Heritage

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.

Polish Group Vocal Varshe Performs at Sacred Site in Vilnius

Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.

International Forum of Jewish Scouts Director Alain Silberstein Visits Kaunas

International Forum of Jewish Scouts director Alain Silberstein during his visit to Lithuania last week visited Kaunas where he met with the chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, scouts and young people. The French visitor gave an enthusiastic presentation of the Tsofim Yehudim program, plans to expand Jewish scouting activities in Europe and plans to revive Jewish scouting in Lithuania. He reminded his audiences this movement was very active in Lithuania before the Holocaust. Girls who attended the meeting at the KJC said they found his presentation very interesting and inspiring. Scouting, as presented, allows everyone to find themselves and to get involved in activities they love most, and also provides the opportunity to expand one’s horizons to activities which might not have appeared interesting at first. The Jewish scouting movement is attractive because of the values it espouses, its orientation towards Jewish culture and traditions and its tolerance. The ideas interested the audiences in Kaunas and there are great hopes the Jewish scouting movement will return to Lithuania.

Vocal Varshe Concert at the Winter Synagogue in Kalvarija

The Vocal Varshe group from Poland will perform a concert of Jewish songs in Yiddish and Hebrew including songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos at the synagogue located at Sodų street no. 18 in Kalvarija, Lithuania, at 7:00 P.M. on June 7. Entry is free. Limited transportation from Vilnius will be provided with a small bus leaving the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 4:00 P.M. on June 7 and returning sometime between 10:00 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. Please contact neringa@lzb.lt if you want to make use of this limited transportation.

Interview with Mizrachi Feminist and Litvak Dr. Smadar Lavie

Visiting lecturer Dr. Smadar Lavie recently returned to Vilnius and agreed to a short interview for www.lzb.lt.

I came here for my father’s posthumous degree. They had a big ceremony. I said I didn’t grow up as a Litvak, I grew up as a shvartze, because my mother is Yemeni, and Israel has lots of racism by the Ashkenazi Jews towards the Mizrachi Jews. So now that you’re talking to me, almost all of my classmates were Ashkenazi, children of survivors, and they didn’t have grandparents. They were very envious that I had a Yemeni grandmother. My grandmother was very nice to my friends because they didn’t have grandparents. I didn’t know why. It was just … over there. We use to call it “over there.”

So where did you study then?

I grew up in Holon, it’s a suburb of Tel Aviv, and I went to Bialik elementary school. I did my BA at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and my PhD is from University of California, Berkeley.

From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore

English and Lithuanian editions of Dr. Shimon Lev’s book “From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore” (originally written in Hebrew) were launched at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the evening of May 31 with pageantry, live Indian music and dance, readings of selections and speeches by the author, the Lithuanian intelligentsia and members of the diplomatic corps.

Shovana Narayan, recipient of a national award in India and classical Indian dance master, performed several pieces based on Tagore’s poetry with two assistants to kick off the event. Narayan is related to Rabindranath Tagore.

Judita Gliauberzonaitė read selections of Tagore’s poetry in Lithuanian.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed the audience and speakers, noting the unique nature of Flaum’s travelogues and testimony, and said it wasn’t very often the LJC hosted such highly cultural and intellectual evenings as this one.

Former Lithuanian ambassador to India Laimonas Talat-Kelpša and his wife, celebrating her birthday, attended and Talat-Kelpša spoke about the remarkable travels Schlomith Flaum undertook in the early 20th century and the connections between Lithuania, India, Israel, and the connections between Zionism, the national movement in India and Lithuanian statehood.

Author and Israeli Litvak Dr. Shimon Lev talked about how Flaum became the earliest source of information about India in nascent Israel, her strength as an early female traveller and travel writer and the magic involved in the process of translation. He also spoke about Vilnius as a center of learning with the Vilna Gaon as the preeminent Jewish scholar in the modern age.

Plans to Memorialize Kaunas Ghetto

Plans are afoot in Kaunas to get the former Slobodka ghetto into better shape by marking its most significant sites, providing information about the aktionen or mass murder operations carried out there, commemorating ghetto government institutions and appropriately commemorating the Holocaust and its victims. Currently a lone obelisk stands in the former ghetto marking the site of the main gates, and most people have no idea even where Democracy Square was, the place where the selection for the Great Aktion took place.

Remarkably, the forces behind the proposed refurbishing and educational outreach are just two individuals from different countries who presented their ideas at the same time.

One is Yaarit Glezer, a frequent visitor to Lithuania who lives in Israel now. When she entered retirement she decided she had to do something more to commemorate the Holocaust in Lithuania, which took the lives of her family. Incidentally, Yaarit’s father was one of only a few who managed to escape from the Ninth Fort, where the majority of Jews were murdered in Kaunas.

Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Remembered in Kaunas

Lithuanian military commander lieutenant general Jonas Vytautas Žukas and the Kaunas Jewish Community invited the public to a commemoration on May 30 of Jewish volunteers who fought in early 20th-century battles for Lithuanian independence. Those attending included lieutenant general Žukas, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, representatives of regional Jewish communities, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, commanders of Kaunas divisions, soldiers and representatives of the Kaunas municipality and other organizations.

May 30 is an important date, marking one of the first planned military operations by the Lithuanian military. At the end of May and in early June of 1919 Lithuanian soldiers, including many Jews, aided by volunteer soldiers from Saxony, liberate Utena from the Bolsheviks and seized the initiative in battle against the Red Army.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas took part in the commemoration.

Litvak Scouting Revival

Before the Holocaust there were huge groups of Jewish boy and girl scouts throughout Lithuania. Some groups were religious, others Zionist, others secular. The one thing they all had in common was having fun outdoors, learning together the basic skills and fostering a shared Jewish identity.

Now there are plans to revive the Jewish scouting movement in Lithuania, which now has a mostly aging population of just under 3,500 Jews.

President of the International Forum of Jewish Scouts (IFJS) and member of the board of Éclaireuses éclaireurs israélites de France (EEIF) Alain Silberstein arrived in Vilnius to discuss French cooperation in the Litvak revival with Lithuanian Jewish Community leaders.

Parents of children aged 12 to 17 were invited to attend a discussion at the Lithuanian Jewish Community Wednesday. In an underwhleming show of support, several scouting-age Jewish girls, an interested member of the Jewish community in Vilnius and a handful of others came and heard a presentation by president Alain Silberstein and LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas.

Photography Exhibit Remembers Jewish Rescuers

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky took part in an opening ceremony for an exhibition of photography about Lithuanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, part of a joint project by the LJC and the Sovereign Order of Malta to commemorate and provide aid to rescuers. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Order of Malta ambassador to Lithuania Manfred Leo Mautner Markhof also took part at the opening ceremony in the exhibit space of the Tuskulėnai Memorial Park Complex in Vilnius May 29.

The Lithuanian president said the exhibit, which will go on display around Lithuania, documents Righteous Gentiles who saved hundreds of Jews at great risk to themselves. They shared hope, bread and their homes with Jews during the Holocaust. She said by extending a helping hand, they also saved humanity and the dignity of the Lithuanian nation. They have become a source of inspiration in the lives of Lithuania’s people today, she said, adding their attitude towards others and their self-sacrifice is needed daily.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said:

“More than 800 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to resist the axiomata of hate. Their only weapon was their conscience which, led by the choice to remain human, made these non-Jews an eternal and spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, nor measured in numbers; it is limitless and intangible, having become as it were a light of God’s being in the imperfect grey ghetto or in hiding in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom we gout back our energy for the old faith.

Ceremony to Honor Jewish Volunteer Soldiers

Commander of the Lithuanian military lieutenant general Jonas Vytautas Žukas and the Kaunas Jewish Community invite the public to an event to honor Jewish soldiers who fought in the battles for Lithuanian independence. The event is to take place in Kaunas on May 30. At 12:30 P.M. the ceremony including speeches, a moment of silence, wreath-laying and music begins at A. Mapu street no. 18 at the building where the Union of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought in Battles for Lithuanian Independence was located in the period between the two world wars. A discussion follows at 1:30 P.M. at the Vytautas Magnus Military Museum at K. Donelaičio street no. 64.

Jews in Lithuania Experiencing Crisis in Values

by Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Jews as with any people are not homogenous. The history of Jews in Lithuania stretches back almost 700 years and during that time all sorts of things happened, rises and declines, and the effects of the Holocaust were especially painful in Lithuania, and following the attempt at physical annihilation the Soviet occupation attempted to destroy the Jewish people spiritually.

People often ask me, Jews are so united, why is it different in Lithuania? It’s not different in Lithuania, divisions exist in secular and religious Jewish communities in Israel as well as the rest of the world. The wealth of the Jewish people is our diversity, our knowledge, our faith and our ability to remain Jews.

I am proud of my people. Unfortunately, all sorts of things go on inside the Jewish community. It’s sad, but we have only partially passed our “trial by money.” On the one hand, we have the well-functioning Goodwill Foundation, which only adopts decisions by consensus and allocates compensation for Jewish communal/religious properties, and which has been audited for many years now by the Office of State Auditor, the highest auditing institution, and has always received a glowing review. On the other hand, we have over-ambitious community members who believe they can do everything the best, in the most transparent manner and preferably all by themselves. They claim the opinion of the majority is merely a simulation of democracy.

In Lithuania, as in the world, volunteer leaders lead the Jewish communities. This post is for me first of all an honor and a pleasure. Before I assumed responsibility, I learned much from the earlier chairmen, Grigory Kanovitch and Dr. Simon Alperovitch. Much of what is needed for this work I learned from active Community members and intellectuals attorney professor Jurijus Bluvšteinas, Josif Levinson and Maša Grodnikienė.

LJC Reporting Conference

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will hold its annual reporting conference May 28, 2018, during which annual financial and activity reports will be considered.

The conference is the highest governance body of the LJC convoked and organized once per year by the LJC board.

Under LJC rergulations only real members of the LJC participate at the conference, meaning association members which are corporate entities and whose activities are connected with Jewish culture, education, religion, tradition, learning, sports and so on. All the regional Jewish communities are LJC members.

The LJC was especially active in 2017 in the areas of social welfare, culture and Jewish heritage. We are happy that hundreds of Jewish senior citizens, community members in difficult financial situations and young families across Lithuania received home care services, aid in acquiring household and hygiene items, help in preparing for school and appropriate heating during winter. More than 400 people made use of aid provided by the Community for acquiring food and medicine.

Happy Birthday to Professor Pinchos Fridberg!

Our best wishes go out to Holocaust survivor, resident of Vilnius, Jewish intellectual, doctor habil. of physics, author of numerous articles, great Yiddish speaker and true Jewish and Litvak patriot Pinchos Fridberg!

We wish you the best health, patience, much happiness, more smiles and a care-free life filled with gentleness and happiness. Your sense of humor is endless and ironic, and everyone has greatly enjoyed your Motke Chabad stories published in Obzor.

Mazl tov! May you live to 120!

March of the Living 2018 at Ponar

For the eleventh time now in Lithuania the March of the Living walked the route from the Ponar train station to the Ponar Memorial Complex to commemorate the Jews murdered there. Among the marchers were Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro. Other participants included Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, as well as members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, students from the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, members of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and Holocaust survivors Fania Brancovskaja and Sameul Bak.

The Lithuanian foreign minister, the Israel ambassador, representatives of the Vilnius mayor’s office, the LJC and former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners among others laid wreaths at a monument in the center of the Ponar Memorial Complex to the accompaniment of violin music.

Fania Brancovskaja spoke: “Ponar was a murder machine where from 1941 to 1943 before Vilnius was liberated from Nazi occupation murder was carried out continuously. Seventy-thousand Jews were murdered in Ponar just because they were Jews, all that remains of them is ashes mixed with sand. Not many of us are left, but we are here. I am one of those who went through the entire ghetto and please, do not forget them. As long as we live, we ask you to pass on the information to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they do not forget the victims who died.”

Busy Week for Kaunas Jewish Community

The second week in May saw numerous events and meetings at the Kaunas Jewish Community.

The hectic and hot week began with a meeting between representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community and the Denkendorfer Kries für christlich-jüdische Begegnung (Denkendorf Association for Chirstian-Jewish Encounter) from Germany. Association board members Eva and Otmar Vöhringer have been inviting their compatriots for several years now to undertake what are in a sense pilgrimages to Holocaust sites in Poland and the Baltic states and to meet survivors and descendants of survivors in those countries. More than 20 years ago now Dr. Hartmut Metzger began and became the spiritual inspiration behind this initiative. He also worked with late Kaunas Jewish Community member Judelis Ronderis to organize aid for impoverished Jews who had been evacuated to the Soviet Union during the Holocaust.

On May 8 the members of the association of family and friends of deportee convoy no. 73 visited Kaunas and the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. The group comes to Kaunas from France once every two years and warm and friendly friendships have been made with the Kaunas Jewish Community. LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas attended the ceremony at the Ninth Fort this year. On May 15, 1944, convoy no. 73, a train from Drancy, France, delivered 878 Jews to the Baltic states, most of whom were taken off the train in Kaunas and shot at the Ninth Fort. Others were taken to the camp in Pravieniškiai, Lithuania, and to Estonia.

Seeking Todes Family Roots in Panevėžys

Two families from the United States and Israel visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community May 15. Jack and Rose Todes came from Philadelphia and his sister Phillipa and husband Benjamin Segan arrived from Israel. Their ancestors lived on Ukmergės street in Panevėžys. Grandfather Todes was a member of the Panevėžys city council in 1890. The family owned real estate, shops and factories.

Phillipa Segan was greatly interested in archival photographs of the city and promised to keep in touch.

Following the visit, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman took the guests to the Holocaust mass murder site in Kurganava Forest where 24 members of the Todes family were murdered in the early days of World War II in Lithuania.