About us

Jewish Community of Panevėžys

Contact Gennady Kofman, chairperson of the Panevėžys Jewish Community; Jurij Smirnov, deputy chairperson, address: Ramygalos g. 18, Panevėžys, telephone: 8611 20882 email: genakofman@yahoo.com Panevėžys Jewish Community webpage: www.jewishpanevezys.lt

Activities of the Panevėžys Jewish Community The community includes about 75 people. The community holds various religious events, celebrates Jewish holidays and marks important dates on the Jewish calendar. They maintain close ties with public figures, embassy staff, the Rožynas High School in Panevėžys, the Gabrielė Petkavičiatė-Bitė Library and Christian religious communities. The Panevėžys Jewish Community organizes exhibits, the Jewish Cultural Days and international conferences, tends the Panevėžys Jewish Cemetery and carries out active social activities.

History of the Jews of Panevėžys

From the 17th Century to the First World War

Jews have lived in Panevėžys (Yiddish Pónevezh) since the 17th century. They came from the Ukraine and Western Europe and slowly settled in the town. In 1766 Jewish families built many new brick houses in Naujasis Panevėžys (New Panevėžys) which housed 254 Jews. The development of crafts and trade developed rapidly in Panevėžys at this time. Jews were engaged in the production of small trade items and goods, metalwork and timber processing. The Jews of Panevėžys were among the first to become involved in banking in Lithuania. Jews opened lending offices which lent to smallholder farmers.

There were 410 Jewish families for a total of 1,447 Jews living in Panevėžys in 1847. This community was close-knit and adhered to the life of the Torah and its traditions. Relations between Jews and people of other ethnicities were exemplary.

The Pónevezh Jewish community spared no effort to ensure that all their children would become literate, without regard to the social position their parents occupied. A Jewish primary school was opened in 1863 with five teachers and about sixty boys. The other children were taught at Jewish study houses. A religious school for girls was opened the same year. In 1897 the Jewish community had one main synagogue, built in 1764, and 12 houses of prayer. Panevėžys had 14,733 residents in 1904, of whom there were 3,088 Jewish men and 3,556 Jewish women. The population would have been higher if not for massive immigration to Hungary and North America.

Ten years later about 17,000 people inhabited the city of Panevėžys and surrounding areas. About half of city residents were Jewish. Before the First World War, there were 60 Lithuanians and 351 Jews engaged in trade in Panevėžys.

Jewish Community of Klaipėda

Contact Feliks Pozemskij, Klaipėda Jewish Community chairperson, tel. 8-650-21335 email felix.bonasta@yahoo.com

Activities of the Klaipėda Jewish Community The Klaipeda Jewish Community currently has more than 200 members. The community organizes celebrations of Jewish holidays, marks important dates on the Jewish calendar, holds cultural programs, organizes Sunday school for children and leisure activities for the elderly, and provides and distributes welfare, including money, services and material goods.

History of the Jews of Klaipėda

From the 15th to the 20th

Century Klaipeda was formerly called Memel. Jews appeared in Memel probably sometime in the 15th century, although the first historical source is from 1567. On April 20, 1567, Albrecht, Grand Herzog of East Prussia, ordered Jews to leave the city within 21 days and never to return. The ban lasted until the mid-17th century. Even after it was lifted, Jewish settlement in Memel was strictly controlled and limited.

Only in 1662 did Fredrich Wilhelm, elector of Brandenburg, grant the right to live in the city to an individual Jewish merchant. Frederich Wilhelm sought to strengthen Memel’s trade ties. Moshe Jakobson the Younger because the first legal Jewish resident of Memel. Within several years, however, he, his children and servants were exiled from the city for his overactive speculation in salt.

As late as the 18th century the ban on Jewish settlement in Memel was still in force. In 1777 Moses Mendelssohn came to Memel to trade. Besides being a merchant, he was also a famous Jewish philosopher, the spiritual father of the Jewish Haskalah (enlightenment dedicated to modernization and incorporation of secular culture in a renewed model of European Jewish life). He was also the grand-father of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, the well-known composer. Mendelssohn’s renown in Europe was of no aid to him in getting permission to settle in Memel. He was forced to live in Konigsberg.

The situation only changed a century later. The French Revolution gave equal rights to Jews of France. This revolutionary innovation spread to the countries conquered by Napoleon and partially survived even after Napoleon was toppled. The favorable situation of Memel (a large port that didn’t freeze over in winter and with autonomy, located far from the capital of Prussia) and a favorable turn of events (the Crimean War, which isolated Russia from the normal trade routes) led to a marked increase in the number of Jewish residents: from 45 people in 1813, to 887 people in 1867, to 1,214 people by 1880.

Jewish Community of Kaunas 

Contact: Žakas Gercas, chairperson of the Kaunas Jewish Community, tel. 8-686-54585 email kzb@pub.vdu.lt. Activity The Kaunas Jewish community currently has more than 400 members. The community is actively involved in the following:

  • Organizing Jewish holidays and marking important Jewish dates.
  • Commemorating sites and personalities, as well as people who have helped the Jewish people.
  • Organizing cultural programs: plays, films, concerts, museums and exhibitions.
  • Honoring Holocaust survivors and providing a space and framework and support for their activities.
  • Helping World War II veterans’ organization by providing facilities.
  • Helping members of the Kaunas chassidic community organize prayers at the synagogue, providing facilities and covering expenses.
  • Maintaining the working cemetery at Aleksotas and the old Jewish cemetery in Raudondvaris, and maintaining the graves of famous Jewish personalities of Kaunas and the Kaunas region.
  • Visiting old Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust sites in the Kaunas region, providing information about them to visitors from around the world.
  • Providing advice to courts in legal disputes.
  • Fostering a positive image of the Jewish people and community in the media and other public forums.
  • Providing Yiddish language classes to the elderly  (and hopefully soon for younger people too!).
  • Providing and distributing charity: money, services and material goods for Jews and Holocaust-era rescuers of Jews.
  • Visiting ill and elderly Jews and Holocaust-era rescuers in hospital.
  • Seeking out previously unknown rescuers of Jews, ghetto and Holocaust victims and possible new members of the Jewish community.
  • Honoring rescuers of Jews and righteous gentiles who fought against Hitler in World War II.