I visited my dying grandmother, who lived a few blocks away. She asked me not to write the book about her husband. “Just let history lie,” she whispered. I was stunned. “But I promised mom,” I said. She rolled over to face the wall. I didn’t take her request seriously; I thought she was simply giving me a pass because she knew how taxing the project was for my mother.

Full text here.

Yad Ruth Reps Visit Kaunas

Yad Ruth representatives Barbara and Dieter Maier of Hamburg visited Lithuania in June. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and Yad Ruth began working together back in 1994. Members of the organization are Israeli patriots, enthusiastically support Jewish culture and history and study Hebrew and sacred texts.

The idea to start Yad Ruth began in 1980 from personal meetings with Holocaust survivors. The association was formed in 1994, allowing the organization to expand financial prospects and other activities. Yad Ruth means both “Ruth’s hand” and “Ruth in memoriam” in Hebrew, and both phrases fit the organizations activities and goals which are aimed especially at Holocaust survivors and Jews in hard times. Members say as Germans of the post-war generation they feel a special responsibility for the welfare of Jews and for the state of Israel. One of their main tasks is fighting anti-Semitism in Germany and educating the public.

Yad Ruth is active in Germany, Israel, Estonia, Ethiopia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova.

On Holidays at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Many events have taken place recently at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Besides daily prayer services and Kollel Torah studies, seminars, traditional Jewish holidays, Sabbath and kiddush with many visitors from around the world as well as Women’s Club activities, there is a growing demand for traditional Jewish rituals.

We can take pride that this year there were two circumcision and 3 bar mitzvahs as well as a traditional huppah or Jewish wedding ceremony held at the Choral Synagogue.

Last week two families from the USA held bar mitzvah ceremonies at the Choral Synagogue. The young men were born in America but have family roots in Lithuania.

The boys had been prepared well for the Torah reading. Their gratitude to their parents and their parents’ stories about the footsteps taken on the way to adulthood and how much they love their children moved the large audience of friends, relatives and guests.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Asks Pope Francis to Remember Holocaust Victims in Lithuania

The Lithuanian Jewish Community values the upcoming visit to Lithuania by His Holiness Pope Francis as an important gesture of recognition and an historic event as our country celebrates 100 years of independence this year.

The Pope’s visit coincides with the National Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of the Jews of Lithuania, September 23. Seventy-five years ago on this day the final liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto was carried out: men, women, children and the elderly were deported to concentration camps in Poland, Germany, Estonia and Latvia and sent to the Ponar Forest to be shot. The destruction of the Vilnius ghetto is a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. This tragedy not only cost thousands of Lithuanian residents their lives, but also ruined the great intellectual potential of society and deprived us of an important part of the identity of our state.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community calls upon the Lithuanian public and the leaders of global Jewish and Catholic communities and organizations to join us in asking Pope Francis to pray for the lives lost in the Holocaust and for the Righteous Gentiles of Lithuania, and to remember the innocents unfairly condemned and murdered at the Ponar Memorial Complex Jewish mass murder site on September 23, 2018.

Association of Italian Jewish Communities president Noemi Di Segni has called upon Pope Francis to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during his visit to Lithuania on September 23.

Alanta Synagogue Hosts Memory Exhibit

by Vaidotas Žukas, Bernardinai.lt

Jews constituted the majority of the population of the towns of the Molėtai region before World War II. In 1941, however, the Nazi regime issued a verdict against the Jews, the descendants of David were to be abused, tortured and shot… And only God knows how many people from this beautiful lake country contributed to the rescue of their neighbors and vice versa, informing upon them, betraying and shooting them. The Nazis only sent a few Germans to Molėtai. Lithuanian lowlifes performed all of the arrests and shootings of Jews.

There is a bright side, though, to this tragedy: there were also several hundred rescuers of Jews in the Molėtai area, since it took the conviction, daily work and risk-taking in the face of death of several dozen people to hide and protect one Jew. Respect to them!

The Alanta synagogue is one of only several surviving wooden synagogues in Lithuania; it hasn’t been destroyed and wasn’t burned down, but it’s still not in good order and unrestored. During the Soviet era grain and fertilizer were stored there. The cut-up wooden walls of the synagogue and the tin roof still with bullet holes from the war witness to both the Holocaust and the continuing reluctant position taken towards Jewish religious and historical heritage in Lithuania.

Continuing Education Students from Israel Visit Panevėžys Jewish Community

Under an agreement of several years’ standing Edit Perry and Ewa Baranska have led another delegation of people from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Many are adults involved in continuing education during the academic year on the topic of Jews from the Baltic states. During the summer they strive to visit as many sites as possible where they had family in Lithuania, including Panevėžys. The students were keenly interested in the photography exhibit and archival documents illustrating Jewish life before World War II preserved at the Panevėžys Jewish Community.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and member Jurijus Smirnovas delivered lectures at actual historical sites inside the former ghetto territory and the old Jewish cemetery which is now called Memory Square.

Smirnovas shared his experience of World War II with the visitors. He was a small child at the concentration camps in Panevėžys and Šiauliai and lost his family members.