Heritage

Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue

Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invite you to come celebrate Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius at 6:00 P.M. on September 25. All in attendance will receive our calendar for the new year, 5783.

News from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

News from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

As summer came to a close, members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community travelled to Joniškis to see the synagogues there on August 22. Joniškis features two brick-and-mortar synagogues in its town center, built in the 19th century, the White and Red Synagogues. The White Synagogue was used in winter and the Red in summer. The restored synagogues have become a cultural attraction and a symbol of the city.

The interior of the Red Synagogue was recreated and restored with ceiling decorations, painted walls and the aron kodesh where the Torah scrolls were kept. Currently the synagogue houses an exhibit called “The History and Culture of the Jews of the Joniškis Region” which teaches the history of the Joniškis Jewish community before the Holocaust. The White Synagogue is hosting an exhibit using modern museum techniques to show the development of the town of Joniškis and important moments in its history.

After visiting the synagogues, members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community also visited Stonys’s dairy farm where they learned how cheese is made, how different cheeses are produced at the local farm and sampled the farm’s products.

Litvak Cultural Forum to Bring Together Culture and History Lovers in Kaunas

Litvak Cultural Forum to Bring Together Culture and History Lovers in Kaunas

Culture enthusiasts are invited to the first Litvak Cultural Forum on September 29 and 30 at the Great Hall at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. The “Office of Memory” event within the Kaunas Capital of European Culture 2022 program includes a diverse events program at locations around the city.

Academics, historians, museum and education specialists, people from the world of art and members of different communities–the forum will bring them all together. Many of the visitors will be travelling to the land of their parents, grandparents and ancestors for the first time in their lives to attend the forum asking the vital question of what it means to be a Litvak. The forum’s other axis addresses culture and art as the key to history and commemoration as a path to a better future fostering openness and dialogue.

Office of Memory curator Daiva Price says the forum summarizes efforts and projects under the Kaunas 2022 program which have been going on since 2017.

Silent Testimony

Silent Testimony

Singer, even now, is one of the most popular sewing machines in Lithuania. The company name is synonymous with the device, in the same way Americans refer to photocopies as Xeroxes, and Brits call their vacuum cleaners Hoover. What do those silent Singers in Lithuanian homes really mean?

Singer Sewing Machines became wildly popular in the Russian Empire after a factory was established in Russia in 1905. By 1914 the factory had produced around 600,000 sewing machines sold throughout Europe. It isn’t known how many were sold in Lithuania. The product remained popular in the period between the two world wars. There was a Singer office at the intersection of Adomo Mickevičiaus and Kristijono Donelaičio streets in Kaunas which sold sewing machines throughout Lithuania. Most Lithuanians have probably seen a Singer at their grandmother’s home, either pedal- or hand-powered. It’s difficult to say how a sewing machine came into any household, even though the sewing machines have serial numbers according to which the date of manufacture can be determined. Unfortunately we cannot determine the original owners from these numbers.

News from the Kaunas Jewish Community

News from the Kaunas Jewish Community

Every summer members of the Kaunas Jewish Community travel together or separately and enjoy the warm weather and activities, but also visit many of the Holocaust memorials in Kaunas and throughout Lithuania. In August this kind of memorial pilgrimage took us to Prienai, Petrašiūnai and the Fourth Fort, and in early September to Ukmergė and Zapyškis where the “Symphony from the Jerusalem of the North” was performed in memory of the murdered residents of the shtetl and surrounding locations.

We find it keenly important that non-Jews and representatives from local municipal bodies are also involved in organizing these commemorations, and not just members of the Kaunas Jewish Community. They perceive the Holocaust as a shared tragedy, of all citizens, cities, towns and villages. Snapshots below.

Jewish Life in Kaunas before the Holocaust

An exhibit curated by Vilma Gradinskaitė, PhD, from the judaica collection of Michailas Duškesas called “A Window on Jewish Life in Kaunas before the Holocaust” is to open September 25 and run till December 15 at the Multicultural Center in Kaunas located at Šv. Gertrūdos street no. 58. The exhibit will be open to the public from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on weekdays, and weekend tours can be accommodated as well by making prior arrangement by calling +370 698 19999 or by writing makabilita.duskes@gmail.com.

Ex Libris Exhibit

Ex Libris Exhibit

The Immanuel Kant Public Library in Klaipėda is hosting an exhibit of ex libris plates called “Traces of Jewish Culture” which opened September 2 and will run till September 20. Josef Šapiro was an avid collector and creator of ex libris graphics and once ran the world’s only ex libris museum inside the building housing the Lithuanian Jewish Community. His book plates and others will be on display for the public, touching upon a variety of topics, including the Jewish people in Lithuania.

Snapshots from European Days of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Snapshots from European Days of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Our annual series of events to mark the European Days of Jewish Culture saw a good turnout all day Sunday, which turned out to be sunny but framed by clouds. There was cantorial song at synagogue, a tour of Jewish Vilna, a panel discussion on echoes of Jewish culture in modern Lithuania’s cultural scene, we baked challa and slowly cooked the legendary floimen tsimes and there was singing, playing and dancing for all. For some snapshots from different events, concerts, workshops and lectures, see below.

Lithuanian Cinematographer and Cultural Expert Pranas Morkus Has Died

Lithuanian Cinematographer and Cultural Expert Pranas Morkus Has Died

The Lithuanian Jewish Community mourns the death of the famous Lithuanian filmmaker and cultural scientist Pranas Morkus (1938-2022) and we extend our most sincere and deepest condolences to his family members and friends.

Morkus was born February 18, 1938, in Klaipėda to the family of theater actress Galina Yatskevich. From 1955 to 1957 he was a student at the Lomonosov Philology Department of Moscow State University, and from 1957 to 1960 at the History and Philology Faculties of Vilnius University.

From 1962 to 1964 he was attended the highest-level courses for scriptwriters and directors in Moscow. He was a member of the Lithuanian Union of Cinematographers. From 1960 to 1962 he was editor-in-chief of radio theater for the Television Radio Committee of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, and from 1968 to 1970 he served as editor-in-chief for the creative body Lietuvos Telefilmas.

A Cry to Heaven

A Cry to Heaven

Photo: Jewish nursery school in Plungė, Lithuania. Almost no Jewish children survived in Lithuania. Photo source: Screenshot from the documentary J’Accuse

Renowned cantors unite to give their voices to Baltic Truth premiere

There were very few survivors from Lithuania. In the villages, there were almost none. We know what happened in some locations because we have testimonies from some survivors.

Yakov Zak testified about the Lithuanian Holocaust: “The rabbi of Kelmė, Kalmen Benushevits, who had escaped to Vaiguva at the outbreak of the war, had been brought together with the Jews from Vaiguva. He had been forced to kneel next to the pit the entire day. He had quietly whispered a prayer, watching while the Jews were shot. After all the Jews were shot, he was shot as well.”

And:

“The mystic religious melodies of the yeshiva students, their rabbis and leaders were eternally silenced. The town was ruined down to the foundations; the Jewish community of Kelmė was ruined forever. Peasants also related that while the yeshiva students were being taken to be shot, they did not weep. Like stone statues, they moved slowly, with their eyes raised to the sky, murmuring prayers.”

Shalom in All the World Events in Klaipėda

Shalom in All the World Events in Klaipėda

The International Festival of Jewish culture “Shalom in All The World” returns to Klaipėda.

This year, the International Festival dedicated to learning about the history, culture, art, and traditions of the Jewish society will be held for the second time and is part of the program of events dedicated to the 770th anniversary of the city of Klaipėda. During the events of the Festival, the aim will be to emphasize the historical roots of the Jewish society in Memel, specifically the contribution of the Jewish residents to the development of the city in that time

Full of events, an enthralling and significant Festival will again invite everyone, regardless of their nationality, religion, beliefs, to meet at the concerts, talks, movie screenings, exhibitions, creative workshops, traditional Jewish dance lessons, excursions.

Youth, adults, families, regardless of age, education, interests are very welcome! All events are free of charge! Be with us and among us!

Full program here.

News from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

News from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

Every month the Panevėžys Jewish Community celebrates its members’ birthdays and anniversaries. In July and August we congratulated Diana Narevič and Rimantas Rimkus and Jurijus and Svetlana Grafman on their anniversaries.

We also provided and provide material support to our members.

Despite summer vacations, cultural and athletic events are being held and members are participating in Panevėžys regional events and scouting activities.

In the summer we usually have a large number of guests who care about their family histories. They often talk about their families over a cup of tea at the Panevėžys Jewish Community. One of the newer stories is about a family who emigrated to South Africa, then later between 1900 and 1910 they went their separate ways to Canada, China, England and Israel. They came back to Lithuania to learn about the former shtetl where their forebears once lived.

Jewish Headstones Removed From Vilnius Church, Returned to Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Headstones Removed From Vilnius Church, Returned to Jewish Cemetery

As restoration took place on the Evangelical Reformist Church [used as the Chronika cinema in Soviet times] on Pylimo street in Vilnius, it was discovered Jewish cemetery headstones had been used for the front stairs leading to the main entrance. They have been returned to a Jewish cemetery, the Lithuanian Cultural Infrastructure Center reported.

When restoration work began, local residents noticed some kind of inscriptions on the stones. Experts from the Lithuanian Jewish Community were able to determine the origins of the stones from the shallow inscriptions, in some places barely visible. They approached Lithuania’s Cultural Heritage Department and commission was formed which determined the stones were actually Jewish grave markers. The stairs were removed and the monuments were sent to the old Jewish cemetery.

Lithuanian News Site on Pakruojis Synagogue

Lithuanian News Site on Pakruojis Synagogue

Pakruojis Synagogue is a Monument to All the Jewish Houses of Prayer Which Stood in Lithuania

15min.lt, reprinted from a facebook user

It’s believed there were about 500 or 600 different Jewish houses of prayer in our country, although no one knows the exact number. There might have been more than 100 synagogues in Vilnius alone.

Most of Lithuania’s synagogues were wooden, but today we only have about a dozen. On the other hand, no other European state has so many surviving wooden synagogues.

The question of restoring these historically and culturally very valuable wooden buildings is coming up more and more. One wonderful example of a restored wooden synagogue stands in the town of Pakruojis. After walking through its interior and getting a closer look at its careful restoration, I was pleasantly surprised at what had been returned from the ravages of time, people’s neglect and even fires.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Celebrates 30th Birthday

Panevėžys Jewish Community Celebrates 30th Birthday

On July 24 members, partners and friends of the Panevėžys Jewish Community gathered to celebrate the organization’s 30th birthday. Chairman Gennady Kofman thanked active members of the community in carrying on Jewish tradition and preserving Jewish heritage and gave special thanks to supporters and partners for their contribution in expanding the Community’s activities.

Community members recalled how the Community was formed and paid respects to its first chairman, the journalist Anatolijus Fainblumas, and others. Sincere words of gratitude went to Righteous Gentile Jonas Markevičius’s son Vidmantas and daughter Janina, who have helped promote the Community as well in the local community. Thanks were given to executive board members Jurijus Grafman and his wife Svetlana. Deep gratitude was expressed for the Lithuanian Jewish Community and its chairwoman Faina Kukliansky.

Chairman Kofman told the 30-year story of the Community. On July 8, 1991, the Panevėžys Jewish Community was officially reconstituted and articles of incorporation filed at the Panevėžys municipality. Goals and duties were set then: “To develop the national consciousness of members, to raise the level of culture and spirituality, to conduct our activities based on exemplary behavior and sincerity, to cooperate with all sorts of democratic organizations and religious confessions,” etc.

Limmud in the Woods 2022

Limmud in the Woods 2022

The annual international Limmud conference will be held August 19 and 20 in the woods of south Estonia. To register, go to the Limmud page here. For more information, check out Limmud’s facebook page here.

Happy Birthday to Gennady Kofman

Happy Birthday to Gennady Kofman

The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman a terrific milestone birthday. He has done so much to collect and share information about the city’s once numerous Jewish community, and always finds the time and energy to meet and help travellers looking for their roots and to teach school children and the wider community about the Holocaust. Mazl tov. Bis 120!

Condolences

Richard Freund passed away in Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 14 due to complications involving a bone-marrow transplant he received 18 years ago. He was 67. Freund was a frequent visitor to Vilnius and a friend of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Besides annual summer digs at the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius, revealing many new facts and the existence of surviving elements and a few surprises at that site, he also headed the non-invasive investigation of the escape tunnel dug by the brenner kommando at Ponar, Jews who were forced to exhume corpses, burn the flesh and crush the bones, who themselves were slated for death upon completion of their task aimed at hiding Holocaust crimes. The rediscovery of the tunnel was featured in an hour-long documentary by NOVA on the American public television network PBS. Freund also led the effort to map the lost Jewish shtetl of Rumshishok (Rumšiškės) just outside Kaunas flooded in the post-war period to create a hydroelectric generation station, and worked on a number of other Jewish sites in Lithuania. He also used non-invasive techniques to investigate the Warsaw ghetto in 2021.

Freund always found the time in the middle of his work to explain his finds to interested on-lookers, and presented his findings to the Lithuanian Jewish Community in a series of presentations in Vilnius.

We mourn his loss and extend our deepest condolences to his widow Eliane, his three children Eli, Ethan, and Yoni and his many other family members and friends at the University of Hartford and around the world.

Jewish Headstones Removed from Vilnius Hill

Jewish Headstones Removed from Vilnius Hill

Jewish headstones used to construct stairs up Vilnius’s Tauras Hill (Góra Bouffałowa aka Tauro kalnas) during the Soviet era began to be removed Monday, the Vilnius city municipality reported.

Illegible headstones will be taken to the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood next to the Palace of Sports for alleged safe-keeping, according to Vilnius city officials. Those with legible inscriptions will be brought to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street for research. According to the city, the removal of the headstones was coordinated with representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and Lithuania’s Cultural Heritage Department.

Photograph by Saulius Žiūra.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Vilna Gaon Mausoleum Now State-Protected Heritage Site

Vilna Gaon Mausoleum Now State-Protected Heritage Site

MadeinVilnius.lt

Lithuanian culture minister Simonas Kairys has added the mausoleum containing the remains of the Vilna Gaon at the Sudervės road cemetery in Vilnius to the list of cultural heritage sites. protected by the state.

In his order he wrote the mausoleum is important in terms of public dignity and should be protected because of its architectural, historical and commemorative significance.

The site and surrounding territory now has a protection status intended to maintain authenticity.

The rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, lived in the 18th century and is considered one of the most remarkable commentators on the Talmud.

Full story in Lithuanian here.