While the Lithuanian Jewish Community is never empty and devoid of activity, over the last few days the halls, corridors and every nook and corner have seen a flood of seventh graders from the Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium preparing for their bat mitzvah and bar mitzvah ceremonies. Besides reading portions from the Torah, their classmates have been planning a program of events for several months now, and are preparing for the ceremonies down to the last detail. Bar and bat mitzvahs are coming-of-age rituals ushering Jewish young people into adulthood. In this case Rabbi Nathan Alfred from the United States is presiding over the ceremony. The young people have to demonstrate in public their ability to read from the Torah in the original language to show they are ready to engage in religious and public life. The tradition has grown up of turning the ceremony into a kind of party with gifts, the utterance of good wishes and applause. The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proud to welcome the next generation into the community and adulthood.
Spiritual Leader of Lithuanian Haredim Dies at 100
Netanyahu mourns the loss of “a great scholar and leader” ahead of what is expected to be one of Israel’s largest funerals ever.
Israeli spiritual leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein died Tuesday at the age of 100 in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak.
He was the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where a funeral procession was scheduled to depart in the afternoon. Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate.
Edelstein became the leader of the Lithuanian stream of Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism following the passing of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Brak on March 18, 2022. He was also president of the Council of Yeshivas, an organization that supports Lithuanian-style yeshivas in Eastern Europe, and the president of the Council of Torah Elders of the Ashkenazi haredi political party Degel HaTorah.
Jewish Orphanage Commemorated in Kaunas
A commemorative plaque was unveiled on an important Jewish site in Kaunas from the period before and between the two world wars. The former orphanage building is located at the intersection of Gruodis and Smolensk streets in Lithuania’s second city which served as the provisional capital in interwar Lithuania.
The orphanage was for boys aged 7 to 18 who were left parentless or found themselves in dire circumstances. The orphanage opened in 1905 as part of a network of Jewish orphan houses. It was called Jewish Sirot House, but was better known as the Yitzhak Spector Orphanage, being tied in with the synagogue as an institution of education, primary education for the youngsters and evening classes for older people.
The commemorative plaque was the fruitt of efforts by the Benayahu and Blumenthal families in Israel to commemorate this historical institution. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, representatives from the Israeli embassy to Lithuania and from the city of Kaunas and guest from overseas. Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yaatom performed a prayer.
Community Celebrates Shavuot
The Lithuanian Jewish Community held three different events to celebrate Shavuot or Shavuos, the Feast of Weeks, last Sunday. At the riverside north of Vilnius parents and children played games and the children learned how to barbecue and roast marshmallows, and sampled some more traditional dishes. At the same time Julija Potašnik taught Israeli dance at Cvirka Park across the street from the Community. Later more than a 100 people attended a concert performed by Jewish song and dance ensemble Fayerlakh featuring the Community’s younger singers and dances. The concert was followed by holiday food and drink.
Vilnius, Vilne, Wilno: One City, Many Stories
Professor Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, a specialist in art and visual representation in Lithuania and Eastern Europe focusing on the late 19th and 20th centuries from the Lithuanian Cultural Research Institute as well as the Vilnius Art Academy, will give a presentation called “Vilnius, Wilno, Vilne, 1918-1948: One City, Many Stories. Exhibit and Its Context” as part of the lecture series “Topical Art Research: The Newest Revelations from Lithuanian Art Research, Dedicated to the 700th Anniversary of the Founding of Vilnius” at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday, May 30, at the Lithuanian National Art Gallery in Vilnius.
“Vilnius, Wilno, Vilne, 1918-1948: One City, Many Stories” is also the name of a museum exhibit which opened in Cracow, Poland, on May 23, 2023, and will travel to Lithuania and go on public display on November 9 at the the Lithuanian National Art Gallery in Vilnius.
Jankevičiūtė plans to discuss in her presentation the motivations which led to the creation of the exhibit, its structure, content and possible significance for Lithuanian and Polish art culture, especially the visual arts. She says the period chosen for her discussion was a time of true cultural ferment, that the city then on the borderlands was reminiscent of Lvov and Trieste for its multicultural identity and dynamism, with increasing and decreasing shifts in its population. Despite its interesting and unique identity, Vilnius hasn’t found a place on the art culture map of Poland or Europe, and only closed groups of people in Lithuania and Poland are interested in this period in the city, she claims. Usually they are people with a personal connection to the city.
The professor calls this exhibit the first attempt to integrate the art of Vilnius in the period between the two world wars into the wider history of the region’s culture and to provide a credible visual reconstruction of Vilnius art and its artistic life. She says the exhibit integrates the work of artists from the Jewish community.
News from the Panevėžys Jewish Community
Last week Baruh Yorex from the city of Kiryat Ono in Israel visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community. He is a high-ranking officer in the reserves of the Israeli army. He has Litvak roots and grandmother and grandfather named Jurotewski came from Poland.
A big fan of Tel Aviv’s Maccabi, Yorex used to play for the basketball team. Now he’s cheering on his three sons on the team, and was in Kaunas for the Euroleague championship last week.
He met with Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and showed great interest in the Litvak legacy. While looking at period photographs in the Community’s archives, he was thrilled to learn almost every Lithuanian city and town had its own Makabi association before the Holocaust, with local tennis, soccer, gymnastics and basketball teams, as well as other kinds of athletics teams. Yorex was also delighted to see how active the Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club is today, with members participating at international sporting events.
Israeli Journos Fail to Fight Latvian, Lithuanian Holocaust Distortion
Photo: Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference with then-Latvian prime minister Maris Kucinskis in 2018. Photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters.
Israel Has Failed to Fight Latvia, Lithuania’s Holocaust Distortion
A number of acclaimed films have shone a spotlight on the Holocaust in the Baltics. But Latvia and Lithuania have responded with Holocaust distortion.
by Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2023
During the past half year, three new documentary films devoted to the Holocaust in the Baltics, and especially in Lithuania, have been screened in numerous venues all over the world, except in Lithuania and Latvia, which are the subjects of these films.
One, titled When Did the Holocaust Begin, was produced by the BBC and focuses on the use of new forensic archeological technology to discover unknown mass graves of Holocaust victims in western Lithuania, where indeed the systematic mass murder of European Jewry began following the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, on June 22, 1941.
Sunday Spent Cleaning Up Jewish Cemetery
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Hadas Wittenbergu Silverstein and her family and US ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist spent last Sunday cleaning up the old Jewish cemetery in Paberžė, which is located about 20 kilometers north of Vilnius. They collected garbage, raked up leaves, cleaned off lichen and washed headstones. Kukliansky thanked the volunteers as well as Paberžė alderwoman Agata Puncevičienė who has worked hard to commemorate those buried there. There are over 260 historical Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, but most of them are in ruins, neglected and full of garbage. The Jews of Paberžė along with Jewish communities across Lithuania were murdered by Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators during the Holocaust. Chairwoman Kukliansky said we can all do something to honor their memories.
Happy Birthday to Fania Brancovskaja
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja at home to personally give the Community’s greetings on two special occasions: Fania’s birthday on May 22 and Victory Day, marking the end of the Holocaust in Europe. Fania Brancovskaja was a Jewish partisan who fought the Nazis in Lithuania. Since the end of the Holocaust Fania has devoted her life to keeping the memory of the victims alive and teaching the new generations about what happened. Mazl tov. Bis 120!
Pages from Music History: Anna Varshavski
Sarah Matz took the married name Anna Varshavski aka Anna Lvovna Warsaw. She was a singer and a philanthropist. She was born in Vilnius in December of 1896 when it was part of the Russian Empire. Her parents Jehuda and Fradel Matz owned a Jewish publishing house. She began studies at the Berlin Conservatory in 1920. In 1928 she set up an amateur choir in Kaunas which grew in reputation and size and eventually included around 50 members, coming to be known as the Jewel of Joel Engel Choir. They performed throughout Lithuania and on state radio. The choir disbanded in 1936. Varshavski also contributed to setting up the New Jewish Theater in Vilnius. She and her family were put in the Kaunas ghetto in 1941, and she was murdered at the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia in 1944.
|Tsum Hemerl (Avrom Reisen – Avraham Moshe Bernstein)||Anna Varshavski & “Engel-Chor”||Columbia DMX 301 (WJLX 8)|
Jewish Scouts Attend Vilnius Regional Jamboree
Jewish scouts under scout leader Adomas Kofmanas joined more than 500 scouts from throughout the Vilnius region for a two-day jamboree over the weekend on the shore of Laumenas Lake. They learned rhetoric in debates and tried out different arts, crafts and skills including making jewelry, leatherwork and painting in acrylic. The paintings were mainly of the cat which has become the symbol of Vilnius’s Užupis neighborhood and were hung up in a sort of ad hoc art gallery/alley in the forest. They played capture the flag and sang around the campfire in the evening. The ever-growing number of Jewish scouts celebrated the Sabbath with prayer. Adomas Kofmanas’s group meets regularly at 3:00 P.M. on Sundays and young people who might be interested are encouraged to attend. For more information, write an email to email@example.com.
What Do You Know about Litvak Writers?
Arakdijus Vinokuras’s monthly quiz asks that question at the next quiz scheduled for 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 21 at the Bagel Shop Café in Vilnius. This quiz will be dedicated to the three Litvak writers Icchokas Meras and the recently deceased Grigoriy Kanovitch and Markas Zingeris, may they rest in peace. It will be streamed on facebook as well.
Lithuania’s Self-Generated Problem
Photo: Poster honoring Kazys Skirpa. Translation: “A Nation which respects itself should know its heroes: Diplomat Colonel Kazys Skirpa First volunteer who raised the flag of Lithuania on Gediminas Tower on January 1, 1919, the head of the Lithuanian Activist Front, organizer of the June 1941 uprising. The Nation knows its heroes!”
Hate against minorities is supposedly illegal in Lithuania. Lithuanian MP Žemaitaitis spewed obscene tropes against Jews which did not make sense in the 1200s, nor in 1941, and not now, either. In subsequent posts, Žemaitaitis called for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Lithuania.
The Austrian, German, American and Israeli ambassadors issued statements condemning Žemaitaitis, as did the prime minister of Lithuania. The Lithuanian Jewish Community has requested Žemaitaitis be referred to the public prosecutor for hate crimes charges.
Superficially, the case is straightforward. The crimes are obvious, the law is clear, there is no question of his guilt. Hate is simply hate. But, the Government of Lithuania has a problem.
We wish a very happy birthday to Sergejus Kanovičius. Mazl tov. Bis 120!
Lithuanian MP Denounces Israel for Razing Palestinian School EU Financed
Lithuanian MP Remigijus Žemaitaitis, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party formed of two rival liberal parties to contest municipal elections in Vilnius in 2014, denounced Israel’s destruction of a school in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The US, Israeli and German ambassadors called for him to apologize for the remarks, first made on facebook on Monday, May 8, repeated in parliament Tuesday, the same day Israel started bombing the Gaza Strip in what it calls Operation Shield and Arrow. Despite the demands of the ambassadors and his fellow MPs, Žemaitaitis said he won’t apologize.
On Tuesday he told parliament assembled: “I want to emphasize this school was fully financed by the European Union, by Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain and the other countries. … And if we believe that it’s alright to allow in the 21st century some country to blow up or destroy these kinds of sites of another country, then ask yourselves, what sort of moral and political values do you live by today? Mine are much higher than you think.”