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!
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.
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.
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.
Members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community traditionally gather in the Sukkot tent–the sukka–to talk and eat. The happy holiday lasts seven days.
Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles or tents) is one of three pilgrim holidays mentioned in the Bible as shalosh regalim. In earlier times it was an agricultural holiday to give thanks for the harvest. The sukka is a tent, the only home Jews knew for the 40 years they wandered the desert after the exodus from Egypt. As a temporary shelter, the sukka also reminds us existence is fragile, and Sukkot is a time when we should appreciate our home and body.
The sukka is a necessary part of the holiday of Sukkot and needs to be built. Jews are supposed to sit in the booth and eat and celebrate. It is celebrated for seven days in Israel. There, where it’s usually warm, people even sleep in the make-shift dwellings and children especially enjoy the holiday. The dwelling place is decorated on the eve of the holiday and it is forbidden to work on the first day of the holiday.
Four species of plant are required and are placed together on a platter or plate and waved around. This is written in the Bible. The species are the fruit of the citron tree, palm fronds, myrtle fronds and willow branches. On the seventh day of Sukkot Jews circle seven times in synagogue reciting the prayer used on that day.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Ilan and Dubi Clubs invite children to a fun gathering at 1:00 P.M. on October 13 called “From Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot.” We’ll “dwell” in the Sukkot booth and have traditional Jewish snacks and treats. Lego engineering teachers will be on hand for building and playing. Come to the Ilan Club at the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Registration is required, so call 8 601 46656 or send an email to email@example.com
The tenth day of the Jewish New Year is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is the only day of the year when the Torah calls upon the person to do nothing at all except reflect upon his actions and thoughts. Contrition over one’s sins.
The prayer Kol Nidrei rings out, a symbol of the entire holiday. It is sung loudly three times. Its motif is wonderful, originating in mediaeval Spain, and is beloved by world-renowned symphony orchestras.
Prayers of remembrance for dead parents are also read during Yom Kuppur. Today we add two more parts: for Holocaust victims and for the soldiers who have fallen defending the State of Israel.
Special significance attaches to the final prayer, which is read at evening twilight. This is the time when forgiveness is sought from the Most High. The plea is either accepted or rejected.
The blowing of the shofar horn concludes the Yom Kippur rituals. The traditional Jewish wish is heard: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Everyone wishes every other “gmar khatima tova,” Hebrew for wishing someone a conclusive entry in the Book of Life.
Simas Levinas, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community
Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community celebrated the advent of the new Jewish year 5780 with a dinner and ceremony. Community chairman Naum Gleizer welcomed participants and wished everyone a good, sweet and healthy coming year. Frida Šteinienė began the celebration by lighting candles and saying a prayer. She reminded participants of the significance and traditions of the holiday.
Traditional foods graced the dinner table, including challa, apples with honey, pomegranates, gefilte fish, chicken liver and chopped herring. Community housewives provided traditional Jewish sweets such as teigalakh, imberlakh and apple pie.
Live Jewish song and dance provided by Vadim Kamrazer enlivened the celebration and the children Sofija, Karina and Natanas also sang.
Young and old appeared to have a great time. Animator and children’s event organizer Simona provided a special program for the kids. Every family received the new 5780 Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
Nerijus Brazauskas, PhD, has written a history of the destruction of the old Jewish cemetery in the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai up to 2016. The newspaper Šiaulių kraštas has published the study in Lithuanian on their website. He attempts to determine whether the former cemetery, which is state-protected heritage site, should be protected by the Šiauliai Jewish Community or whether it is a matter for the local municipal administration. He details the partial destruction of the cemetery, along with the complete destruction of the Lutheran cemetery, in the 1964-1965 period by the Soviet authorities and calls it an attempt to erase Jews from public memory. He concludes it should be restored and maintained as a sacred site of memory and says both institutional and civic efforts could be harnessed to that purpose.
Full paper in Lithuanian here.
Note: On October 3 Irena Gečienė passed away. The Lithuanian Jewish Community expresses its condolences to her daughter Jurgita and brother Eduardas.
Before the tragic losses of World War II, Joniškis in northern Lithuania was a very Jewish town known as the shtetl of Yanishok with a vibrant Jewish community. Nothing was left after the Holocaust which only a few Jews survived here, as was the case throughout Lithuania. Now only the two restored synagogues and the only living Jew recall that Yanishok.
They Donned White Armbands and Went to Shoot Jews
Irena Gečienė remembers November 27, 1944, when the war hadn’t ended yet, in the town of Žagarė.