Litvak Heritage in Lithuania: Where to Find the Most Interesting Stories and Sites

Litvak Heritage in Lithuania: Where to Find the Most Interesting Stories and Sites

by Raimonda Mikalčiūtė-Urbonė,

The year 2020 has been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History, so this year is a good opportunity to discover the interesting and unique Jewish heritage sites we have right here in our own country.

So far this is niche tourism. Although there is an abundance of Jewish heritage sites in Vilnius, Kaunas and the regions, many tourists still don’t know, for example, when they’re vacationing in Palanga or Druskininkai, the Jewish histories of these resort towns. How can we get ethnic Lithuanians interested in the long and interesting history of the Litvaks and the sites which stand witness to this history? We discussed this with interlocutors in this article.

Faina Kukliansky: There Needs to Be a Common Litvak Heritage Policy

“Lithuania is very rich in Jewish heritage,” Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said. “We are members of the European Jewish Cultural Heritage Route. We have different plans on how to improve this tourist itinerary; we don’t just want a person to travel here, lie down on the grass and imagine what was, but to actually acquire knowledge and the spirit of the Litvak legacy. This is a complicated matter, though. It has to be said that despite our successful cooperation with the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department, the Government and the mayors of some cities and towns, the state nonetheless lacks a unified policy on Jewish heritage. What we as an association can do, we do do. But we are a small community. The synagogues which have been returned to us look more like barns than synagogues. They need to be refurbished and they need a lot of money.

“Furthermore, we aspire to authenticity: I don’t want to create some Disneyland of synagogues,” Kukliansky said.

She point to the Pakrojis synagogue as a success story. There were very good descriptions and information about it, which led to the restoration of authentic decorations. The current plan for the near future is to restore the synagogues in Alanta and Kurkliai. The restoration of the Žiežmariai synagogue is scheduled for completion this year. The latter is to feature a museum on the Jewish history of the town and on Lithuanian wooden synagogues. There is a synagogue complex in Kalvarija and another synagogue in Kėdainiai awaiting restoration after that.

Full story in Lithuanian here.