The Lithuanian Jewish Community invited members and members of the Gesher, Kavaret and Rikudey Am Clubs as well as students from the Raimondas Savickas Art Studio and from the Community’s Hebrew classes to come celebrate two holidays–Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot–at once on October 10. Žana Skudovičienė organized and conducted the festivities, delivering a thank-you speech at the beginning to the heads of the clubs, studio and classes. Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky gave holiday greetings to all participants and spoke about the preceding year, 5779, saying the Community had a lot to be proud of but that there is always room for improvement. The performance by the Fayerlakh group enhanced the evening and made it complete.
The Peoples Fair took place for the eleventh time in central Vilnius. The goal of this colorful event is to present the crafts, cuisine, traditions, culture and life of Lithuania’s ethnic minority communities.
The fair usually includes music, cooking and crafts workshops. This year the Jewish song and dance ensemble Fayerlakh performed as well.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated the 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in the traditional Jewish Quarter of Vilnius September 1 with song, dance and food. The weather was beautiful. Restaurants in the Vilnius Old Town feature Jewish foods with traditional breakfast served at the Bagel Shop Café, restaurants and cafés on Žydų and Stiklių streets and other locations. DJs RafRaf, Akvilina and Marius Šmitas provided dance music with a 10-hour musical program at the Amadeus Bar.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted celebrants and Vidmantas Bezaras, director of the Cultural Heritage Deparment, and Vida Montvydaitė, director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities, also spoke, noting there is no town or village in Lithuania without some sign of a Jewish presence. Vida Montvydaitė said this isn’t just Jewish heritage, it’s Lithuania’s legacy, and protecting it is becoming ever more important.
The writer Kristina Sabaliauskaitė spoke about her childhood memories of the Jews who still lived in central Vilnius then and with whom she made lasting friendships. She says interpersonal relationships are still one of the most important things in life to her.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites you to come celebrate the 20th annual European Day of Jewish Culture, “Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter,” in the Vilnius Old Town on September 1.
World-renowned writer Chaim Grade called the Vilnius Old Town the Jewish Quarter ca. 1930, and wrote: “Long Fridays of Summer. The housewives go to the bakery to shop for Saturday: they buy dry bagels, dark cookies and pastries with poppy seeds, small little cakes with powdered sugar…” (from his Der shtumer minyen, or Silent Minyan).
On Sunday, September 1, restaurants and cafés located in the Vilnius Jewish Quarter will present a menu of Jewish dishes, Jewish music will play and there will be lectures and tours. LJC chairman Faina Kukliansky will open ceremonies with a welcome speech at 12 noon. Saulius Pilinkus will MC and new Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni Levy, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department head Vidmantas Bezaras and Lithuanian Ethnic Minorities Department director Vida Montvydaitė will also welcome participants.
The town of Merkinė, Lithuania, held a big celebration August 17 and 18, marking the 660th anniversary of the first mention of the town in the historical sources and the 450th anniversary of the town receiving autonomous Magdeburg charter rights. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Fayerlakh group were invited to the celebration.
The project “Doors Are Opening” was dedicated to commemorating life in Merkinė during the period between the two world wars, when the majority of the population was Jewish. Before the Holocaust Jews accounted for about 80% of inhabitants. The old Jewish doors were donated for the celebration.
“It’s normal not to want to talk about the painful past, but it’s abnormal if we try to live our lives as if none of those experiences ever even existed,” Mindaugas Černiauskas, the director of the Merkinė Regional History Museum, said.
The world marks Victory Day, the end of World War II, on May 8 and 9, and every year the Lithuanian Jewish Community has honored the veterans and the fallen. This year Victory Day coincided with Israel’s national holidays to honor fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorism as well as the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This year Israeli veterans also attended the LJC ceremony.
As in prior years, veterans were singled out and congratulated and thanked, including this year Fania Brancovskaja, Riva Špiz, Tatjana Archipova Efros, Borisas Berinas and Aleksandras Asovsky.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted veterans as did executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, himself a military veteran. Žana Skudovičienė moderated the ceremony.
Fourteen participants from ages 18 to over 55 competed Sunday in the best Jewish woman contest Israelit de Lita in Vilnius. Categories included cooking, talents and knowledge.
Contest organizer Larisa Vyšniauskienė explained feminine beauty fades over time, but spiritual beauty remains, and that was the basis for this competition.
The participants earlier attended lessons for several months on Jewish history, cuisine, cosmetics, fashion and the woman’s role in the Jewish family.
The Fayerlakh group provided music and dance for the event. Arkadijus Vinokuras and Božena Sokolinska were the MCs.
And the winners were:
The Lithuanian Jewish Community ushered out 2018 with a concert Monday called Heart to Heart with Markas Volynskis and Marija Drukshna on vocals, Jurijus Sukhanovas on piano and Boris Kirzner on violin.
Shmuel Yatom, the cantor at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, opened the concert by reminding the audience the synagogue is celebrating its 115th anniversary currently. His words and songs, some solo, some with Markas Volynskis, created a warm and comfortable atmosphere in the hall. Well-known Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Judita Leitaitė MCed the concert and sang to a great response from the audience. Her warm and funny introductions of the other performers also contributed to the entertainment. Musical works by Kern, Pakhmutov, Dunayevsky and Olshanetsky, classical Russian favorites and old-time Jewish favorites elicited much applause.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host the concert Heart to Hear at 6:00 P.M. on December 17. The concert is free and will include singers Marija Dushkina and Mark Volynski, pianist Jurijus Suchanovas, Boris Kirzner on violin and an appearance by the soloist Judita Leitaitė. Shmuel Yatom, the cantor at the Choral Synagogue, will be the guest of honor. The program includes works by Kern, Pakhmutov and Dunayevsky as well as popular classic Jewish and Russian tunes.
The Fayerlakh song and dance ensemble announces the finale of the Israelit de Lita Best Jewish Woman contest 2018/5778 and music show to be held at 4:00 P.M. on December 23 at the Vilnius House of Polish Culture, Naugarduko street no. 76, Vilnius. For ticket information, contact the Lithuanian Jewish Community at +370 5 261 3003 or Valerija Jurevičiūtė at +370 646 84 823.
Our 30th birthday Hanukkah celebration was just as fun as it was 30 years ago, and almost the same number of people attended, around 400. Although times have changed, there’s a new generation and we have lost many of those who attended in 1988, we remember them, say a good word about them and take joy in the present, in the fact that Community members of all ages came to celebrate, including children and young families from the regional communities.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed celebrants. Social programs department director Žana Skudovičienė spoke about the first post-war communal Hanukkah celebration on December 4, 1988, held at the Dainava restaurant in central Vilnius. Then as now, Yiddish was spoken and sung, and the Fayerlakh ensemble performed, while 30 years ago the event was organized by the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association.
This year we celebrated at the Radisson Blu Lietuva hotel in Vilnius. The Israeli klezmer band Gefilte Drive and saxophonist Juozas Kuraitis performed and delighted the audience with their concerts.
Maša Grodnikienė recalled for us the first Hanukkah celebration by the constituent Lithuanian Jewish Community back in 1988.
Lithuanian Jews who survived World War II celebrated Hanukkah quietly at home. In 1987 the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association formed and Emanuelis Zingeris became chairman.
On December 4, 1988, Lithuanian Jews came together and collected funds for a shared Hanukkah celebration. This was a memorable holiday in Vilnius, a big event with a beautiful group of people at the Dainava restaurant. Yiddish was spoken and sung. The cultural events group of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association drafted the program and organized the event. The Fayerlakh Jewish ensemble with directors Griša Kravecas and Ana Kravec performed, as did the ethnographic ensemble conducted by Amos Traub and the Kaunas Jewish stage ensemble. Chaimas Gurvičius directed the concert. About 370 people attended. Chairman of the board of the Lithuanian Cultural Fund Česlovas Kudaba greeted the audience, and deputy chairman Tarvydas also took part. This was a grand Hanukkah evening celebration with a concert and speeches.
Remember what that time was like in Lithuania–the independence movement Sąjūdis had formed and Lithuanian Jews from different cities and towns came together and were part of Sąjūdis. Everyone was exhilarated, excited, happy that finally with the national rebirth of Lithuania the Jews of Lithuania could celebrate together that great holiday of the triumph of the spirit, Hanukkah. The majority sought to attend, there weren’t enough places and it was impossible to get in. At that time there were 17,000 Jews living in Lithuania.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community held a picnic/barbecue to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel in Vilnius April 29. Participants sang the Israeli national anthem in the warm spring air. Vocalists from the Fayerlakh ensemble sang Jewish songs and celebrants began to dance spontaneously throughout the event. It was an all-ages, family affair with grandparents, parents and children attending. While some barbecued, others set the tables and served, and the younger children swung on swings, played and ran around.
A Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community last year took first place in an annual Lithuanian calendar contest October 20.
The 28th annual Laurynas Ivinskis Prize ceremony was held in Kuršėnai, Lithuania with live Lithuanian folk music and a performance by the Fayerlakh ensemble.
The theme of the LJC calendar for 5777 was Lithuanian rescuers of Jews. It featured interwar president Kazys Grinius and wife Kristina on the cover, both Righteous Gentiles. Each month featured more than one story of rescue.
Laurynas Ivinskis (1810-1881) was a 19th century calendar maker whose agricultural calendars were also more text than calendar, and were for a period of time forbidden by Russian authorities because they were written in Lithuanian using the Latin rather than Cyrillic alphabet. His almanachs included stories and parables in pre-standard Lithuanian.
A week has passed during which Lithuanian remembered her shtetlakh. The fourteenth celebration of the annual European Day of Jewish Culture has taken place in Lithuania, this year with the theme “Diaspora and Heritage: The Shtetlakh.” Lithuanian towns which used to be called shtetlakh hosted events, tours of surviving old towns and Jewish residential sections, interesting talks on the former life of Litvaks there. The word shtetl was heard much in Lithuania after the Holocaust, with the loss of the former Litvak world and the Yiddish language.
This year the European Day of Jewish Culture was observed in more than 20 towns and cities, including Alytus, Jurbarkas, from Kaunas to Žasliai and Žiežmariai, Kelmė, Klaipėda, Kretinga, Molėtai, Palanga, Pakruojis, Pandėlys, Pasvalys, Pikeliai, Šiauliai, Šilalė, Jonava, Joniškis, Kupiškis, Darbėnai, Šeduva, Švėkšna, Ukmergė, Zarasai and Želva.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks all the participating cities and towns for remembering the shtetlakh and the Jews who lived, traded, created and built there. They deserve to be remembered. Many cities and towns held lectures, conferences, exhibits, concerts and film screenings this year.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky also thanks the organizers of the events at the Jewish Community for their interesting program, and thanks the participants and speakers who spoke about the remaining traces of the shtetlakh in Lithuania. We thank Fania Brancovskaja, Vytautas Toleikis, Sandra Petrukonytė, Ilona Šedienė, Rimantas Vanagas and Antanas Žilinskas not just for their interesting presentations, but also for their own work, books and research on Jewish history, contributing to making the shtetlakh part of the heart of our country, without which Lithuania is impossible to imagine.
Thank you also to the Bagel Shop Café for the tasty Jewish dishes, the Sabbath ceramics exhibit and the holiday atmosphere, and to the Fayerlakh ensemble for the wonderful concert!
Our sincere thanks to everyone.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites the public to attend an event dedicated to the Jewish shtetls of Lithuania to commemorate and remember together this period of Lithuanian history, interesting and dear to us but cut short by the Holocaust and which has become a subject of academic interest and heritage protection.
The theme of this year’s European Day of Jewish Culture on September 3 as confirmed by the Cultural Heritage Department to the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture is “The Diaspora and Heritage: The Shtetl.” This is an intentional, mature and topical choice for a country where the life of the largest ethnic and confessional minority, of the Jews, thrived namely in the Lithuanian shtetlakh until 1941.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host an event called “Shtetlakh of Lithuania” on the third floor of the community building at Pylimo street no. 4 on September 3 to celebrate the European Day of Jewish Culture in 2017.
The event will kick off with a bagel breakfast and a presentation and tasting of authentic Jewish recipes at the Bagel Shop Café on the first floor at 9:00 A.M. Following that everyone is invited to attend a short Yiddish language lesson. A brunch awaits the graduates at the Bagel Shop Café. At 2:00 P.M. guest speakers will begin delivering free public lectures on the shtetlakh of Aniksht (Anykščiai), Eishishyok (Eišiškės), Sheduva (Šeduva) and Vilkovishk (Vilkaviškis) and what remains of them. A challa-baking lesson and presentation of the Bagel Shop Café’s new ceramics collection begins at 4:00 P.M. The Jewish song and dance ensemble Fayerlakh will perform a concert at 6:00 P.M.
The Rakija Klezmer Orkestar will also perform a concert at 3:00 P.M. in the Šnipiškės neighborhood of Vilnius.
More information available here.
“The reality in Lithuania is that If you want to learn more about the material and immaterial cultural heritage of a given town in Lithuanian (including the architectural features and aura of buildings, demographic changes and consequent changes in the structure of the town, changes in political structure and the ensuing canonization of ideologized development patterns), you will, unavoidably, run into the word ‘shtetl.’ You will find no better opportunity to understand what this is and to discover the shtetl in the features of buildings still standing in the towns than the events for the European Day of Jewish Culture on September 3,” director of the Cultural Heritage Department Diana Varnaitė said.
The word shtetl is an old Yiddish diminutive for shtot, city, meaning town. The towns of Lithuania where Jews comprised half or the majority of the population, characterized by Litvak energy and the bustle of commercial activity, are often called shtetlakh, the plural of shtetl. It’s thought shtetls evolved into their modern form in the 18th century. Malat, Kupeshok, Zosle, Olkenik, Svintsyan, Vilkomir, Gruzd, Eishyshok, Utyan–these are just a few of the surviving Lithuanian towns.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalls her parents’ shtetl:
“We didn’t travel to my grandparents’ village in the summer. We didn’t have any ebcause they were murdered in the Holocaust, or had moved from their shtetlakh to Vilnius or Kaunas because they could no longer live there without their loved ones and friends lying in the pits together with the bodies and souls of the other unfortunates.
“The Kuklianskys who survived, however, my father, my uncle who hid in trenches from the Nazis near the shtetl of Sventiyansk, were rescued by local village people, but for their entire lives longed for their home on the banks of the Ančia River in Veisiejai, Lithuania. There was no place happier or more beautiful than their native shtetl. Perhaps because their mother hadn’t been murdered yet.
“The eyes of my mother, who was born in Keydan (Kėdainiai) and spent her childhood in Shavl (Šiauliai), her eyes used to just shine when she remembered how they used to go to the ‘spa town’ of Pagelava near Shavl in horse-drawn cart.
“The shtetls… are no more. Now there are cities and towns, but they have no rabbis, no yeshivas, synagogues or Jews… all that remains is love for the place of one’s birth, but love is stronger than hate. The memories remain, too, and without them we wouldn’t be commemorating the shtetls and their inhabitants.”
Those who seek to find the traces of the lost and concealed presence of the Jews only have to find their way to the center of a Lithuanian town, to the old town, where the red-brick buildings still stand. All of the old towns of the small towns were built by Jews. The same goes for the former synagogues, schools, pharmacies and hospitals.
Cultural heritage experts tell us market day and the Sabbath were the main events of the week in the Lithuanian towns. Both were observed. After the Holocaust the shtetlakh were empty, the Jewish homes stood empty even if they still contained family heirlooms and the items acquired over lifetimes. Non-Jewish neighbors often moved into these houses and took over the property. Now no one uses the word štetlas in Lithuanian, it sounds exotic and needs to be translated to miestelis.