Lithuanian Jewish Community Celebrates Hanukkah

The first Hanukkah candles were lit at different locations around Lithuania Tuesday evening, beginning the eight-day holiday.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius sent greetings to the LJC.

The Kaunas, Ukmergė, Šiauliai and Panevėžys Jewish Communities also sent holiday greetings and warm wishes.

“Let’s learn to be happy and as we celebrate, let’s remember what miracle Hanukkah signifies for us all,” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said in her greeting to the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Members of the Community and honored guests celebrated the first night of Hanukkah together at one of the largest ceremonies held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Irish ambassador David Noonan, US ambassador Anne Hall, Polish ambassador Urszula Doroszewska, Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Vilnius archbishop Arūnas Poniškaitis and signatory to the Lithuanian act reestablishing independence in 1990 professor Vytautas Landsbergis attended, among others.

Simas Levinas, the chairman of the Vilnius Religious Jewish Community, said he was pleased by the large turnout. “I am very pleased that every year more and more people keep coming to celebrate Hanukkah at synagogue. This year there was a full house, full of good people and bright guests who came here to celebrate this holiday which is very important to us together,” he said.

First Hanukkah light lit at synagogue

After solemn prayer and the lighting of the first light the young Rakija Klezmer Orkestar entertained guests with expressive Jewish music.

The menorah was lit on the balcony of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius, too, where it will be very visible to the public throughout the holiday.

Lighting the menorah at the LJC

The Kaunas Jewish Community also has a whole week’s worth of events to celebrate Hanukkah.

“Every year and this year a large number of holiday events and commemorations are planned. It’s wonderful that our Community actively continues traditions and celebrates the holidays together every year,” Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said.

“I greet all the Jews of the world and our friends on this holiday which marks the victory of spiritual strength over the cult of power,” Kaunas Hassidic Synagogue Religious Community chairman Iser Shreyberg said.

They also celebrated Hanukkah in Ukmergė, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and Švenčionys.

Lighting the menorah in Ukmergė

The symbolic lighting of the candles is the most important part of the holiday. The story of Hanukkah tells us the Temple in Jerusalem, won back from the invaders, only had one container of sanctified oil left which would only serve to keep the Menorah lights burning for one day. A miracle happened and the oil lasted eight days, long enough for new oil to be acquired. This is the miracle of Hanukkah, symbolizing the victory of the light over darkness and signifying the spiritual rather than military victory over cultural, ethnic and religious oppression.

The holiday marks the Jewish uprising in the 2nd century BCE and the liberation of the Temple in Jerusalem from desecration by the Seleucid empire. The Jews rose up and refused to be oppressed, and led by the heroic Maccabees freed the Temple and lit the Menorah there.

The Hanukkah menorah is also traditionally lit at Vincas Kudirka Square in central Vilnius, just outside Government House. This year the Jewish community and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius lit the giant menorah there, as they have in past years. The Hassidic Chabad Lubavitch House’s Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky was on hand for Chabad’s traditional menorah ceremony there, which was also attended by Vilnius Religious Jewish Community chairman Simas Levinas and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, among others.

The mayor was presented with a symbolic gift from the Jewish community there called “The Hand of Jerusalem.”

Rakija Klezmer Orkestar concert

Professor Vytautas Landsbergis and LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky

Rabbi Krinsky

Vilnius archbishop Arūnas Poniškaitis, Simas Levinas, Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky and others.