Lithuanian Jewish Community Marks Sabbath with Johannesburg Rabbi Julia Margolis

Lithuanian Jewish Community Marks Sabbath with Johannesburg Rabbi Julia Margolis

Julia Margolis of the Beit Luria Progressive Shul in Johannesburg led a Sabbath celebration with the Lithuanian Jewish Community last Friday via the internet. She was the first female rabbi to open a progressive synagogue in South Africa along with others from the South African Union of Progressive Jews. The synagogue is the eleventh progressive synagogue in South Africa and the first in Gaunteng province in many years.

Tull Eckhart provided music during the virtual meeting.

Protecting the Summer Synagogue in Kalvarija from Rain and Snow

Protecting the Summer Synagogue in Kalvarija from Rain and Snow

A special project to conserve and prevent the collapse of the summer synagogue in the Lithuanian town of Kalvarija was prepared back in 2016.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex belongs to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Under an agreement signed in 2014 the Kalvarija municipality has exclusive use of the buildings for 50 years for cultural, educational and academic needs and for tourism.

Advisor at the Alytus-Marijampolė section of the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Violeta Kasperavičiutė said work to conserve the synagogue was just approved, including installing wooden columns in the interior and along the perimeter of the outside walls, reconstruction of the wooden roof, bricking and mortaring windows and the roof cornice to protect them from precipitation, installing doors, roof shingling to protect against rain and snow and tin roofing where needed for further protection.

Israeli Modern Art Curator Ory Deassau: Give Artists the Freedom to Decide

Israeli Modern Art Curator Ory Deassau: Give Artists the Freedom to Decide

by Jolita Jankuvienė, www.DELFI.lt

Well-known Israel art curator and writer Ory Dessay with the modern art gallery Vartai presented an international exhibition at the end of 2020 called “An Unfinished Project” to mark the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History. It wasn’t easy to hold the exhibition during the virus pandemic and the curator was unable to travel to Lithuania as had been planned, but despite everything, art is priceless in removing limitations, it is free and mobile, posing questions as well as answers, which the curator presented to the public in a virtual form.

Which exhibit was the most significant and memorable for you?

As the musician Duke Ellington once said when asked about his best musical work, I would repeat that the most important exhibit is the one coming up next which I will curate. I give all of myself to the project on which I am working. Currently an exhibit is taking place at the Vartai art gallery in Vilnius. This location makes the process of my curating and presentation easy. I am especially intrigued by the historical conditions of the location of the exhibit “An Unfinished Project,” it is part of Jewish history. There are many untold stories here which we can show to the audience. I am enchanted by the vitality of Vilnius, not just because of the recent success Lithuanians enjoyed at the 58th modern art Biennale in Venice, but because I really feel a strong attraction to this city.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

Sabbath Discussions: New Project by Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas

Sabbath Discussions: New Project by Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas

It has been said the Sabbath is the time to forget food for the body and provide food to the soul. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas have invited members and the public to a series of Sabbath discussions, the first one dedicated to Zionism among Litvaks.

Viljamas Žitkauskas recounted to the virtual audience historical facts about the Vilna Gaon and his contribution to Zionism. Religious Litvak Zionists consider the Gaon the father of the national movement. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of the modern Hebrew language, spent his whole life adapting Hebrew, which had become mainly a liturgical language, for use in daily life. Abraham Mapu was a Hebrew novelist. Menachem Begin helped found the State of Israel and served as Israel’s seventh prime minister.

Žitkauskas spoke about these Litvaks and the history of Zionism and his audience showed rapt interest throughout.

The virtual meeting and discussion concluded with the havdalah ceremony to mark the end of Sabbath.

Purim Greetings from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

Purim Greetings from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

The entire Jewish people celebrate the happy spring Purim holiday. Although the times are not amenable to personal meetings and celebrations together, Jews do not give up to despair. As Esther revealed evil schemes and save the Jewish people from destruction and slavery, so will the Purim holiday lighten the mood and bring joy to every home.

The Panevėžys Jewish Community has prepared holiday Purim food parcels for our members and gifts for the children which will be distributed as will the holiday spirit.

Vilnius and Cape Town Celebrate Sabbath

Vilnius and Cape Town Celebrate Sabbath

A special joint internet Sabbath celebration was held between Vilnius and Cape Town, South Africa last Friday, February 19.

Cape Town Rabbi Greg Alexander greeted the internet celebrants in both cities and presented Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman to those in South Africa.

The Sabbath was ushered in with song. The rabbi and Millian Rivlin sang and played guitar, after which prayers were delivered. Despite the distance between the two cities, communication was almost instantaneous, and it felt as if everyone were in the same room at home.

The vast majority of Jews living in South Africa were and are Litvaks. That affinity was clear during the internet Sabbath.

Lithuanian History Institute Director Tells Parliamentary Speaker Genocide Center Planned Propaganda Campaigns

Lithuanian History Institute Director Tells Parliamentary Speaker Genocide Center Planned Propaganda Campaigns


Speaker of Lithuanian parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen met representatives Tuesday of universities and the Lithuanian History Institute to discuss the situation at Lithuania’s Genocide Center, following a boycott of Genocide Center announced by these institutions. Lithuanian History Institute director Alvydas Nikžentaitis said the problem is not just a domestic one and needs a final solution.

Historians from Vilnius University, Vytautas Magnus University, Klaipėda University and the Lithuanian History Institute sent the speaker a letter complaining the new leadership of Genocide Center under Adas Jakubauskas after he was appointed in February of 2020 had led to a primitive politicization of sensitive and painful events of the past without taking sources into account. They said they could no longer work with Genocide Center under those conditions, and didn’t agree with unprofessional statements made by representatives of the Genocide Center.

Nikžentaitis said there had been indications very long before Jakubauskas’s appointment that things weren’t right at the Center, and that his colleagues had made numerous complaints. Nikžentaitis said some of them were even persecuted for expressing their opinion regarding the Center. Nikžentaitis listed among other complaints that there were allegedly discussions inside Genocide Center that if the current director of the Center’s Department of Historical Research [Arūnas Bubnys] withdrew from the post, he would be given a different post, while behind the scenes agreement was reached on replacing him with another person more obedient to the leadership.

“So basically this was preparing the ground, let’s say, for preparing opinions very far from academic at the Center, so that the Center would be ready to carry out specific propaganda goals,” Nikžentaitis said.

On the meeting with the speaker of parliament, Nikžentaitis said they discussed how to change the existing situation. He added that in a certain sense the problems at Genocide Center were pre-programmed from its very inception.

Full article in Lithuanian here.

Mass Murders in Utena: Memories of the Holocaust

Mass Murders in Utena: Memories of the Holocaust

Photo: Just a few buildings witnessing to the Jewish past still stand in Utena.

Translated to Lithuanian by Vytautas Ridikas from Massacres in Utena by Tsozdik Bleiman writing in Russian


As the only living witness left, I am able to share some special memories.

My father Jakov Bleiman, who was formerly a rabbi in Crimea, performed the same duties in Utena, where my brother-in-law Efraim Yudelovich also lived with the family. At the beginning of the war I lived in Kaunas.

I decided to see my parents and then, if the right conditions were in place, to evacuate with the entire family. As it turned out there was no way to leave for somewhere, because just as I arrived in the city the Germans entered. Our fate became clear: we were all condemned to death.

Thursday. The first day of the German regime. Dozens of Jews are herded to work, led to the Germans and their Lithuanian helpers. The work is meaningless and insignificant, just in order to deride the Jews, sending them around all day with brooms, shovels and other implements.

Bringing Bagels Back to Vilnius

Bringing Bagels Back to Vilnius

by Wailana Kalama

After a long absence, the Jewish staple has returned to the Lithuanian capital

Most food historians place the origin of the bagel somewhere vaguely in the Jewish alleys of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In those days in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius–also known as Vilna, the city once dubbed the “Jerusalem of the North”–bagels were ubiquitous, sold on the streets, and in the bakeries and markets. In modern times, however, the bagel had all but been erased from popular memory. Until now.

For centuries, the city’s Old Town was home to a thriving community of Litvaks, as local Jews referred to themselves. The district was lauded for its cultured elite and a Great Synagogue that attracted scholars from all over Europe. All that changed with the Holocaust, during which 95% of Lithuanian Jews were deported and murdered. Now, all that remains in the Old Town are monuments to what once was: street signs in Yiddish, inscriptions educating about the ghetto, a bust of the famed intellectual Vilna Gaon.

When No Eye-Witnesses Remain: LJC Invites Public to Internet Discussion on Holocaust

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is holding an internet discussion called “When No Eye-Witnesses Remain” at 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, January 27, at https://www.facebook.com/zydubendruomene

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, who helped initiate the virtual conference and plans to take part, said: “There are ever fewer Holocaust witnesses who can take an active part in educating society. When the last eye-witnesses die, all responsibility for preserving memory will pass to the younger generations. Memory of the Holocaust should become simply an history lesson where dates, names and locations are the most significant. It should be an eternal lesson in human moral values which moves the heart as well as the mind.”

Watch live, starting at 2:00 P.M.:

Remembering and Honoring Holocaust Victims: Global #MesPrisimename/ #WeRemember Campaign

Remembering and Honoring Holocaust Victims: Global #MesPrisimename/ #WeRemember Campaign

by Nadežda Spiridonovienė, historian, museum specialist, Nalšia Museum

Lithuania along with the United Nations marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Only by preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust can we create a safe future for humanity, the kind in which no anti-Semitism, racial, ethnic and religious hatred and discrimination would remain.

We remember the tragedy of the extermination of 6 million European Jews on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What happened to people during the Holocaust? What happened in Švenčionys where Lithuanians, Jews, Tartars, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and other peoples lived together? Where within a territory of a few kilometers people prayed at Catholic church, five synagogues, the Orthodox church and other houses of prayer? What happened 80 years ago to people if there was such a catastrophe, and what can the younger generation do today to insure it never happens again?

Artist and Cartoonist Leizeris Kaganas

Artist and Cartoonist Leizeris Kaganas

by Polina Pailis on his 110th birthday for Septynios meno dienos newspaper

New trends in art appeared in Lithuania in the early 20th century based on new ideas and the search for new techniques for expression. Many cartoonists and caricaturists appeared in the press in the interwar period. The artist Leizeris Kaganas was especially prolific from 1931 to 1933.

Kaganas was born in 1910 and his place of birth is unknown. In 1929 he attended the Kaunas Art School but left after his first year. His off-the-cuff sketches and caricatures first appeared in the Kaunas newspapers in 1931. In the second half of that year he moved to Riga and competed in sketching contests there. In 1932 and 1933 he held exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1932 he was part of an exhibition in Stockholm. In 1939 and 1940 he lived and worked in Denmark. Kaganas’s fate following the German occupation of Denmark is unknown.

The first article about the young artist appeared in Lietuvos aidas newspaper on September 30, 1931, which said his talent had been noticed from the beginning.

History of the Jews of Šiauliai from the City’s First Industrialist to the Lincoln Penny

History of the Jews of Šiauliai from the City’s First Industrialist to the Lincoln Penny

Photo: 3-D miniature diorama of the Old Town of Šiauliai by Saulius Kruopis, late 19th or early 20th century. Photo by Karolina Savickytė

by Gabija Strumylaitė, 15min.lt

It’s impossible to tell the story of Šiauliai without the names of important Jews who come from there or lived there. One was the industrialist Chaim Frankel whose leather factory once employed a fifth of the city’s population. Victor David Brenner, the Litvak whose most famous work is the United States Lincoln penny still in circulation, put Šiauliai on the world map.

“Before World War I Jews were about 60 percent of the population of Šiauliai. In the period between the wars this figure dropped to 30 percent. There truly is a lot of Jewish heritage in Lithuania. We often stumble upon it and realize it only now. For instance, until my colleague Andrius Kvedaras, whom you will also meet today, nobody conducted exclusively Jewish tours of Šiauliai. It was just part of the general program,” Aušra Museum historian Milda Černiauskaitė said.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Photo: Faina Kukliansky, by Vidmantas Balkūnas, courtesy 15min.lt

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remembers January 13. Lithuanian Jews, who restored their community finally 30 years ago after decades of restrictions, took part in events in those days [in 1991] Nowadays when they talk about the struggle for freedom, members of the community emphasize the greatest gift: the opportunity to speak freely.

What do you remember personally about that fateful night at the TV tower, the Lithuanian Radio and Television building and the parliament? What does the Jewish community remember about these events?

Jews did the same thing as everyone else in Lithuania. We have collected the recollections of our community members of that fateful night. They watched the television broadcast until it was cut off and they went to the barricades, in Vilnius but also in Kaunas and other cities.

We were there where the majority of Lithuania was. I remember when I travelled from Varėna during that time and saw the road full of tanks. At that time I had an elderly guest from America who said he was seeing tanks for the first time in his life.

On that particular night my friends and I–all of us were together with our young children–followed events, held vigil, waiting for our husbands who were there in the crowd by the barricades or who were doing their job as doctors.

My children are now grown up and always remember that night and the tension. It wasn’t clear what would happen and the tanks were already in place in the city. We didn’t have any information, we had seen the final frame when E. Bučelytė had to quit the [television] studio. We learned that night from medics that there were dead and wounded people.

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

Facts worth knowing about the Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam

by Rūta Ribinskaitė, LJC member, for 15min.lt

As we mark the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelshtam, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a new look at one of the most renowned poets of the Silver Age of Russian poetry. We present to readers long-forgotten and little-known facts about the phenomenal poet Osip Mandelshtam.

Mandelshtam’s family on both his mother’s and father’s side came from Lithuania. The Mandelshtam family’s roots are in northern Lithuania in the town of Žagarė. There are assertions the family settled in the town in the early 19th century.

The poet’s mother Flora Mandelshtam née Verbolvskaya was a musician and his father Hatzkel-Emil Mandelshtam belong to the first guild of merchants and was a leather tanner. The young married couple lived in Warsaw where the future poet was born on January 15, 1891, and then moved to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1896 and 1897.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

LJC Celebrates Life and Work of Osip Mandelshtam on 130th Birthday

LJC Celebrates Life and Work of Osip Mandelshtam on 130th Birthday

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to learn more about one of the best poets of Russia’s Silver Age, Osip Mandelshtam.

Join the virtual day of poetry at 2:00 P.M. on January 15 on facebook by going to https://fb.me/e/1cV0KYzFo

Speakers and critics will present new insights and little known facts in Mandelshtam’s biography and poetry. The actors Viačeslavas Lukjanovas and Larisa Kalpokaitė will read excerpts in Russian and Viktorija Verikaitė will read Lithuanian translations of Mandelshtam’s poetry.

Lithuanian Translation of Chaimas Kurickis’s Holocaust Memoirs Launched in Utena

Lithuanian Translation of Chaimas Kurickis’s Holocaust Memoirs Launched in Utena

Chaimas Kurickis was born in Utena, Lithuania, in 1921. He and his mother fled east as the German army approached in June of 1941. They were arrested, separated and imprisoned in Daugavpils, Latvia, his mother being sent to the ghetto and he to jail.

The hero of his book was also in the ghetto and several concentration camps, where he fought to survive right up till May 5, 1945, when Germany was defeated finally. Chaimas Kurickas set down his recollections and experiences along with several poems in a book called “To Survie and Tell the Tale,” translated to Lithuanian under the title “Išgyventi ir papasakoti” by Edmundas Kutka. The book has also been translated to Hebrew and Russian, and has caught the interest of Latvians who utilize it to talk about the tragic events of the Daugavpils ghetto, and Germans. The Lithuanian translation is expected to be of keen interest to Lithuanians and especially people from Utena who might be interested in the native author’s youth and experiences.

The launch of the Lithuanian translation of the book, published with aid from the Goodwill Foundation, included a panel of speakers, including tour guide and historian Chaim Bargman, Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum RIghteous Gentiles Department director Danutė Selčinskaja, teacher and historian Danguolė Jonaitienė who knew Kurickas from before the war, translator Tamara Jefremova and the translator of this book Edmundas Kutka.

The 20-year-old Utena native learned of the onset of war in his hometown. The rapid progress and unexpected moves of the German military forced him to adapt quickly to change. He and his mother and sisters were forced to flee, but the Kaunas-Daugavpils route was overcrowded with much military transport, Russian tanks and hundreds if not thousands of fleeing civilians, mainly Jews, trying to make their way towards Russia.