VILNA, JERUSALEM OF LITHUANIA — VÍLNE, YERUSHOLÁYIM D’LÍTE (Yiddish) — VÍLNO, YERUSHOLÁYIM D’LÍTO (Ashkenazic Hebrew) — VÍLNA, YERUSHALÁYIM D’LÍTA (Israeli):
According to an old Vilna tradition, the Jewish-calendar date starting this evening (4 August 2014, lasting until after dark on the 5th), the ancient fast-day Tíshebov (Tisha b’Av, Ninth of Av) commemorating the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies (“Jews have a long memory”) is ALSO the 202nd anniversary of the day that Napoleon, in Vilna in the course of his attempted conquest of the Russian Empire, coined the name “Jerusalem of Lithuania” (in some versions: “Jerusalem of the North”).
When, during his summer 1812 sojourn here, on the fast-day Tíshebov, he saw the extraordinary magnitude of wailing in the Jewish quarter, over an event rather deep in antiquity, as if it had happened just yesterday, he spontaneously came out with the words.
[But to be a Litvak who tells and then spoils a good story with the actual facts — There is documentary evidence that the concept “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for Vilna had by then taken hold in strictly internal Jewish sources; it occurs in poetic recombinations of biblical passages referring to Jerusalem in the memoir that two sons of the Gaon of Vilna dedicated to their father who died in 1797. I attempted a translation into English; it appears on pp. 94-105 of “Lithuanian Jewish Culture,” Baltos lankos, Vilnius 2010). For example: “Blessed are you, O Vilna, City of Splendor” where the Hebrew text is an epithet for Jerusalem from Jeremiah 49: 25.]
— Dovid Katz