What does cohen mean? That was the question for some who came to celebrate Sabbath at the LJC with famous Lithuanian actor Marius Repšys, who turned 34 on September 1. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas moderated the event.
“I wanted to get back my father’s surname, Cohen, which was changed when I was a child, but when I went to the Justice Ministry, I found out I can’t do that, because it’s difficult to prove following my father’s death in Israel,” Repšys told the audience. Marius’s father was Jewish and his mother is mixed Tartar and Russian. When he was 8 his mother decided it would be better for him to change his surname, to be a Lithuanian rather than a Jew, because, she said, “everyone attacks Russians and Jews.” She had divorced his father when Marius was 4. He only learned his father was Jewish when he was 7.
Twenty years later he visited his father in Israel on his father’s birthday and brought as a gift an album of photographs of him in his childhood. “My father was moved and cried, but the next day there was an ashtray on top of the photo album,” Marius recalled. He went to Israel the second time for his father’s funeral.
Renaldas Vaisbrodas recalled it was fairly common to switch ethnicity in Soviet times, and parents did this to protect their children from bullying.
Lately Marius has been reading books about Jews. He said his favorite so far is Boy with a Violin, which was published in Lithuanian with help from the Goodwill Foundation. Marius said he likes rapping and playing chess.
Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium principal Miša Jakobas was at the event and said Marius should try to get his surname back again, commenting on his very Jewish-looking eyes. He recommended the Lithuanian film star read Grigory Kannovitch’s books to understand better Lithuanian and Jewish relations and what happened during the Holocaust. Miša invited Marius to come meet the senior classes at the gymnasium, talk about his film work and rap together with students.
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas invited him to the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.
Marius Repšys said he likes roles in which he’s allowed to improvise. He said the most difficult role he played was the character of Laurynas in Marcinkevičius’s play “Katedra” which was full of pathos, difficult and interesting.
Currently Marius is writing a book titled “Heraklis” [Hercules] whose protagonist suffers from bipolar disorder. While most people tend to hide such things, Marius says he’s been treated, recovered and is now tackling the subject with some trepidation because he’s not sure readers and colleagues will understand his writing. The book should be available at the next annual Vilnius Book Fair.