Heritage

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

by Mindaugas Klusas, LRT.lt

The Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century sage from the Jerusalem of the North, has left behind a significant legacy of Jewish scholarship as well as many legends about his erudition and idiosyncratic devotion to the study of religious texts.

Lithuania designated 2020 the Year of the History of Jews of Lithuania, and 2020 is also the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon. Lara Lempertienė, an historian and the head of the Judaica Department at the Lithuanian National Library, spoke with LRT.lt about the 18th-century sage from Vilnius.

While other nations are proud of battles and glorious buildings, Jewish history is about writing and books, Lempertienė quoted a modern rabbi. The Vilna Gaon and his town Vilnius, often dubbed the Jerusalem of the North, played a crucial role in this history.

Full text here.

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Press release, lrytas.lt

Representatives and technical coordinators from Lithuania’s Turto Bankas, which administers and maintains real estate belonging to the state, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe have arrived at joint solutions for renovating Vilnius’s Palace of Sports as a conference and cultural venue and preserving the territory of the old Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery which surrounds the building.

The reached basic agreement on solutions for reconstruction and maintaining the cemetery territory.

The decisions made regarding the technical project are based on a protocol signed by Lithuanian Government and the Lithuanian Jewish Community in 2009 on heritage protection for the site and a buffer zone and on reconstructing the former sports arena for conferences and other cultural events. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe approved the protocol in 2016.

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

The Lithuanian parliament is hosting a photo exhibit called “Brave Jews of the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom” in its exihibt space from January 2 to 15. The photo exhibit chronicles Lithuanian Jewish veterans who fought for Lithuanian independence in the run-up to the first republic in 1919, including a large number of officers, recipients of military awards and those who laid down their lives for the new state.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vytis Support Fund organized the photo exhibit. It was inspired by a similar exhibit at Yad Vashem on Austrian Jewish military heroes.

Condolences

Condolences

Simonas Dovidavičius passed away December 14. He was deputy chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, the founding light and director of the Sugihara House museum in Kaunas, highly educated, a tour guide and a good friend. His loss is a great loss to the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kaunas Jewish Community. Our condolences to his many friends and loved ones.

Those wishing to bid him farewell may do so at the St. Anthony of Padua Church in Kaunas, Radvilėnų highway no. 15A, Kaunas, on Tuesday, December 17, beginning at 5:00 P.M. He will be buried at noon on December 18 at the Aleksotas Jewish cemetery in Kaunas.

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

by Vytautas Bruveris

How should the state and its politicians act when they come across some sort of passionate, sensitive issue, or one which causes controversy: should they stick their heads in the sand, or nonetheless speak and discuss it?

It seems as if it’s a lot more useful and clever to talk. This seemingly self-evident matter, though, seems to be a mystery to almost the complete majority of Lithuania’s political elite.

This eternal truth was again confirmed last week at a conference held by the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) and the Goodwill Foundation on restitution of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

The publishing house of Vilnius University has published a new book called “Nesuk į kelią iš takelio. Lietuvos žydų religinės ir filosofinės minties paveldo trajektorijomis” [Don’t Quit the Path for the Road: Along the Trajectories of the Litvak Religious and Philosophical Thought Heritage]. The Lithuanian-language book contains extracts from the texts of the Vilna Gaon, Chaim of Volozhin, Grozdinsky, Israel Salanter and Emmanuel Levinas with commentaries.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė has written a bit about her book especially for the www.lzb.lt website:

“It has long been my dream to write a book talking about, examining and interpreting the heritage of Litvak religious and philosophical thinking. … [Among others,] another problem which arose was the time-period and the range of what Litvak means. I mean the problem of geographical boundaries in which we can look for the Litvak heritage, which has changed drastically over history, and it happens that the same historical figures are assigned to Lithuania’s, Poland’s and Russia’s legacy… So I chose a narrower problem, the Litvak-ness which is associated with religious tradition, historically connected with the Vilna Gaon and his circle of followers. So this allowed for choosing a specific perspective which would allow me to connect schools of thought otherwise hard to reconcile: the Western understanding of religion which is still forming in the modern period, which seems to so many people self-evident… i.e., between the written sacred texts and the oral texts, the traditional of passing traditions on orally. …”

The book is available at the Vilnius University bookstore, at the Versmė chain of bookshops and on the internet sites patogupirkti.lt, knygos.lt and humanitas.lt

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Among other notables, renowned German historian Joachim Trauber delivered a presentation at the Goodwill Foundation’s conference on Jewish property restitution held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community this week. Professor Trauber is a lecturer at the Institute for the Culture and History of the Germans in Northeast Europe of the Nordost-Institut at the University of Hamburg in Lüneburg and is a member of Lithuania’s International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Communist Occupational Regimes in Lithuania as well as of similar commissions in Latvia and elsewhere. He is the author of number books and academic articles about the Holocaust in Lithuania and Northeast Europe. We are please to be able to post a copy of the slideshow presentation he gave Monday for those who were unable to attend the conference in Vilnius.

holocaust in lithuania 1941-1944_6
Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

International law expert Dirk Haupt of Lund University in Sweden delivered a presentation at the conference held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on December 2 organized by the Goodwill Foundation and dedicated to discussing Jewish property restitution in Lithuania and Europe. We are pleased to be able to share his slideshow presentation below with those who were unable to attend.

haupt dirk roland - presentation 2019-12-02 compensating for nazi injustice and indemnifying jewish victims - the german experience2
LJC Hosts Regional Conference on Holocaust Restitution

LJC Hosts Regional Conference on Holocaust Restitution

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Terezin declaration, the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a regional conference on Holocaust restitution issues Monday.

The conference covered experience of communities in other European countries in the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust. Renowned Holocaust historians and others gave presentations and spoke on the past and goals and tasks for the future.

Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs at the American Jewish Committee, knows the issues in Lithuania well. He was a participant in Lithuania’s road towards restitution and the small country’s historic decision in 2011 to pay compensation worth 37 million euros to be used to support Jewish community life. The Goodwill Foundation was formed then to manage these monies. Baker spoke about class-actions suits brought by attorneys representing Jews in America. He noted Austria and France have solved the problem of property restitution. Austria has paid out compensation for pre-war property and France has done the same.

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Press Release (updated)

Regional Consultation about Restitution of Holocaust Era Assets

Next week regional consultation regarding restitution of Holocaust era assets will be held in Vilnius. The experiences of returning assets of European countries will be reviewed and well-known historians will present their research about what happened in Lithuanian during WWII.

The conference is dedicated to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Terezin declaration. In 2009 47 countries, Lithuania among them, has signed the document in Prague and announced a program of activities directed at securing assistance, compensation and commemoration of Nazi victims’ memory. It is noteworthy the countries stressed the importance of ensuring communal and private property restitution.

“Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the Terezin declaration says.

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

by Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas

A ceremony to honor Jewish volunteer soldiers was held at the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery in the Gričiupis aldermanship in the Kaunas region on November 23. Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas recalled for the audience historic Jewish-Lithuanian relations and the contribution Jewish Lithuanian soldiers made in the battles for Lithuanian independence in 1919 and 1920 and later in the national Lithuanian military.

Director of the Kovo 11-osios Street Community Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas shared his thoughts on the civic-minded and patriotic Jewish soldiers in the period of Lithuanian independence from 1918 to 1940 and presented the chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community a medal commemorating the Union of Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Who Served in the Liberation of Lithuania.

After the commemoration the audience moved to the St. Antthony of Padua Church where the mortal remains of church builder, rescuer of Jews and Lithuanian military volunteer father Juozas Želvys (1899-1985) are interred. The Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery was established in 1861 and operated until 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports among the burials of many noted public, cultural, political and religious figures there, 14 of the graves are those of Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who perished in the battles for Lithuanian independence.

Teens Suspected of Vandalizing Mosque and Synagogue in Kaunas

Teens Suspected of Vandalizing Mosque and Synagogue in Kaunas

Teenagers are suspected of vandalizing a mosque and a synagogue in Lithuania’s second-largest city Kaunas.

The windows of a mosque in the city center were smashed November 17 and a “Heil Hitler” inscription was discovered on the synagogue sign on November 23. Police in Kaunas believe the two crimes were committed by the same people.

Working with the Jewish and Muslim religious communities, three people including two males aged 17 and 18 and a female aged 15 were identified. They are now being questioned and officers are taking other actions as part of an ongoing pre-trial investigation.

The 17-year-old boy is suspected only of taking part in damage to the mosque while the other two are suspected of that criminal act committed on November 17 and the synagogue attack on November 23. The Kaunas Mosque is a protected heritage site and is Lithuania’s only brick-and-mortar mosque; the others are made of wood. The Kaunas Mosque has been the target of vandals repeatedly with the last previous major act of vandalism on September 21, according to 15min.lt and other sources. The Kaunas Muslim community asked for the public’s help in identifying security-camera footage of the three assailants in the latest attack. Both attacks on the mosque damaged stained-glass windows and in the earlier one a collection box with money, office equipment and a laptop computer were stolen.

The 18-year-old is in custody and the 15-year-old girl has been handed over to her parents.

The Columns of Gediminas: Symbol of Lithuanian Statehood

The Columns of Gediminas: Symbol of Lithuanian Statehood

Seven hundred years ago the Lithuanian grand duke Gediminas used this symbol on letters inviting Jews to come settle in Lithuania and contribute to the creation of the state.

Over many centuries Lithuanian Jews–Litvaks–considered themselves citizens of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and worked to improve the state in common with ethnic Lithuanians and the other peoples who lived here.

In 1919 and 1920 Litvak members of the Union for Liberating Independent Lithuania rose up under this banner to fight for the freedom of their country and many of them perished fighting under the Lithuanian-Jewish battle flag decorated with the columns of Gediminas.

Goodwill Foundation Announcement on Holocaust Restitution

November 22, 2019

Press Release

Regional Consultation on Restitution of Holocaust-Era Assets

At the beginning of December a regional conference on the restitution of Holocaust-era assets will be held in Vilnius. The experiences of returning assets of European countries will be reviewed and well-known historians will present their research about what happened in Lithuania during WWII.

The conference is dedicated to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Terezin declaration. In 2009, 47 countries, Lithuania among them, signed the document in Praha and announced a program of activities directed at securing assistance, compensation and commemoration of the memory of the victims of the Nazis. It’s noteworthy these countries stressed the importance of ensuring communal and individual property restitution.

“Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the Terezin declaration says.

Launch of Book “Gaon Code”

Launch of Book “Gaon Code”

On Wednesday, November 20, the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of a new book called the Gaon Code, a slightly dramatized retelling of Litvak history in Lithuania and abroad.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky introduced author Rytis Sabas and journalist and historian Rimvydas Valatka, who spoke about his media colleague and the skepticism he felt when Sabas told him he had written a book. That skepticism soon turned to enthusiasm as Valatka, who says he isn’t a literary critic, was drawn into story, which he called a thriller. Valatka played an interview he had conducted with Sabas for LNK television.

Rytis Sabas spoke briefly before presenting a slideshow on the overhead with diverse images of Jewish Lithuania. He then spoke about the book, saying it was 80% historical fact.

During questions Sabas said he had named the book Gaon Code intentionally with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in mind. He said he initially wanted to write a book which would be interesting to an international audience, but after he learned more about Litvak history, he realized Lithuanians needed to learn this part of their country’s own incredible history.

Photography by Dovilė Abromavičiutė

Presentation of the Gaon Code

Presentation of the Gaon Code

You’re invited to a presentation of the adventure novel the Gaon Code at 6:00 P.M. on November 20 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The novel stems from a Lithuanian man’s desire to demonstrate the significance of Litvaks in Lithuanian and world history. The book presents in an easily readable form numerous facts and stories about the Jewish communities of Vilnius, Želva and Ukmergė and about their contributions to learning and history.

Author Rytis Sabas and Lithuanian historian and journalist Rimvydas Valatka will discuss the book and its inspiration.

Rytis Sabas is also a journalist from Vilnius interested in history. He has travelled extensively including in Bosnia. Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book is an adventure including a plethora of historical fact and some light fiction. While it attempts to show the grandeur and influence of the Vilna Gaon, it’s intended more to showcase Litvak history and the Litvak heritage. It’s aimed at outsiders, readers who might not know much about Lithuanian Jews.

The book is written in Lithuanian and the presentation will be conducted in Lithuanian. For more information, call 8 678 81 514.

Thank You

Thank You

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman wants to thank Bagel Shop Café director Dovilė Rūkaitė and senior cook Riva Portnaja for their wonderful idea to hold a Litvak culinary luncheon with a delegation from the Taube Jewish Heritage Tours with partial support from the Ethnic Minorities Department, and for their tireless enthusiasm in promoting and passing on the Litvak Jewish culinary heritage. Thank you to Taube delegation leader and Ashkenazi cooking expert Jeffrey Yoskowitz and to all the volunteers and guests who made this event so much fun. It was good to sit down together at a shared table and it was very delicious.

Launch of Book about Vilkija Ghetto in Kaunas

Launch of Book about Vilkija Ghetto in Kaunas

The rare books department of the Kaunas Public Library hosted the launch of the book “Vilkijos getas. 1941 metai” by Aleksandras Vitkus and Chaim Bargman. Vilkija deputy alderman Algimantas Smolenskas led the event.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas spoke about Lithuanian Jewish community activities before 1940 and the active participation of Jews in the country’s cultural, economic and social life.

Participants discussed current commemoration policies, Lithuanian and Jewish relations, what goes into determining Nazi collaboration, education and other topics.

The Jewish community formed in the village of Vilkija, just 30 kilometers from Kaunas, in the late 18th century. According to the censuses, there were 652 Jews in Vilkija in 1766, 789 in 1847 and 1,431 out of a total population of 2,012 in 1897.

Sukkot Celebration with Guests from America and Baked Gefilte Herring

Sukkot Celebration with Guests from America and Baked Gefilte Herring

It’s long been the tradition during SUkkot to set up a booth, invite guests and treat them to various family recipes. While they say there is no traditional Sukkot dish, it does seem to be characteristic to make things which are stuffed and rolled, like the Torah scroll. Stuffed cabbage and filled pancakes are popular.

Ashkenazi cooking expert Jeffrey Yoskowitz visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the first day of Sukkot and made select dishes from the Litvak culinary legacy. Guests–loves of Litvak cooking–joined in and for every dish there were multiple stories and recollections from childhood. There was even a dispute on the correct form cut carrots should take.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz is leading a Taube Jewish Heritage Tours tour currently in Lithuania. He and Dovilė from the Bagel Shop Café had a long discussion on which dishes to include in cooking workshops. In the end they arrived at the solution of Litvak exceptionalism: to select the dishes which Polish Jews don’t make and which are unknown to the American Jewish community.

Children Invited to Sukkot Event

Children Invited to Sukkot Event

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Ilan and Dubi Clubs invite children to a fun gathering at 1:00 P.M. on October 13 called “From Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot.” We’ll “dwell” in the Sukkot booth and have traditional Jewish snacks and treats. Lego engineering teachers will be on hand for building and playing. Come to the Ilan Club at the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Registration is required, so call 8 601 46656 or send an email to sofja@lzb.lt