Dear Arkadijus, the Lithuanian Jewish Community sends you, a unique jazz man and master of percussion, birthday greetings! We are proud of you and your music, spontaneous improvisations and beats. We wish you many more creative ideas and projects in your future leading to even greater jazz heights! Mazl tov!
Dear friends and colleagues,
Tomorrow, 81 years ago, the Nazi regime ordered a concentrated pogrom against Jewish communities. At least 91 Jews were murdered, hundreds of synagogues were burnt down and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses and houses were looted. Krytasllnacht or the Night of Broken Glass would be remembered as the beginning of the Holocaust and the extermination of six million Jews. More than 75 years after the Holocaust some prefer to think anti-Semitism has been banished from our societies, yet as we witness again and again violence and murder inspired by a hatred of Jews, we can see that anti-Semitism remains deeply ingrained in Europe. The anti-Semitic attack last month on the synagogue in Halle, Germany, once again reminded us anti-Semitism remains a threat to our European values and that we must remember we have responsibilities arising from our shared history.
The newspaper Kauno Diena reports the Vilnius city council has voted to raze and remove a brick school building from the Great Synagogue archaeological site in the Lithuanian capital.
The school built 55 years ago hasn’t been in operation for several years but is being rented by 10 renters, following an earlier announcement by the city of Vilnius it would be completely removed. The city’s promise of the imminent removal of the school has become a standing joke among the team of international archaeologists who have been conducting digs every summer there for five years.
Lithuanian news report here.
The Bank of Lithuania is planning to issue a coin commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon in 2020.
It will bear an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuania, the phrase “Vil, Nor Goen,” which is a Yiddish pun meaning: if you want, you, too can become a genius, or gaon (sounds like “vilner Gaon”). “Gaon” originally comes from the word “genius” in Greek and traditionally refers to the Jewish exarch or spiritual leader in rabbinical Judaism. The Vilna Gaon is the latest and best-known of these figures.
The reverse side of the coin features the Hebrew letter shin, which also means 300. The letter shin is featured in well-known portraits of the Gaon wearing phylacteries. The shin on the phylacteries means that besides the Sabbath, the Jewish year has 300 days devoted to prayer.
The Kaunas Jewish Community conducted the sad annual commemoration of the Great Aktion in Kaunas at the end of October. The largest single mass-murder episode in the Holocaust in Lithuania, the Great Aktion was the murder of around 10,000 people in a 24-hour period at the Ninth Fort on October 28 and 29, 1941. “Aktion” is the word the Nazis applied to their mass murder operations.
Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community unveiled a stele or stone marker this year dedicated to preserving the memory of the Kaunas ghetto ältestenrat, or council of elders. The stele was commissioned by the city of Kaunas.
A survivor, Fruma Kučinskienė, spoke about the council, its head Elchanan Elkes and her memory of undergoing the selection of victims for the Great Aktion by the war criminal Helmut Rauca on Democrat Square in the ghetto. Rauca was discovered living in Canada after the war where he ran a resort.
It is believed the 10,000 or so victims included around 4,300 children.
by Arkadijus Vinokuras
That was what U.S. congressman Brad Sherman told Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis in his letter. He asked the prime minister to provide evidence demonstrating Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, the head of the Lithuanian Provisional Government in 1941, was rehabilitated and acquitted by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1974. Because this is something the Lithuanian Genocide Center has been claiming for about 10 years now. The congressman said this belief is baseless and contradicts U.S. law.
Sherman in the letter says without any doubt the Genocide Center’s findings on the exoneration and rehabilitation of the former LPG leader has no legal foundation at all. He says an investigation in 1974 was dropped because the man died and there was a lack of documents on Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s activities in Holocaust crimes. He said the U.S. Justice Department created a new section in 1979 which with the appearance of new information went on to investigate 60 Nazi criminals who had immigrated to the United States.
Why weren’t documents found? First, in 1944 Juozas Ambrazevičius changed his name to Juozas Brazaitis. In other words, he hid the fact of his change of surname from the U.S. immigration service. Second, the U.S. had a policy after the war of granting immunity to alleged war criminals who had information of use to the Central Intelligence Agency. Third, the section created by the Justice Department in 1979 had a staff of just three people who had no training or experience in investigating Holocaust crimes. Fourth, the Lithuanian archives only opened their doors after the fall of the Soviet empire.
by Arkadijus Vinokuras
Today’s Lithuania has utterly failed to give birth to political visionaries prepared to replace society’s erroneous tolerance of legal nihilism. What other explanation could there be for president Gitanas Nausėda’s reluctance to criticize the wanton behavior of the nationalists? It seems the state has been encompassed by legal paralysis again, just as in the “good old days” of the violet criminals [apparently a reference to a pedophilia scandal in Lithuania–translator].
It requires exceptional courage to change society’s flawed tenets. Especially when a portion of citizens consumed by fear still seek strength from Lithuania’s authoritarian past.
Looking back over 30 years of Lithuanian society’s process of becoming freer, one cannot fail to see this process has become stuck. Over these years no Lithuanian political party has been able to look directly without fear at Lithuanian history in the bloody years from 1941 to 1944. No political party has been able to offer an alternative to the pre-war authoritarian nationalism which holds no respect for the principles of the legal state and the rule of law.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky says in light of increasing anti-Semitic graffiti recently the Lithuanian criminal code could be expanded to include acts of vandalism against Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is assigned a special article in the criminal code in Britain. I don’t know whether anyone in Lithuania is making graffiti against Tatars. But the swastika is a thing which recalls the Holocaust during which the community was exterminated. So it’s clear these crimes need to be taken care of. If we are given such exceptional treatment from the anti-Semite camp, then perhaps we should be given special treatment by the state as well,” she said.
Justice minister Elvinas Jankevičius says the criminal code currently allows for bringing to criminal account the sowing of ethnic or religious discord, and that such law would be excessive. Kukliansky told BNS there were five such incidents over the past month in Vilnius, Šiauliai and the Kaunas region, with swastikas, crossed-out stars of David and the vandalization of a statue in Šiauliai honoring 20th century industrialist Chaim Frenkel.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky says she and Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky never agreed on setting up a yeshiva in the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. She says there was never any discussion about a Chabad Lubavitch Hassidic synagogue in Vilnius. Back in 2001 Rabbi Krinsky tried to set up a Hssidic synagogue but encountered opposition from Mitnagid Jews of Vilnius.
When Vilnius Religious Jewish Community chairman Simas Levinas announced in September, 2019, a yeshiva would be established at the synagogue, people began asking what kind of yeshiva it would be. During Rosh Hashanah Rabbi Krinsky spoke about the similarity between the Vilna Gaon and Chabad Lubavitch, but Lithuanian Jews know about the Litvaks’ opposition to Hassidism which began in the 18th century, about resistance to the movement which resulted in two groups of Jews, Hassidim and Mitnagdim.
These days Chabad rabbis are asked to work at Jewish Orthodox Mitnagid synagogues. This is acceptable. It was agreed with Rabbi Krinsky that he would conduct prayer services in the Litvak way. No one is opposed to the desire of opening a yeshiva. Chabad Lubavitch has its own building on Bokšto street [in Vilnius]. The rabbi may do whatever he likes there, for example, opening a yeshiva.
Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni-Levy isn’t just a seasoned diplomat, he’s also an accomplished Israeli writer. One of his short stories was the basis for a film in 2013 and his “Man Without a Shadow” is currently being filmed. Now his novel “Love Peddlers” (“Rochlei haAhavot,” Hebrew, 2016) has been published in Lithuanian.
According to the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature:
A couple returns to their apartment in Tel Aviv with a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket. They are welcomed by the grandmother who showers them with candies and the grandfather who heaps blessings upon them. Far away, in time and space, a frightened, handsome Jewish lad sets out on the journey of his life, a journey to the maze of alleys of the legendary city of Herat in Afghanistan. What is the thread that connects the boy slipping away from school so that he can watch the dancers in their colorful garb cavorting in the marketplaces, to Assaf, an Israeli professor of linguistics, a gay man, a new father, who wants to be reconciled with his own father?
Yossi Avny-Levy’s novel is an emotional confession of a father to his newly born first son who embodies a mixture of different cultures, an intimate confession through which he tries to trace his own identity. Assaf unfolds the saga of his family, beginning in Afghanistan in the 1940s, and reveals the story of his father and in particular the story of his father’s younger brother, Assaf’s uncle, who was a dancer in the Herat marketplaces and a lover of a Pashtun man.
It is a book that is both sad and amusing, a powerful and humane love story which will resonate all around the globe – a constricted, unspoken love between a son and his father, an unrestrained love of a child for his mother, and a tortuous love between two fathers. It is also a story of love for a world that is no more, for its colors and fragrances, studded with characters who are both delightful and heart-breaking. In his inimitable and sensual language, Avni-Levy leads the reader through the poverty-stricken and yet magnificent streets of a dusty Israeli town of the 1960s to the picturesque streets of a remote city in Afghanistan, where humans and demons live side by side.
Lithuania’s Office of General Prosecutor says Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius exceeded his authority in unilaterally ordering the removal of a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika.
In a statement released Thursday the lead prosecutor in the defense of the public interest department at the Office of General Prosecutor said he had considered complaints filed by public organizations on a lower prosecutor’s decision and said the mayor had exceeded his authority.
“Public administrative actions performed by a public administration entity which exceed the authority provided that entity, and also the issuance of administrative acts [rules, regulations, orders] which exceed the authority granted are illegal,” the prosecutor said in his finding. He also considered complaints from public organizations on the city council’s renaming of Kazys Škirpa Alley and rejected them, letting stand a lower prosecutor’s opinion regarding the matter.
Full text in Lithuanian here.
Note: Noreika and Škirpa were Holocaust perpetrators.
The board of directors of New York’s YIVO has voted to lend the pinkas of the Vilna Gaon synagogue to Lithuania for exhibition following a meeting with Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, YIVO director Jonathan Brent said.
This is the book of vital statistics for the local Jewish community, a priceless source of information on the life of the Vilnius Jewish community. The document will be lent in 2020 as Lithuania marks its Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History. The plan is to show it at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Arkadijus Gotesmanas working together with director Adolfas Večerskis and artist Linas Liandzbergis created the Story of a Man of God almost a decade ago. Author of the music and text, he was also the performer of this drama. One week ago it was presented to an audience in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. In the one-man play Gotesmanas recalled horrible, funny, sad and happy events from his own life accompanied by creative percussion, the life of one man, one family, one people marked by the tragedies of the 20th century but nonetheless filled with unconditional love for faltering humanity.
The audience in Uzhgorod listened and watched in rapt attention. Arkadijus was born there 60 years ago. The “hometown boy” appears to have impressed the audience with his high degree of creativity, talent and musical ability. Arkadijus said he only really knew about “our Uzhgorod” from his parents before this. In infancy he and his parents left the city. So the next performance of Story of a Man of God might include this trip as well.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
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.
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.
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.