Israel Wins Eurovision

Israelis celebrated Netta Barzilai’s victory with the song “Toy” for Israel at the Eurovision song contest at squares and cafés in the larger cities Saturday. Traditionally the winner’s home country hosts the contest the next year, and Barzilai greeted millions of viewers around the world by saying “next time in Jerusalem!” By Sunday planning was already under way for holding next year’s competition in Jerusalem, Israel’s self-declared capital which many European states don’t recognize, according to the Times of Israel.

Lecture Series

A lecture on Gaucher’s disease.

Gaucher disease is an inherited disease which causes specific organs and tissues to accrete specific substances. Compared to the general population, Ashkenazi Jews have a much higher incidence of Gaucher’s.

This is a unique opportunity to learn more about this disease from medical experts and to take a free blood screening.

Come at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 13, 2018, to office number 306 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius. For further information please call 8 678 81514

High-Profile Ceremony for New Museum in Lithuania

On May 4, 2018, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Complex took place in the middle of Lithuania, in Šeduva. The project is designed by professor Rainer Mahlamäki and Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects, Finland. Professor Mahlamäki attended the ceremony, as did Dr Inna Rogatchi, the author of a forthcoming film and book on Rainer Mahlamäki’s memorial architecture projects.

The ceremony was attended by the entire leadership of Lithuania and a large group of the diplomatic corps. President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė sent a letter of greetings to the ceremony which was read by the president’s special adviser.

The president of Lithuania said in her address: “Today this symbolic capsule marks not only the start of the construction of this unique museum. It also heralds the reconstruction of an important part of Lithuanian history closely interlinked with the history of Lithuania’s large Jewish community and its tragic fate. The Lost Shtetl Museum will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbors, as well as their customs and traditions.”

Full text here.

Victory Day 2018 in Panevėžys

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community together with Panevėžys city residents came to the memorial to the unknown solider on the warm and sunny morning of May 9. The memorial contains the mortal remains of soldiers who fell in the city and region of Panevėžys from 1941 to 1945. They came to mark Victory Day, when Nazi Germany capitulated to the Allies 73 years ago, celebrated in the West on May 8 as Victory in Europe Day because of time-zone differences.

People of all ethnicities suffered during World War II, but as a percentage the Jewish people lost the most members of their population. Panevėžys residents and members of the Jewish community laid wreaths and lit candles at the monument marking the location of the Panevėžys ghetto gates. Everyone observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Holocaust in the city and region, where more than 13,000 Jews were murdered. Also attending were Russian embassy advisor L. Nikolai Yurevich and Belarusian embassy advisor Aleksandr Ignatenko. Both wished everyone present peace.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman welcomed and greeted everyone on the occasion of Victory Day, and noted next to the monument where everyone had gathered once existed the Panevėžys ghetto, where more than 10,000 people were held before being murdered in surrounding forests.

The chairman also spoke about Lithuanians who had risked everything to save Jews from death. He also noted the Panevėžys Jewish Community has a member, Yefim Grafman, who survived the Nazi blockade of Leningrad, and that Yuri Smirnov had cheated death and survived the Holocaust through a miracle. The chairman thanked all present for not forgetting the holiday and for remembering the soldiers who fell fighting for our lives. He wished everyone peace, good health and success.

Later members gathered at the Jewish community building and recalled the fates and heroism of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought the Nazis and died during World War II. Members took away memories of the dead and the undying hope such things will never happen again.

Searching for Jewish Roots in Panevėžys

Descendants of the Navias and Frame families led by the guide Viljamas Žitkauskas visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community to find out more about their genealogies and great-grandparents.

They told their family histories over tea. Their Litvak roots go back to the town of Raguva where their great-grandfather Isaak Frame was born in 1894 and where he then lived, eventually owning a leather workshop. Their great-grandmother came from Pašventinys in the Šiauliai region.

Isaak Frame and the Navias families emigrated to South Africa in the early 20th century. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 many members of the family emigrated separately to Canada, England, Palestine and China.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the visitors about the Jewish history of Panevėžys in the interwar period, screened a documentary film for them and answered their questions. The guests were keenly interested in the photographs in the series “Fragments of the Jewish History of Panevėžys” from the Panevėžys Jewish Community’s history museum.

The visitors thanked the chairman for his hospitality and historical information.

Zenowiusz Ponarski Book Presentation

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library will host the Vilnius Polish Institute’s presentation of Zenowiusz Ponarski’s book “Friend of Lithuania and the Birds. On Oskar Miłosz” and discussion called “Czesław Miłosz and Oskar Miłosz: Diplomats in the Service of Poland and Lithuania” at 6:00 P.M. on Monday, May 14, at the library located at Gedimino prospect no. 51, Vilnius.

The event is being co-organized by the Polish Institute, the library and Znad Wilii magazine. The author, Zenowiusz Ponarski, was born in Vilnius in 1921 and lived in Szczecin in Poland after World War II. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada. The author of many books about notable 20th century Polish and Lithuanian people, in this book he goes beyond the facts of the lives and work of Oskar Miłosz as known from his cousin Czesław and provides completely new and hitherto unknown material. Oskar Miłosz was an ardent proponent of Lithuanian independence during World War I, acquired Lithuanian citizenship and served as a member of the first Lithuanian legation to the League of Nations. The discussion following the book presentation is intended to reveal both Miłoszes’ contributions to Poland and Lithuania. Panelists are to include poet, writer and publisher of this book Romuald Mieczkowski, Naujoji Romuva magazine editor Andrius Konickis, VU lecturer Dr. Darius Kuolys, Dr. Józef Szostakowski representing the Władysław Syrokomla museum in Bareikiškės, Lithuania, and others. The event and discussion will be held in Polish with synchronous translation to Lithuanian. The event is free and open to the public.

More information in Polish here.

The Silenced Muse: The Life of a Murdered Jewish Lithuanian Poet

by Laima Vincė

On a beautiful hot day in the summer of 1941, at a bend in the road that leads out of the village of Panemunėlis towards Kavoliškės, a group of men, known to local people as baltaraiščiai or “those who wear white armbands,” essentially local Lithuanians who collaborated with the occupying Nazi forces, arrived on bicycles. They left the bicycles in the forest across the road from an isolated farmstead that belonged to the farmer, Petras Šarkauskas.

They began to dig ditches in the forest. They did not have much success because tree roots prevented them from digging very deep. So they gave it up and took their shovels to the other side of the road and began digging in the boggy land that belonged to the Kavoliškis manor.

Full text here.

Best Lithuanian Gymnasia Announced

The best schools are:

1. Klaipėda licėjus (took 1st place last year),

2. Panevėžys J. Balčikonis Gymnasium (2nd place last year),

3. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium (7th place last year).

A total of 360 gymnasia without entrance exams were sampled and assessed. The rating is based on the averaged final state examination performance by students last year including tests on Lithuanian language and literature, history, English, information technology, physics, chemistry, biology and geography. The best-scoring gymnasium received eight points and the worst zero.

The rating was also weighted with bonus points for 12th graders who received 100% on their final exams and the number of students who went on to win government-paid places at universities. Bonus points were also given for the number of students who went on to study at institutions of higher learning abroad.

More information in Lithuanian here.

VE Day at the Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius

May 8 is VE Day, marking the victory of the Allies against the Nazis in Europe. At a monument to Vilnius ghetto underground resistance leader Yitzhak Vitenberg and partisan Sheina Madeisker in the Jewish cemetery on Sudervės road in Vilnius, veterans and members of the Jewish community gathered Tuesday to pay their respects to those who fought and died, and the victims of the war.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said it was difficult for Jews to call the day a holiday. “Is it a holiday when you have lost most of the members of your family?” she asked in her brief speech at the monument. “Those who survived carry within the pain of loss. The only thing which can be called a holiday is the end of the horror of war, and to thank Almighty God for that,” she added.

Shmuel Yatom, cantor at the Choral Synagogue, performed kaddish.

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Rescuers

Kauno žydų bendruomenė pagerbė gelbėtojus

It is the duty of the Kaunas Jewish Community to remember the rescuers of Jews as well as the victims of the Holocaust, the quiet heroes and true apostles of humanity who risked life and family to help.

For more than two decades now the KJC has attempted to thank these Righteous Gentiles by inviting them to an annual event among friends. Of course it is inadequate and there is no way to truly thank them. As these heroes slowly fall to the attrition of age, their places among the ranks are assumed by their children and grandchildren in this gathering which has become a large family. The heads of school tolerance centers are also invited to attend and this year 8th graders Diana and Barbora performed dances and songs from the ghetto in Yiddish. The KJC thanks everyone for making this year’s event a success, including the great organizational work by KJC Rescuers Committee chairwoman Judita Mackevičienė.

Discussion on How to Protect Disappearing Jewish Heritage in Kaunas

Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky have visited the former Kaunas Hassidic synagogue now falling into ruin. They toured the building together with Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Kaunas chapter senior state inspector Andrius Liakas, Vilnius Art Academy Kaunas faculty professor and Kaunas city council member Jonas Audėjaitis and others. The Vilnius Art Academy currently manages the property.

Participants discussed how to protect the Hassidic synagogue, an example of authentic Jewish heritage which is fast disappearing. Chairman Žakas and other members of the Kaunas Jewish Community presented to the parliamentary speaker the current needs of the Kaunas community and the need for a functioning synagogue. This synagogue was built in 1880 and following restoration would be one of only a handful of working synagogues in Lithuania, serving the religious and cultural needs of the local Jewish community. The Kaunas Jewish Community is the second largest Jewish community in Lithuania with more than 300 members.

WJC President Lauder Praises Trump on Iran

NEW YORK–World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder Tuesday praised US president Donald Trump’s decision to allow sanctions to go forward on Iran, calling it an “unmistakable message to Iran and its allies that its … threats against the United States and all other free and democratic nations in the world will not be tolerated.”

“Iran is a rogue nation ruled by a regime that cannot be trusted to honor its word, and even more so with nuclear capabilities that would enable it to wreak havoc on the world and cause a catastrophic arms race in the region,” Lauder said. “President Trump has taken a courageous step today in making it ever clear to the Islamic Republic that he will not stand by in silence as it continues to subvert the nuclear agreement and exploit the good faith of the international community. We urge other countries to follow this administration’s example and not allow Iran to flout international law.”

Lost Shtetl Museum Construction Begins


Photo: Gintaras Šiuparys

A ceremony was held Friday to mark the beginning of construction work on the Lost Shtetl museum in Šeduva, Lithuania. The museum will be a completely new kind of experience using modern technology to present the history and culture of and to commemorate the former Litvak shtetl.

Marija Dautartaitė delivered a welcome on behalf of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, followed by speeches by speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris, US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall, Finnish ambassador to Lithuania Christer Michelson, genealogist and education Eli Rabinowitz from South Africa and Australia, Holocaust film director Saulius Beržinis and Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund founder and museum project manager Sergey Kanovich.

Also attending were ambassadors and heads of mission from the embassies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and Romania, as well as members of the municipal and regional governments and interested citizens from all parts of Lithuania.

Site Selected in Vilnius for Commemorating Righteous Gentiles

In a letter to the Lithuanian Jewish Community dated April 28, 2018, Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius agreed to a 2016 proposal by the LJC to erect a statue to honor rescuers of Jews from the Holocaust in the garden of the Church of the Missionaries near Ona Šimaitė street, renamed after the prolific rescuer several years ago. The walled-in garden area of the church was the site of the final selection of Jews for life and death after the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Šimašius said an alternate site, Rūdninkų square inside the former ghetto, was no longer a fruitful option.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks all parties for inter-agency cooperation in solving an issue of national importance, commemorating those who risked life and family to rescue Jews.

Statue Unveiled in Kaunas to Abraham Mapu, Founder of the Modern Hebrew Novel

A sculpture to honor Abraham Mapu, the founder of the Hebrew novel who was born in Kaunas, was unveiled to the public at a ceremony held in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery on Mapu street in Kaunas Thursday evening. Sculptor Martynas Gaubas made the statue commemorating Mapu (1808-1867), who was born and lived in Kaunas and was a beloved local literary figure.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the Kaunas municipality for its favorable view on commemorating Litvak figures and noted Mapu is known and loved in Israel where even small towns have a street named after him. She praised the Kaunas Jewish Community for its unity and initiative and singled out Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas for his success in cooperation and getting things done.

Chairman Žakas and Olegas Darčanovas, the prime mover behind the statue project, noted the large turnout for the ceremony but also said the statue had begun drawing people into the yard even before the ceremony, with locals and tourists flocking to get a look.

Members of the Kaunas city council Ina Pukelytė and Jonas Audėjaitis spoke of the Litvak contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of Kaunas, Lithuania and the world, and confirmed there would be continued commemoration of notable Litvaks who were born, lived and worked in Kaunas.

Lithuanian Economics Minister Meets with Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community

Lithuanian economics minister Virginijus Sinkevičius met with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and discussed the function, content and language of amendments to the law on the protection of consumer rights. The minister said more precise amendments would be tabled in the near future in order to avoid misinterpretations and in light of suggestions made.

“I am encouraged by the frank and constructive conversation with the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I believe this legislative package needs to be corrected so that no one has doubts about it, so that it wouldn’t be misinterpreted and wouldn’t become a means for distorting historical truth. In consideration of that, I will register [for consideration at parliament] the amendments needed in the very near future,” minister Sinkevičius said.

At a plenary session of parliament in late March, 93 MPs voted in favor of amendments proposed by the Government, 11 abstained and none voted against. The final version of the proposed amendments were drafted before the current leadership of the Economics Ministry took the post.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community expressed concerns over the amendments which would ban retail sales of goods which “distort the historical facts of Lithuania, belittle Lithuania’s history, independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order.” The Community pointed out this would serve as stimulus for the adoption at the national level of one official and “acceptable” version of Lithuanian historical events, which wouldn’t serve in the teaching of actual history but rather would become a censored interpretation of history.

Lag baOmer 2018

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community held a picnic/barbecue celebration of Lag baOmer at Didžiulis Lake May 3. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Rabbi Shalom Ber Krinsky and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon attended.

Lag baOmer is the holiday of the unity of the Jewish people and usually includes fun and games, singing and dancing and prayers to the Creator. Bonfires are lit at night. The most important celebration takes place with the lighting of a bonfire above the tomb of Simeon bar Yochai in Meron in Upper Galilee in Israel. The light from the fire is meant to recall the Sefer haZohar, or Book of Splendor, the earliest written work in the Kabbalah tradition whose authorship is ascribed to the tannaitic sage.

The book sheds great light on the wisdom of the Torah, about which King Solomon said: “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” And according to the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator says: “Is not my word like as a fire?”

To mark Victory Day we invite you to come honor those who fought fascism and the victims of World War II at 12 noon on May 8 at the Sudervės road Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. A bus will carry passengers there from Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius and departs at 11:10 A.M. For more information and to register call (8 5) 2613 003 or email info@lzb.lt

Vilnius U Rector Presents Holocaust Survivor “Return of Memory” Diploma in Israel

Vilnius University rector professor Artūras Žukauskas presented Estera Klabinaitė Grobman (98) a “return of memory” diploma May 1 in Arad, Israel. Grobman is a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp. She is the only surviving member of a group of students who experienced the Holocaust. In her youth she dreamt of being a chemist, matriculated at university, but only studied one year. In 1941, when WWII and the Holocaust began in Lithuania, she was removed from the student rolls because of her Jewish ethnicity.