Old Kalvarija Synagogue Springs Back to Life

Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.

The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.

Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Under a use agreement signed by the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kalvarija municipality in 2014, the town administration received the right to manage the synagogue complex for 50 years and pledged to make investments and to restore the complex when funding allows. In the meantime the complex was to be preserved. It was supposed to be used for cultural activities, but so far no work has been done. Local government has changed and so, too, it seems, have municipal priorities, despite the availability of funding. The LJC hopes the Kalvarija municipality lives up to its word and keeps its promises to preserve this unique heritage for future generations.

The photographs below by Milda Rūkaitė include the only Jew resident in Kalvarija, Holocaust survivor Maušis Segalis, with his wife.

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