The Jewish Cultural Route Association was officially established at a meeting at the Lithuanian Economics Ministry on December 5, 2015. The group is tasked with drafting and developing a Jewish cultural tourism program with a consistent itinerary of sites in Lithuania.
The meeting at the ministry was called at the initiative of the Cultural Heritage Department. Department director Diana Varnaitė presented the plan there and State Tourism Department director Jurgita Kazlauskienė presented the idea of a Lithuanian Jewish cultural tourism program as a competitive product in the market.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the meeting and said it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve the results achieved so far without the participation of all the various institutions involved. “I would like to thank you for the efforts made to preserve our cultural heritage and to present it to the world. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries are today being renovated and put in order. There is still some suspicion in talk about us, characterizing relations with Jews as ‘us and them,’ but I would disagree with that sort of attitude,” she said.
“We have rich resources in Jewish cultural heritage: synagogues, religious schools, cities and towns along with surviving historical shtetls, old Jewish cemeteries, many Jewish figures who have made important contributions to Lithuanian and global history, culture, science, education and economy, and their spiritual legacy, traditions and music. An extraordinary phenomenon characteristic of our region exclusively is wooden synagogues,” Diana Varnaitė, director of the Cultural Heritage Department, said at the meeting.
The initiators of the new Jewish Cultural Route Association include the municipalities of Ukmergė and Kėdainiai, the regional administration of the Joniškis district, the Centre for Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews and the Association of Lithuanian Museums. It is hoped other municipalities and partners will join the association (including tourist information centers, museums, schools and other institutions).
Once the tourism program and route is established, it will be possible to join the European Jewish Cultural Heritage Route approved by the Council of Europe. Lithuania has participated in different initiatives from the European Jewish Cultural Route since its inception in 2004.
Three ministerial representatives hailed the establishment of the new association at the meeting, including deputy foreign minister Mantvydas Bekešius, deputy minister of culture Dr. Romas Jarockis and deputy economics minister Rasa Noreikienė.
At the conclusion of the meeting Kėdainiai Regional History Museum director Rimantas Žirgulis signed the articles of incorporation on behalf of the administration of the Kėdainiai district. Joniškis regional administration head Gediminas Čepulis signed on behalf of his organization, as did Rolandas Janickas, head of the regional administration of the Ukmergė district. Founding signatories included Dr. Jurgita Verbickienė, director of he Centre for Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews, and Raimundas Balza, director of the Association of Lithuanian Museums.