VILNIUS, Lithuania, Aug. 26, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — A Rabbinic Delegation visited yesterday Vilnius and met the authorities to plea with them to cancel plans to construct a Congress Hall on Snipiskes Jewish cemetery.
The Snipiskes cemetery – interring Vilnius’ most famous Jewish leaders – was desecrated by a series of regimes, including the Nazis and Soviets. The latter built a now-abandoned Sports Palace on top of cemetery land. Desecration continued under Lithuania’s democratic government, with two apartment buildings constructed on cemetery grounds during the last decade, disturbing and shattering human remains.
Recently, the government announced plans to redevelop the abandoned Sports Palace into a Congress Hall. Leading Rabbis who maintain the Lithuanian tradition of Talmud study publicly decried the plan, protesting “any use of this sacred site other than for prayer and solemn reflection.”
The rabbinic delegation – with members from the US, Europe and Israel – met Lithuania’s First Deputy Chancellor Mr. Rimantas Vaitkus – who welcomed the group on behalf of Prime Minister Mr. Algirdas Butkevičius while he was abroad – and the Mayor of Vilnius, Mr. Remigijus Šimašius, to personally express the international Jewish Community’s opposition to the plan.
The group included leaders of the most famous Jewish institutions carrying on the glorious Lithuanian-Jewish tradition, such as Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, dean of Beth Medrash Govoha, a 6,500 student Yeshiva in Lakewood, NJ, and Rabbi Osher Kalmanowitz, dean of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. They were joined by the veteran European Rabbi and Halachic author Rabbi Avraham Yaffe Schlesinger, Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish community Machsike Hadass in Geneva; Rabbi David Niederman, representing the CRC of the USA and Canada, an umbrella group of hundreds of Jewish congregations with a membership of over 100,000; Dr. David Michael Schaps, of the Conference of Academicians for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries; and Rabbi Chizki Kalmanowitz, expert of Asra Kadisha.
“We had a thorough discussion with the Deputy Chancellor and Mayor and other officials, and we appreciate the time they gave to hear the outcry from the rabbinical leaders and worldwide Jewry, and their promise to review our request and respond to us. We were encouraged to hear that the plans aren’t final yet. We hope and pray that our plea to fully preserve the cemetery and cancel the current plans will be granted,” said Rabbi Niederman.