Learning, History, Culture

Tunklgold Concert a Rousing Success

Jascha Heifetz Hall on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius was filled Thursday for a concert concluding the summer course of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.

Vocalist Regina Hopfgartner with Gregor Unterkofler on piano and backup vocals performed a program of old Yiddish favorites to the audience of staff and students from the summer course and staff and members of the LJC as well as interested members of the public.

The duo performed in Yiddish but the introduction to each song was given in English. Both the Yiddish and the English had a hint of German, and in “Bei Mir Bisttu Shane,” the culmination of the concert, there was no separating the accents. The audience gave a long standing ovation and came out to give their personal congratulations to the performers in the foyer.

Amehaye Summer Camp 2018

In July the Lithuanian Jewish Community sponsored a day camp for members’ children aged 5 to 12. As every year, this year’s camp was held at a beautiful natural location, the Karvys manor in Paežeriai village in the Vilnius region.

Parents and children alike look forward to the camp and the experience of nature, relaxing by a lake and playing with friends. The day camp includes educational activities, walks and breakfast, lunch and dinner. Buses take the children to the camp in the morning and return them home in the evening. The day camps were held from July 16 to 27 this year. This year 49 children attended, from Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Norway, the USA and Great Britain. Children learned songs and Israeli dance, performed skits and learned to bake challa bread for Sabbath. The educational program included discussions about Jewish traditions, art, swimming, athletics and other activities.

Camp counselors took the campers to visit dog trainers and to meet with scouts in Labanoras Forest. The scouts talked about what it means to be a scout and everyone had a nice picnic by the lake.

Lithuania’s Russian Drama Theater actress Yuliana Volodko created a play with the children called Noah’s Ship which the children performed for parents at the closing ceremony. The play was followed by a Sabbath celebration with children and parents, attended by about 90 people in total. The closing ceremony featured cake and fireworks, and children made wishes and then released helium balloons.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanks all the organizers, volunteers and guests who made this year’s Amehaye such a success, and also thanks the company Nikadita, the Bagel Shop Café and the Sluoksniai Café for their support and help.

Irena Giedraitienė, Panevėžys Jewish Community Member and Photographer

Long-time member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community Irena Giedraitienė won wide renown and a number of prizes for her photography in the 1970s but hasn’t appeared much lately at exhibits and in the press. Happily, the city newspaper Sekundė has printed an article featuring this wonderful artist with such a surprising biography.

This photographer who has left a real mark in Lithuanian photography has held more than 40 exhibits of her work, took part in another 100 group exhibits around the world and has won dozens of coveted awards.

She still has something to say and something to show, so she’s preparing for more exhibitions, putting her archive in order, taking new series of photographs and thinking about interesting projects for the future.

Right now she’s focusing on the upcoming Fotoskrynia exhibition which is being partially financed by an art grant from the city municipality.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Israel Wants Lithuanian Beef

Vilnius, August 6, BNS–Israel is looking at importing Lithuanian beef and eggs, Lithuanian agriculture minister Giedrius Surplys said.

“We discussed possibilities to export kosher beef to Israel. Only kosher meat can enter Israel, that’s the law. We also spoke about egg export,” Surplys told BNS by telephone from Tel Aviv after meeting Israeli agriculture minister Uri Ariel Sunday.

The Lithuanian ag minister said five Lithuanian enterprises are ready for exporting beef to Israel but it’s not economical. He said beef export to Israel could work by opening a meat processing factory in Lithuania.

“Israel is changing its import policies and wants to import fewer animals than it has until now and more products,” Surplys said.

He said Lithuanian egg producers are looking for new markets and Israel might be a good place for exports, since eggs don’t have to be kosher.

“When we get back home we’ll talk with Lithuanian producers about exports of these two products,” the minister told BNS.

Lithuania Pays Tribute To a Genocidal Monster


Jonas Noreika from the private collection of his granddaughter, Silvia Foti

Jonas Noreika, whose granddaughter confirms he murdered more than 14,000 Jews, is honored as a national hero

Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of one of the worst genocidal monsters in history, has published an explosive expose of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, showing that he was indeed responsible for the murder of more than 14,000 Lithuanian Jews. Foti identifies the Lithuanian Government’s odious attempts to revise history as “one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th Century.”

First exposed by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 1984, it has long been known that Noreika was culpable in the murder of his Jewish neighbors in Northwestern Lithuania. Yet Noreika officially and legally remains one of Lithuania’s greatest national heroes, and is honored with a plaque on the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building. Over a decade ago, this incongruous adulation of a genocidal monster struck me, a Jewish Lithuanian citizen, as reprehensible. I immediately began my campaign to remove this monument. I had no idea that the official conversion of monsters into heroes was a deliberate Lithuanian agenda.

Full text here.

Paving the Way for Orthodox Couples to Marry

Miami, August 5, 2018–It’s not easy, and sometimes it is not even possible to get married in an Orthodox ceremony in Israel, due to the strict regulations set by the Chief Rabbinate, which is the only body authorized to carry out Jewish marriages. But times are changing, and a new organization called Chuppot is challenging the Rabbinate’s monopoly over who is allowed to marry.

Chuppot is the first organization to openly enable any Jewish couple in Israel to marry in a halachically Orthodox ceremony outside of the framework of the Rabbinate. Targum Shlishi recently awarded a grant to Chuppot to help the organization market itself.

“Chuppot is addressing a real and urgent need in Israeli society. The Chief Rabbinate, in setting forth parameters for weddings that many Jews simply cannot fulfill, has been abusing its power for years,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is a travesty that the Rabbinate routinely refuses to marry Orthodox Jewish couples. Many of those who are affected by the refusal are immigrants who are not able to document their Jewishness according to the unreasonable standards set forth by the Rabbinate.”

Marriage in Israel

The Chief Rabbinate’s strict standards over who is allowed to marry is not the only issue—many argue that the overall climate fostered by the Rabbinate is negative, with marriage just one aspect of a growing polarity between the Rabbinate and much of society (other areas of discord include divorce, ritual immersion, kashrut, and conversion). This negative climate reflects the increasing divide in Israeli society overall, in which the Rabbinate is becoming increasingly extremist and isolated, while more moderate Orthodox and traditional Jews are seeking a Judaism that is more in tune with their values.

Gesher Club Visits Poland

Approximately 30 members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Gesher Club from Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai toured Warsaw and Cracow in late July on an educational and site-seeing journey. Most were already familiar with Warsaw with its unique architecture, wide boulevards and skyscrapers puncturing its centuries-old skyline. Club members said their deepest impressions came from the POLIN Museum of Polish Jewish history.

In historic Cracow the visitors toured the Kazimierz old Jewish quarter there and attended a klezmer concert.

Long-time LJC member and professional tourist guide Markas Psonikas organized and the trip.

WJC President Lauder Condemns Despicable and Deliberate Anti-Semitic Vandalism of Elie Wiesel House


Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighetu Marmației, Romania, with vandalism found August 4

August 5, 2018

WJC president Lauder condemns “despicable and deliberate” anti-Semitic vandalism of Elie Wiesel house, calls for swift investigation and penalty

“This callous act was an attack against the very principles of morality and humanity for which Wiesel stood,” Lauder says.

NEW YORK–The World Jewish Congress strongly condemns the anti-Semitic vandalism carried out over the weekend at the childhood home of late Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in Romania.

WJC president Ronald S. Lauder said: “The World Jewish Congress unequivocally deplores the despicable and deliberate anti-Semitic act targeting the Elie Wiesel Memorial House. This was a clear gesture of hate that spits in the face of the Jewish community and the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust.”

“Over the course of his life and legacy, Elie Wiesel stood as a moral compass to the world, teaching that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. We must not stay silent or remain indifferent as the childhood home of the man who illuminated this message is desecrated in a callous act of enmity. This was an attack not just against the Jewish community, but against the very principles of morality and humanity for which Wiesel stood and dedicated his life to teaching.”

Eli Rabinowitz from Australia and Israelis Visit Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community had the unexpected pleasure of a visit by several guests this week. Daniel Veid and his wife Eti and their son Shmuel from Israel visited and Daniel said he was researching his family’s roots. His great-great-grandfather Solomon Veid was born and lived in Panevėžys and his great-great-grandmother Shaike Levine was also born there. Solomon and his family moved to South Africa in the early 19th century.

On July 31 Eli Rabinowitz, who grew up in Cape Town and now lives in Perth, Australia, also visited. He spoke about his project to help teach the Holocaust to young people around the world.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman spoke with Rabinowitz about Community projects with local schools which also teach young people about the Holocaust.

Paul Packer, New Chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Visited Lithuania in July

Paul Packer, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, visited Jewish heritage sites including the Ponar Memorial Complex and the old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės with representatives from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the US embassy, the Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and discussed Jewish heritage topics and directions with representatives of the Lithuanian Government and Vilnius municipality.

The chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish heritage sites together in Kaunas, Kėdainiai, Pakruojis and Joniškis. Packer praised efforts by the LJC and local municipalities to preserve authentic Litvak heritage and especially maintaining authentic synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries.

Packer visited the Great Synagogue archaeological site and learned about the dig there. He was keenly interested in possibilities for commemorating the sacred and symbolic historical site. The LJC plans to continue active cooperation with the chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad who has taken a firm position on the control of the Great Synagogue. He said the Great Synagogue should be under the Lithuanian Jewish Community. A resolution protocol was adopted by the Lithuanian Government on June 29, 2018, tasking the LJC with drafting a study for ways to restore fragments of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

Questions by Pinchos Fridberg regarding the LJC Statement on Noreika

I’ll say right away I’m not a diplomat, I am a person “rough and unrefined,” but I am a member of the Community and that means this statement was written in my name as well. I will quote:

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community asks the institutions responsible to take quick action to solve this political, ethical and legal problem and to pay due respect to the victims of the Holocaust. We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23.”

I would like to ask the authors of this statement several clear and not very pleasant questions. I hope my questions will be posted without delay and I won’t have to look for another place to post it. Note the references are just to the original document.

1. Do the authors of the statement know Jonas Noreika (General Vėtra) received decoration (posthumously), the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis?

Note: The award number and date of the decree is easy to find on the presidential webpage.

Then-president Algirdas Brazauskas signed this decree but I was unable to find the text of the decree, the official presidential webpage only covers decrees promulgated between 2009 and 2018.

2. Do the authors of this “statement” understand the status of this award?

Note: this is article 57 of the text:

“The order of the Cross of Vytis is awarded to people who have demonstrated remarkable heroism, bravery and resolution in defending the freedom and independence of the Republic of Lithuania.”

3. Do the authors of this “statement” understand that it’s not possible to “turn the four screws” on the commemorative plaque without the president first rescinding the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis by decree?

4. Do the authors of the “statement” believe this sort of resolution might really be signed, and moreover, by September 23, 2018?

P.S. I don’t need a response. I will be satisfied if you post these questions, but without editing, please.

Pinchos Fridberg, average Community member

Markas Zingeris Wins Liudas Dovydėnas Literary Prize

Writer Markas Zingeris has won this year’s Liudas Dovydėnas prize for best new Lithuanian novel for the book “Aš sėdėjau Stalinui ant kelių” [I Sat on Stalin’s Knees] published in 2017 by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union.

Zingeris is the director of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum but is an accomplished and prolific writer who has won a number of literary prizes previously. Some of his books have been translated to other languages.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Three Weeks of Digging Culminate in Discovery of Bima at Great Synagogue

On July 26 reporters were invited to get a better look at the results of this year’s archaeological digs at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

An international team of Israel, American, Canadian and Lithuanian archaeologists made a number of discoveries this year, the third summer in a row digging has been conducted in and around the Soviet-era school built in 1952 on top of the former synagogue. Under one classroom the edge of the bima, the raised platform where the Torah is read, and the base of a column in the elaborate design of the bima were discovered. Lead archaeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority Dr. Jon Seligman explained to reporters the aron kodesh, or ark where the Torah is kept, would like be just under the fence bordering the street in the front of the school. He said the street had slightly shifted in location since the pre-war period. The bima and the ark form the main axis around which activities take place in the main hall of the synagogue.

Digging resumed in the playground and uncovered the men’s mikve next to the women’s discovered last year and suspected the year before. The mikvot constituted a two-storey building behind the synagogue from the side of the street still called Jewish street. A mikve is a bathing facility used for ritual purification. Two areas uncovered displayed what appeared to be almost new, slightly over-sized ceramic bathroom tiles, alternating squares of white and an orangish-red color.

Adjacent to the mikve building archaeologists determined the exact location of the outer wall of the synagogue proper this year.

Sabbath with Yiddish Summer Course Students

Friday evening students from the Yiddish and Yiddish Literature program of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University celebrated Sabbath at the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke about the importance of these types of courses, saying: “Yiddish is an inseparable part of Jewish culture, Jewish identity. Yiddish isn’t just Jewish songs and a rich folklore. There is an abundance of very interesting literature in Yiddish. I hope Yiddish classes will become just as popular as Hebrew classes are in our community. Yiddish is a living language and it is continuing to develop.”

This year the summer courses are being attended by about 30 students from Poland, Sweden, Germany, Israel, the United States and other countries. Most have Jewish roots and want to learn the language of their forefathers, and to learn more about Litvak culture.

There are also students who say they need to learn Yiddish for work. Philip from Germany said he doesn’t have any Jewish blood but needs Yiddish because he is studying the Holocaust in Byelorussia. Even so, he’s become a Yiddish enthusiast, and said the Yiddish language preserves the philosophy of the Talmud.

Thomas from Stockholm also says he needs Yiddish for his work. He works for Swedish International radio and several years ago they decided to start a broadcast in Yiddish. Thomas was selected to lead the program because he’s Jewish. Although he understands Yiddish, so far he’s been posing questions to guests in English and Swedish. Now he hopes to be able to do this in Yiddish.

Yiddish summer course teachers include professor Anna Verschik from Estonia, professor Abraham Lichtenbaum from Argentina, professor Dov-Ber Kerler, professor Vera Szabó from Israel and this year Canadian stand-up comedian, writer and linguist Michael Wex, author of the best-selling “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods,” New York, 2005.

The summer course of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University began in 1998.

Great Synagogue Site Compared to Acropolis and Vilnius Castle

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Last week the Lithuanian Jewish Community confirmed archaeologists had discovered the bimah, or speaking platform, one of the most important elements of the Great Synagogue. Experts say this gives real stimulus to the digs at the site which have been going on for three years now. The Great Synagogue in Vilnius was one of the most important Jewish centers from the end of the 16th century to World War II. Damaged during the war, the Soviets razed what was left to the ground in the 1950s and built a school there. The green and brown Baroque bimah built in the 18th century was found under the school.

Call to Get Rid of Noreika Commemorations

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the archaeologists who studied historical descriptions and blueprints as well as digging for sharing their finds. “We are in the former ghetto, and this find is comparable on Vilnius’s scale to discovering the Acropolis. Not the shopping center, the historical Acropolis,” Kukliansky said. She thanked the Vilnius municipality for the support and initiative in commemorating the former synagogue, and used the occasion to remind Vilnius city leaders commemoration of the Great Synagogue isn’t compatible with a public plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika. “I want to make this little observation that the Great Synagogue and a monument to Noreika don’t really go together in one city,” the LJC chairwoman said at press conference next to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, asking for the issue to be solved..

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Regarding Jonas Noreika

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrating this year our 30th anniversary along with celebrations of the Lithuanian independence movement, and commemorating the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, is concerned by continuing discussions on the commemoration of the memory of Jonas Noreika, aka General Vėtra.

Information has come to our attention demonstrating Noreika was a direct and enthusiastic participant in perpetrating the Holocaust in Lithuania:

a. “…extant documents signed by Noreika for the concentration and isolation of Jews…”

b. On August 22, 1941, Noreika sent a letter to all the aldermen and town burgermeisters [mayors] of the the Šiauliai district for the removal of all Jews and half-Jews from the rural districts, towns and cities to ghettos. This was supposed to be accomplished between August 25 and 29, with Jews also sent to a ghetto in Žagarė. Inventories of property left behind by the Jews was to be delivered to the administrator (Noreika) by August 29. (Lithuanian Central State Archive f R-1099, ap.1, b1,l 156).

c. Noreika administered seized Jewish property. His letter of September 10, 1941, titled “Orders for the Liquidation of Tangible Property of Jews and Communists” was sent to district aldermen and burgermeisters. He wrote a portion of the property (good furniture, rolls of cloth, unused bedding) was to be preserved until a subsequent order on their allocation, a portion was to be sent to schools, rural districts, post offices, shelters, hospitals and other institutions, and a portion was to be used for victims of the war, to be sold at auction. Farm inventories were to be rented out to temporary tenants. Monies generated from the sale of property was supposed to be sent to the treasury of the Šiauliai district administration (Lithuanian Central State Archive f. R-1099, ap. 1, b. 1, l 239). On December 3, 1941, the burgermeister of Žagarė reported to the head of the district of Šiauliai (Jonas Noreika) on progress in dealing with Jewish property seized (Lithuanian Central State Archive f. R-1099, ap. 1, b. 9. 136-137).

This information proves Noreika collaborated with the Nazi regime and contributed to the persecution of Lithuanian Jews, and this person can in no way be portrayed as a Lithuanian hero.

We believe the Lithuanian people, now celebrating 100 years of statehood, are mature enough to accept the whole of historical facts and the state is capable of accepting responsibility for this public display of disrespect to historical truth.

The LJC is concerned that until now a commemorative plaque to Jonas Noreika is still displayed prominently on the outer wall of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius. According to the information available to us regarding the circumstances of erecting this plaque, it seems it was done illicitly, without regard to standard procedures used in such instances.

It doesn’t surprise us that the director of the Adolfas Damušis Center for Democracy (Adolfas Damušis was a minister in the pro-Nazi Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941 and a member of the leadership of the Lithuanian Activist Front), Vidmantas Valiušaitis, has undertaken a defense of Noreika in the public sphere.

The active and systemic apologetics for the anti-Semitics actions of the Lithuanian Provisional Government and the LAF have misinformed and desensitized the Lithuanian people, degrade Lithuania’s reputation and have become a stimulus for the development of propaganda campaigns by states not friendly to Lithuania.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community asks the institutions responsible to take quick action to solve this political, ethical and legal problem and to pay due respect to the victims of the Holocaust. We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23.

Archaeologists Find Holiest Part of Vilnius Great Synagogue Razed by Soviets


VILNIUS, Lithuania (AFP) — For decades, little did the principal of a kindergarten in Lithuania’s capital realize that her office stood on top of a sacred part of Vilnius’s 17th century Jewish temple, once famous across Europe.

An international team of archaeologists announced THursday the discovery of the most revered part of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania’s major Jewish shrine before it was destroyed by Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Installed in the 18th century, the Baroque bimah was found under the former kindergarten and primary school built by the Soviets on top of the demolished synagogue in the 1950s.

Following this discovery, Vilnius authorities pledged to demolish the school building in a couple of years and properly commemorate the synagogue by 2023.

Bima Found at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

The international team of archaeologists from the USA, Canada, Lithuania and Israel working at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius have located the central feature of the synagogue, the bima, as well as the outer back wall and part of the synagogue floor.

The bima is the central feature of synagogues. It is the platform upon which the rabbi reads the Torah and leads prayer, to which and from which the Torah scroll is taken from the Ark and returned to it.

The bima at the Great Synagogue site was discovered directly under the Soviet-era school built over the site in 1958.

The archaeological dig has been going on for several years and is currently being led by Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Jon Seligman and Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Goodwill Foundation are supporting the dig.

Earlier non-invasive archaeology revealed the presence of the mikve, or ritual bath, complex on the northern side of the site. Digging revealed multi-colored floor tiles and green oven tiles. It is believed to be a male mikveh based on historical documents.

The press and the public are invited to visit the site at 2:00 P.M. tomorrow, Thursday, July 2018, located at Vokiečių street no. 13A (formerly ulica Żydowska or Žydų gatvė no. 6) in Vilnius to get a better look at this unique site and the discoveries made there.

The archaeological group, Vilnius mayor Remigijaus Šimašius and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky are scheduled to attend the press conference, among others.

Contacts for further information:

Dr. Jon Seligman: seligman.jon@gmail.com

Zenonas Baubonis and Justinas Račas: z.baubonis@gmail.com

Monika Antanaitytė, LJC: telephone +37067240942, info@lzb.lt