Learning

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.

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.

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.

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

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

15min.lt

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.

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.

Arkadijus Vinokuras: Lithuania Doesn’t Need Tainted Heroes

My position is very clear: heroism doesn’t remove responsibility for committing crimes against humanity. On the contrary, this discredits the status of hero.

In this case I’m talking about post-war partisan Jonas Noreika. Several side questions, but they’re to the point: was Christianity abolished during the June uprising in Lithuania in 1941? It was not. Therefore the Ten Commandments had not been rescinded. Do those cleaning their uniforms still remember “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s?” Apparently not. Is there direct evidence Jonas Noreika took part in a mass murder of Jews? No. But there is oral testimony he did. So what’s the problem?

Mikveh Drawings from 1904 Discovered


Geršonas Taicas, left, hands mikveh documents to Jon Seligman, right, at the Great Synagogue archaeological dig in Vilnius, July 24, 2018.

Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas has discovered architectural drawings made in 1904 and approved in 1908 for the mikveh (ritual bath) complex once located next to the Great Synagogue in Vilnius. The mikveh complex has been the subject of archaeological digs since 2011. Taicas personally brought the old architectural plans to Jon Seligman at the dig. Seligman is one of the leaders of the archaeological team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. He said he hadn’t known of the existence of these drawings and was very pleased and surprised.

Seligman said the drawing might have been drafted when the Vilnius Jewish community received a grant of $50,000 from the Joint Distribution Committee in New York for building a mikveh for impoverished Jews of Vilnius. The drawings from 1904 showed either what the mikveh should look like, or how it should be modified, he reasoned, commenting the architectural plan approved in 1908 showed the mikveh had electricity, a good stone floor, new rafters and supports and a metal roof. Seligmas said there is a good description in Yiddish from 1930 describing the interior of the mikveh.

According to the architectural drawings, the two-storey mikveh building was 70 meters long and 12 meters wide.

Claude Lanzmann Has Gone

Professor habil. Dr. Markas Petuchauskas, an inmate of the Vilnius ghetto who escaped dramatically and went into hiding, saw every play staged at the Vilnius ghetto theater. While organizing the International Art Days to Commemorate the Vilnius Ghetto Theater event, Dr. Petuchauskas invited Claude Lanzmann to travel to Lithuania and attend. The director agreed and, arriving in April of 1997, presented his film Shoah. This was the Lithuanian premiere of Lanzmann’s film, in the Cinema Program of Art Days. It was Lanzmann’s first and only trip to Vilnius, last only a few days during which he spoke directly with Lithuanian people and gave interviews. We present Professor Petuchauskas’s recollections:

Claude Lanzmann in Lithuania

The news struck like lightning. Claude Lanzmann has gone. The memory of his trip to Vilnius rose up inside me. This is how it was.

One of the first large international art projects organized by the Lithuanian Jewish Culture Club which I founded and directed was International Art Days in 1997, dedicated to commemorating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Vilnius Ghetto Theater.

I invited Israeli writer Joshua Sobol, well known for his play Ghetto (about the Vilnius ghetto) and who wrote he had never been to Lithuania, to take part in the International Art Days event. Coming to Lithuania for the first time at my invitation, he had the chance to get up on the stage of the theater about which he had written and to tell how he created his play.

The opening ceremony for the Days, dedicated to him, was also held in the former ghetto theater hall.

Famous film director Claude Lanzmann from France, the creator of the globally acclaimed film Shoah, got up on the stage as well. I invited him along with French director Brigite Jaque, who was already known in Vilnius and an acquaintance of mine. It was pleasant to hear Lanzmann, a man who generally avoids lavishing much praise, speak such warm words about my work in holding the Days and about their importance for recalling notable pages in the history of the Shoah.

My Grandfather Wasn’t a Nazi-Fighting War Hero, He Was a Brutal Collaborator


Jonas Noreika. Photo: personal collection of Silvia Foti

A deathbed promise led to me discovering his complicity in the Holocaust, and what it means beyond my family

by Silvia Foti, July 14, 2018

Eighteen years ago, my dying mother asked me to continue working on a book about her father, Jonas Noreika, a famous Lithuanian World War II hero who fought the Communists. Once an opera singer, my mother had passionately devoted herself to this mission and had even gotten a PhD in literature to improve her literary skills. As a journalist, I agreed. I had no idea I was embarking on a project that would lead to a personal crisis, Holocaust denial and an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government.

Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood–the neighborhood that had the largest population of Lithuanians outside the homeland–I’d heard about how my grandfather died a martyr for the cause of Lithuania’s freedom at the hands of the KGB when he was just 37 years old. According to the family account, he led an uprising against the Communists and won our country back from them, only to have it snatched by the Germans. He became chairman of the northwestern part of the country during the German occupation. According to family lore, he had fought the Nazis and then been sent to a concentration camp in retaliation. He escaped that camp and returned to Vilnius to start a new rebellion against the Communists, had been caught, taken to the KGB prison and tortured. I’d heard how he was the lawyer who had led the defense for 11 rebels before the KGB tribunal, was found guilty and had been executed. His nom de guerre was General Storm. It all seemed so romantic to me.

That is the book I started to write. My mother had collected a trove of material that included 3,000 pages of KGB transcripts; 77 letters to my grandmother; a fairytale to my mother written from the Stutthof concentration camp; letters from family members about his childhood; and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. A few months into the project, I visited my dying grandmother, who lived a few blocks away. She asked me not to write the book about her husband. “Just let history lie,” she whispered. I was stunned. “But I promised mom,” I said. She rolled over to face the wall. I didn’t take her request seriously; I thought she was simply giving me a pass because she knew how taxing the project was for my mother.

Full text here.

Congratulations to Sholem Aleichem Graduating Class

The graduation ceremony at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium this week was filled with congratulations, warm wishes, music and jokes. There were sad moments when graduates bid farewell to their beloved school, friends and teachers as they set out on their own. The ceremony seemed to affect everyone–students, teachers and parents–who shed tears of joy and traded happy smiles.

This year the graduating class consisted of 18 young men and women. Principal Miša Jakobas passed out the diplomas. The head of one of the best schools in Vilnius, Jakobas said all the graduates were well-prepared for their exams and passed them all.

“The graduation ceremony is an opportunity to take pride: our graduate Daniela Mindelevič got the three highest scores, 100 points each! Three hundred is a great achievement!” Jakobas noted. She received a letter of commendation at the ceremony for her excellent work from Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, and she will take part in a national ceremony later in July to honor top graduates held by Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis. Graduate Arina Kac also scored high with two perfect scores of 100 each.

Five graduates passed the English language test with perfect scores of 100. Six also scored perfectly on the Russian test. Thirteen graduates received perfect scores on the state Lithuanian language test. Graduates also scored high in math. “Of course this makes us happy, because these kinds of achievements are not just the result of work by students and their parents, but also the great work of our teachers,” principal Jakobas said.

Yad Ruth Reps Visit Kaunas

Yad Ruth representatives Barbara and Dieter Maier of Hamburg visited Lithuania in June. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and Yad Ruth began working together back in 1994. Members of the organization are Israeli patriots, enthusiastically support Jewish culture and history and study Hebrew and sacred texts.

The idea to start Yad Ruth began in 1980 from personal meetings with Holocaust survivors. The association was formed in 1994, allowing the organization to expand financial prospects and other activities. Yad Ruth means both “Ruth’s hand” and “Ruth in memoriam” in Hebrew, and both phrases fit the organizations activities and goals which are aimed especially at Holocaust survivors and Jews in hard times. Members say as Germans of the post-war generation they feel a special responsibility for the welfare of Jews and for the state of Israel. One of their main tasks is fighting anti-Semitism in Germany and educating the public.

Yad Ruth is active in Germany, Israel, Estonia, Ethiopia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova.

Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania, 2018

Attorney and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania”:

I am truly glad the Lithuanian Jewish Community was given the opportunity to implement the EVZ project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania.” Appreciating the great importance and appropriateness of inter-institutional cooperation, the Community carried out the project with experienced and trusted partners: the Roma Social Center, the Lithuanian Human Rights Center, the Women’s Information Center and a specially formed group of experts.

Speaking of expressions of anti-Semitism in Lithuania, the positive changes are obvious. Celebrating 30 years since the restoration of our organization, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is experiencing a real, contemporary cultural renaissance. Our organization is stronger than it was, and interest in Jewish topics in Lithuania is greater than it has been ever. The Community has contributed at least partially, within our powers, to this positive breakthrough. Since 2013 we have been carrying out the Bagel Shop tolerance campaign which to the present has attracted more than 7,000 friends and followers on social media. The year 2017 also saw several important achievements in the field of human rights and the commemoration of historical truth: a jubilee March of the Living at the Ponar Jewish mass murder site, Lithuania’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, and the LJC taking the leadership position in the international memory campaign We Remember, which culminated in a commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry with high state officials, members of the LJC and various public figures. In February of 2018 the Community published our Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary. This publication, an authentic primary source on the history of the Holocaust, attracted great public interest, and we hope it will be accepted as an aid to teaching the Holocaust in the nation’s public schools and educational institutions.

Despite the evolving discussion by the public and the political class regarding these important issues, the fight against discrimination continues. The history of Lithuanian Jews, spanning 700 years, is still not integrated appropriately in the Lithuanian educational system, the Lithuanian experience of the Soviet occupation is often equated with the Holocaust and the internet is full of expressions of hate directed against Jews as well as Romani.

I am convinced the successful implementation of this project will contribute significantly to the further expansion of human rights and the fight against anti-Semitism and Romophobia, and to encouraging dialogue between distinct communities who share similar problems and institutions in the state and non-governmental sectors.

Recommendations 2018