Heritage

Fun Celebration of European Day of Jewish Culture for 2020

Fun Celebration of European Day of Jewish Culture for 2020

On Sunday, September 6, 2020, the Lithuanian Jewish Community held a fun celebration of the European Day of Jewish Culture. Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Community members, the Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yosi Levy, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Vidmantas Bezaras and guests had a good time and attended the Hebrew language lesson provided by Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium principal Ruth Reches. The public, invited by the LJC, came to celebrate the first Sunday in September by sampling Jewish treats made at the Bagel Shop Café, located on the first floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community building in Vilnius, a center of Litvak bagel culture.

The Bagel Shop Café presented paintings from Mark Kaplan’s collection during the event.

Participants also attended the lecture “Deification and Demonization of Jews: Anti-Semitic Superstitions in Society.”

You Are Invited to the European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

You Are Invited to the European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is continuing the tradition of marking the annual event European Days of Jewish Culture, this time for the fifth year, with a program of events in Vilnius scheduled for Sunday, September 6, 2020.

All parts of the event program are free and open to the public. The number of participants has been limited this year due to health concerns so please register as soon as possible.

For cooking lessons, register by sending an email to kavine@lzb.lt
For the Jerulita tour, register by sending an email to travel@jerulita.lt

To register by internet, click here.

Simnas Celebrates Title of Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020

Simnas Celebrates Title of Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020

On August 23 the largest event so far this year took place in Simnas, Lithuania: the Simnas church celebrated its 500th anniversary and the town of Simnas celebrated its recognition as the Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Catholic cardinal Sigitas Tamkevičiusattended events there, which included a book launch, consecration of a new cross at the church, Catholic Mass, a performance by opera singer Rasa Juzukonytė and a performance by the Lithuanian Ground Forces orchestra. A procession left the church for the town square where the formal opening ceremony of the event took place only then. There followed vocal and instrumental concerts and a fair featuring religious items, folk art and crafts.

A synagogue in Simnas has been restored and renovated. It was built in 1905. There was a school on the second floor and the prayer hall was arranged so worshipers prayed facing in the direction of Jerusalem. A Soviet palace of culture operated there after World War II, followed by an athletics hall. Consideration is on-going on how to utilize the synagogue space.

Bid for Righteous Gentile Monument Announced

Bid for Righteous Gentile Monument Announced

A public tender has been announced for a conceptual sculptural and architectural project to erect a monument to Lithuanian residents who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

The Vilnius city municipality and the Lithuanian Culture Ministry said the project is to be guided by principles of historical justice for honoring, commemorating and recalling at a national and international level Lithuanian residents who saved Jews during the Nazi occupation, for creating a respectful and socially effective solution in continuance of traditions of respecting the Jewish people, for representing appropriately the content and foundation of the site commemorating Righteous Gentiles, and for contributing to the education of the general public regarding history and the world.

Criteria for judging projects submitted include context, social efficacy, aesthetics, the quality of the space created, cost and financial soundness. The site selected for the monument is on Ona Šimaitė street near Maironis street in Vilnius where a commemorative stele stands announcing this as the location for a future monument to Righteous Gentiles, those who rescued Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Field Trip to Alytus and Merkinė

Field Trip to Alytus and Merkinė

Over a weekend in mid-August the Kaunas Jewish Community sponsored a field trip for its members to the town of Merkinė and the city of Alytus, the capital of the Lithuanian ethnographic region of Dzūkija in the southeast quarter of Lithuania.

Teacher and friend of the Community Meilė Platūkienė provided the travellers a tour of Alytus, including sites witnessing to the once-large Jewish community there. They took in the balconies of the former Singer family home there, entrance lions there, former movie theaters in the city and on Beiralas hill the restored synagogue and cemetery (the headstones have long since disappeared and the cemetery plot is only marked with an information stand). The tour also visited what is, sadly, a feature of every Lithuanian city, town and village: a Jewish mass murder site in the surrounding forest.

Travelling on to Merkinė, Merkinė Regional History Museum director Mindaugas Černiauskas provided a guided tour of the small but interesting museum collection and the history of the town, which included members of royal families and the once-large Jewish community there. A visit to the local manor estate featured a meeting with celebrity chef Vytaras Radzevičius who operates an eatery there and who entertained the travellers with his cooking, wit and energy.

Tomas Venclova: Conscience is Greater Than Independence

Tomas Venclova: Conscience is Greater Than Independence

by Gabija Strumylaitė, 15min.lt

After spending forty years in exile, the professor returned to Vilnius in 2018; here he actively participates in Lithuanian cultural life and courageously expresses his opinion on topics important to the country and the world. The website 15min.lt spoke with Tomas Venclova about the meaning of independence, principles of liberalism, historical memory, ethnic minorities and other issues.

This year has also been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Litvak History. What do you think, do Lithuanians understand and appreciate sufficiently the Jewish legacy? What should we be doing to honor these people? Do we need, for example, to rebuild the Great Synagogue, or establish a modern museum of Jewish history?

In this regard I think we are doing better compared to the situation over ten years ago, never mind earlier periods. I’m not just thinking about Jewish affairs, but those of other ethnic minorities as well: Poles, Russians, Belarussians, Karaïtes, Tartars.

There is a large amount of latent distrust of minorities in Lithuania overall. I will mention another minority about which there has been a lot of concern lately: the Roma. The great majority of the Lithuanian public are prejudiced against them, and this is senseless and unnecessary, and needs to be corrected.

LJC Member Leonidas Melnikas Interviewed

LJC Member Leonidas Melnikas Interviewed

The Catholic newspaper and website Bernardinai has published an interview with long-time Lithuanian Jewish Community member and pinaist professor Leonidas Melnikas as part of a series of articles and interview about ethnic minorities in Lithuania partially financed by Lithuania’s Department of Ethnic Minorities.

“In childhood when we used to visit homes as guests and we didn’t find a piano in a home, that was strange to me, how people could live without a musical instrument. In general at the time the profession of musician was highly esteemed, and musicians were a bit freer than people in other professions. If you’re playing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven all the time, no one can complain about your politics, only about your music.

“From the very first grade I attended the Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis School of Art in Vilnius. It was my parents’ joy I did music, and their encouragement helped me overcome the initial barriers, but later some inertia came up, it came up in the 8th grade which was competitive, and they had to chose who stayed and who would pursue something else. I stayed. There weren’t many people in my class, we graduated, it seems, eleven of us, so the relationship between student and teacher was very familiar and friendly, there was a lot of attention. We studied a somewhat different curriculum than they did at other schools, we studied musical things from the first grade and they kept increasing, and in the 10th grade we completed general education disciplines–chemistry, physics, mathematics–and in the 11th grade we only had social and humanitarian topics left, and music of course.”

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Indian-Lithuanian Friendship Celebrated in Rusnė

Indian-Lithuanian Friendship Celebrated in Rusnė

An awards ceremony to present the award “For Contributions to Friendship between India and Lithuania” was held in Rusnė, Lithuania, recently. The recipient this year was Vytautas Toleikis who researched and published the story of the friendship between the father of modern India Mohandas Gandhi and Rusnė-resident Litvak Hermann Kallenbach.

Gandhi and Kallenbach’s friendship was commemorated in a sculpture by the late Romas Kvintas which was placed on the bank of the Atmata River in Rusnė in 2015. The Lithuanian embassy to India contributed to erecting the statue.

On July 25 Toleikis was presented a miniature of this statue at the awards ceremony attended by Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Indian ambassador Tsewang Namgyal, Israeli ambassador Yossi Levy, US ambassador Robert Gilchrist, German ambassador Matthias P. Sonn, Lithuanian ambassador to India Julius Pranevičius, Indian honorary consul Rajinder Chaudhary, Šilutė regional mayor Vytautas Laurinaitis and Rusnė alderwoman Dalia Drobnienė. Chairwoman Kukliansky congratulated Toleikis on winning the award.

Šolom, Akmenė! Project a Big Success

Šolom, Akmenė! Project a Big Success

Four-and-a-half-days and the results was, according to the local Akmenė newspaper Vienybė, “a great success.”

Participants and guests from Šiauliai and Vilnius said the same thing about the “Šolom, Akmenė” activities and events last week. There was the same positive reaction towards the Friday evening conference dedicated the remembering the shtetl, lessons on Sabbath traditions with treats and the concert.

There was a creative workshop for youth held before, with visiting and cleaning-up Jewish cemeteries in Vegeriai, Klykoliai, Viekšniai and Tryškiai, in a grand plan to digitize the grave epitaphs there.

Vilna Gaon Statue Vandalized Again

Vilna Gaon Statue Vandalized Again

For the second time in two months, the stone statue commemorating the Vilna Gaon located at what is thought to have been his residence in Vilnius was vandalized by application of an unknown liquid.

Police reported they received a report of the newest act of vandalism at 5:20 P.M. local time on Sunday. Vilnius district police department representative Julija Samorokovskaja told Baltic News Service a tourist guide reported an unknown liquid, possibly some acid, had been poured over the monument.

“A report was received that sometime during a two-day time period acid possibly had been poured on the Vilna Gaon statue. A tourist guide made the report,” she said. She also said an criminal investigation had been launched for incitement to hatred, and that the physical damage done would be calculated more accurately later.

Lithuanian Governments Sells Great Synagogue Ruins to Goodwill Foundation

Lithuanian Governments Sells Great Synagogue Ruins to Goodwill Foundation

The Lithuanian Government has sold the remains of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius to the Goodwill Foundation which administers compensation from the Lithuanian state for Jewish property seized in the Holocaust.

Lithuanian culture minister Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas reported the remains of the building were sold to the Goodwill Foundation by reducing compensation paid to that organization by 1,244 euros. “These are the ruins, the foundation, uncovered during archaeological digs. The buildings were damaged during World War II and razed during the Soviet era,” Kvietkauskas said. The minister reported the Goodwill Foundation requested the sale indicating the ruins would be used to commemorate the former Great Synagogue, “to fulfill Jewish cultural and religious goals.” In 2017 the ruins were listed on the registry of cultural treasures. Annual archaeological digs at the site have uncovered spectacular and unique finds.

Last spring the Government transferred administration of the site to the Cultural Heritage Protection Department.

Archaeological digs have been taking place regularly at the Great Synagogue complex since 2011, with partial financing from the Goodwill Foundation. In July last year two rooms were discovered containing old books, and exploration of the mikvot or ritual baths continued. There has been discussion on how best to commemorate the site for many years. Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius said the former synagogue complex will be commemorated in 2023 when Vilnius marks its 700th birthday. The brick-and-mortar synagogue was built in the 17th century, replacing an earlier wooden one. It has been said the Great Synagogue of Vilnius was the largest and most decorative synagogue in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Group of Vilnius Jewish Community Members Tell National Leaders: This Isn’t the First Time Kukliansky Is Acting Like This

Group of Vilnius Jewish Community Members Tell National Leaders: This Isn’t the First Time Kukliansky Is Acting Like This

Photo: © 2020 DELFI/Šarūnas Mažeika

After questions by Goodwill Foundation chairpeople Faina Kukliansky and rabbi Andrew Baker on the decision by the Lithuanian parliament to name the year 2021 as the Year of Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, four members of the Vilnius Jewish Community have sent a letter to president Gitanas Nausėda, the parliament, the Government and Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius.

Chona Leibovičius, Vitalijus Karakorskis, Dovydas Bluvšteinas and Leo Levas Milneris called on the president to review the composition of Lithuania’s International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania.

These members of the Jewish community called on the parliament and Government to find a way to halt temporarily the financing of the Goodwill Foundation until its leadership is replaced.

Faina Kukliansky: We Need to Take a Chill-Pill When Discussing Lithuanian Partisans

Faina Kukliansky: We Need to Take a Chill-Pill When Discussing Lithuanian Partisans

Elections are a time when made-up pseudo-patriotic stories eclipse important social problems. By distorting, for example, my joint letter with American Jewish Committee representative Rabbi Andrew Baker on the Lithuanian parliament’s decision to name next year after the partisan Juozas Lukša-Daumantas. In order to avoid any “indirect” doubts, on July 18 I emphasized on LNK television that “We have no complaints on Juozas Lukša-Daumantas’s past.”

What does worry us is that the fascist anti-Semitic Lithuanian Activist Front might be honored along with him. The LAF formed the Tautos darbo apsaugos batalionas, or TDA, which was responsible for the mass murder of thousands of Jews at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas and elsewhere. The website of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania states: “during the first Soviet occupation in 1940 and 1941, Juozas Lukša-Daumantas belonged to the Lithuanian Activist Front. For this he was arrested and imprisoned at the Kaunas hard labor prison. On June 22, 1941, when the war between the USSR and Germany began, he escaped.”

I am being accused of “indirectly” belittling Juozas Lukša-Daumantas. I remember the time when people were sent to mental hospitals and prison for indirectly criticizing the Communist regime. Maybe someone would like to lock me up now and give me some re-education on what can and cannot be said. But that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that my words about the LAF have been applied to the entire partisan movement and equated with it, even though that’s like accusing all of Lithuania of anti-Semitism because of the statements of one or another irresponsible radical.

Year of Vilna Gaon and Litvak History Becomes City-Wide Celebration in Kaunas

Year of Vilna Gaon and Litvak History Becomes City-Wide Celebration in Kaunas

The year 2020 has provided the Kaunas Jewish Community with new friends and partners. The Lithuanian parliament passed a resolution last year naming 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History. Until now this has largely been a celebration on paper, but the city of Kaunas turned it into a real celebration with projects and events.

One such was called the Kaunas Musical Guide to Jewish History by the Kauno Santaika group. Most people in the large group of Kaunas residents who took an interest were probably participating in these kinds of unconventional tours for the first time, accompanied by a live orchestra throughout their excursion. The first tour route was accompanied by a guest from Vilnius, the Trimitas national woodwind orchestra. The second was accompanied by Ąžuolynas from Kaunas. The highly knowledgeable Dr. Marija Oniščik told the story of the many former Jewish buildings and sites visited. The tenor Edgaras Davidovičius joined the second tour at the renovated fountain on Freedom Alley in Kaunas and performed the legendary songs of the crooner Daniel Dolski.

Others included the wonderful young team Kaunas Piano Fest who held a competition of works by Litvak composers withing the frame of the festival, and the final concert of the festival, with a very limited audience because of indoor restrictions on gatherings, dedicated not just to the celebratory year of 2020 declared by the Lithuanian parliament, but also to the anniversary of the liquidation of the Kovna [Kaunas] ghetto.

Robertas Lozinskis and Anna Szałucka performed this concert live, while Nathan Cheung performed as if live from a recording. It was very pleasing the organizers invited members of the Kaunas Jewish Community to this concert. Those interested can listen to the performances on the youtube channel of the Kaunas Piano Fest group.

It is our sincere hope these new friends and partners will continue their cooperation with the Kaunas Jewish Community next year as well.

More photos below.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Invites You to “Sholom, Akmenė” Events July 24

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Invites You to “Sholom, Akmenė” Events July 24

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community invites everyone to participate in “Sholom, Akmenė” events at the Akmenė Cultural Center (Sodo street no. 1, Akmenė, Lithuania) on July 24.

12:00 Conference “Memories of the Shtetl in Our Hearts”

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community members Frida Šteinienė and Josifas Buršteinas will share their childhood memories, young participants at a creative workshop will speak about digitization efforts to record and preserve the Jewish cemeteries in the Akmenė region and Daumantas Todesas will share the secrets of making Sabbath treats. Also, Rita Ringienė will read excerpts from Indrė Daščioraitė’s work in 2001 recording the memories of Augustina Rušinaitė (1922-2007).

2:00 Jewish market (outside the Cultural Center)

The conference will be followed by a Jewish market set up by the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community showcasing traditional Litvak treats on offer, with haggling required. The organizers are promising a lot of fun at the market.

6:00 Sabbath concert

The Jewish music concert, already a tradition at the Akmenė Days celebrations, will be performed by students from the music schools in the Akmenė region and from the Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium in Vilnius. The concert will teach traditions of the Sabbath evening in artistic form.

All events are free and open to the public. Organizers are asking participants to adhere to the authorities’ current recommendations for preventing corona virus infection. The events will be filmed and photographed.

Teachers Invited to International Centropa and ESJF Seminar

Centropa, the Central European research and documentation center, and ESJF, the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, are pleased to announce registration is open to a teacher training seminar called “Teaching Jewish Heritage: How to Include Jewish Cemeteries in the Education Process” to be held in Kaunas on August 25 and 26.

The series of seminars will be directed by specialists in the fields of Jewish cemetery studies and Jewish history education. Participants will be given the resources necessary for presenting Jewish heritage meaningfully and in an interesting way in the classroom.

Lithuanian teachers and NGO representatives are invited to participate. The conference will be held in Lithuanian and English with synchronous translation.

Please register by July 22 at this address: https://bit.ly/2Cx6Zxo

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

The Švenčionys region of Lithuania is a multicultural place where Lithuanians live alongside Poles, Russians, Belarussians, Jews and people of other ethnicities.

The Švenčionys Jewish Community was reconstituted in 2013. It is now headed by the energetic Švenčionys native Moshe Shapiro (aka Moisiejus Šapiro).

There was a large Jewish community living in the Švenčionys region in the period between the two world wars. In fact there were five synagogues operating there.

Jews there set up an herbal pharmaceuticals factory and different workshops in the center of the town of Švenčionys. Jewish effort, initiative and expertise were involved in all fields of production and business.

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, 15min.lt

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

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Our True National Heroes, Rescuers of Jews

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Our True National Heroes, Rescuers of Jews

On June 25 the Kaunas Jewish Community paid honor to those who risked their own lives and those of their families to give the gift of life to those condemned to death. The people who rescued Jews were mainly quiet, everyday heroes, the Righteous Gentiles who are the real and unquestioned heroes of our country, heroes and heroines. On Thursday, June 25, the Kaunas Jewish Community was finally able to hold its annual evening to pay tribute to our Righteous Gentiles. Usually the event is held in spring just after Passover.

Kaunas Jewish Community members always look forward to the event, a meeting of friends. Time is merciless, however, and the ranks of rescuers and rescued grow thinner each year. Fortunately we have their children and grandchildren standing in for them, who are just as dear to us.