Learning

Litvaks, Jews in Lithuania and Anti-Semitism: Lithuania’s Jews Persevere

Litvaks, Jews in Lithuania and Anti-Semitism: Lithuania’s Jews Persevere

You don’t have to be born in Lithuania to call yourself a Litvak. There were many years in which Lithuania’s borders kept changing, so that many Jews born in any of Lithuania’s neighboring countries or in any of the countries that had ruled or occupied Lithuania, consider themselves to be Litvaks – especially if they can also speak Yiddish.

At meetings in Vilnius this past November, the first question put to the journalist from Jerusalem Post by both Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and Fania Brancovskaja, Vilna’s last Holocaust survivor [sic], was “Do you speak Yiddish?” The interview with Brancovskaja, 96, was entirely in Yiddish, even though she is fluent in a half-dozen languages, including English. Kukliansky is also multilingual and even though the interview with her was conducted in English, every now and again, when she wanted to emphasize a point, she reverted to Yiddish.

Full story here.

Our Jewish Musicians: A Documentary Film by Saulius Sondeckis

Our Jewish Musicians: A Documentary Film by Saulius Sondeckis

The film “Mūsiškiai žydai muzikai” ([Our Jewish Musicians], 2017) by Saulius Sondeckis, Jr., documents the late world-famous conductor Saulius Sondeckis. It will be shown on Lithuanian public television’s LRT PLIUS channel at 9:45 P.M. on January 24.

In the film professor Sondeckis talks about Litvak musicians who contributed so much to the education of Lithuanian musicians, the maturity of the artistic community and the global music history. The film includes interviews with Sondeckis’s colleagues and students.

The 115-minute documentary employs documentary and visual material from archives, museums and private collections in Israel, the USA, Russia and Lithuania. It features 26 Litvak musicians from the first half of the 20th century to the present and contains 882 photographs and excerpts from 50 works by 33 composers.

Motke Chabad’s Best Joke

Motke Chabad’s Best Joke

Motke Chabad and His Best Joke* (Jewish humor)

by Pinchos Fridberg,
[an old Jew who was born and raised in Vilnius]

<Rebe>, will there ever come a time when the words <Vilne un Yidish> [Vilne and Yiddish] will be inseparable again?”
“<Saydn nor mit Meshiekh’n in eynem> [Not unless it comes with the Messiah].”

§§§

Would you like to know what an old Jew does after a delicious and satisfying lunch?
I’ll tell you: he lies <af a sofke> [<a sofke> – diminutive of sofa] <un khapt a dreml> [and grabs a nap].

And then what?

And then he dreams that …

A few days ago I received an e-mail from motke.chabad@xxxxx.com containing an incredible proposal: the author asked me to prove to him that I really am an old Vilna Jew <an alter vilner Yid>. I wouldn’t tell you these <bobe-maise> [old wives’ tales] if not for the way he suggested proving this.

Golden Globe Winner Grateful to Litvak Ancestors

Golden Globe Winner Grateful to Litvak Ancestors

Patricia Clarkson, winner of the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress in a series, miniseries or television film in 2019 for her role as Adora Crellin in the HBO series Sharp Objects, says Lithuania is part of her, and she grew up with stories of her baba, the great-grandmother who came from Lithuania and died before she was born, according to the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper.

Born in New Orleans in 1959, Clarkson was graduated from the Yale School of Drama with an MFA.

Clarkson’s great-grandmother Sophie Bass-Berengher was born in the Kaunas guberniya in 1886. Her daughter Sophie (née Berengher) and Johnny Brechtel had daughter Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. born in New Orleans on January 17, 1936. She served as a councilwoman on the New Orleans city council and has been the honorary counsel of the Republic of Lithuania in New Orleans since late 2014. She is also Patrica Clarkson’s mother.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Aaron Klug Dead at 92

Aaron Klug Dead at 92

One of several Lithuanian Jews to have received the Nobel prize, Aaron Klug passed away November 20, 2018, at the age of 92.

Klug was born in Želva (aka Zelva, Zelvas) near the town of Ukmergė (Vilkomir) in the Vilnius region of Lithuania on August 11, 1926, to Lazar and Bella (née Silin) Klug. Lazar Klug received both a secular and Jewish religious education, and raised and sold cattle as his father did. Aaron Klug wrote he remembered nothing of his place of birth, and the family moved to Durban, South Africa, when Aaron was about two. Aaron Klug was graduated from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg with a bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry and biology. He married dancer and choreographer Liebe Bobrow in 1948. Klug received a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town where he did work on X-ray crystallography. He then went to the UK, where he received a PhD in solid state physics at the University of Cambridge in 1952. Klug then worked with X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin at Birkbeck College, University of London, exploring the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. The nucleoproteins of the virus were at that time too big for imaging with X-ray crystallography but too small to see with optical microscopes. Electron microscopes could only provide two-dimensional images, and Klug pioneered a method for making 3-D images, called crystallographic electron microscopy, for which he received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. Besides his many other contributions, he and his colleagues were responsible for mapping about one third of the human genome in the Human Genome Project. He taught at Cambridge and served as the president of Britain’s Royal Society from 1995 to 2000. He also worked with Francis Crick, who received the Nobel prize with Watson for discovering the helical structure of DNA.

Lecture Series

Roza Bielauskienė will speak about the time of the Book of Judges in Jewish history at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday, January 13, 2019, at the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

by Ona Biveinienė

Lithuanian Jews since olden times engaged in lending at interest. The charter of rights Vytautas the Great granted the Jews of Brest-Litovsk in 1388 included the right to loan money at interest, a rather new thing in the Grand Duchy at that time, along with the right to practice Judaism. According to the charter, “a Jew may accept any object brought him as collateral, no matter what the item is called, without question, except for bloodied or wet clothing and Church clothing and vessels, which he should in no way accept.”

For several centuries Jews were the main lenders, saving neighbors fallen on hard times by loaning them money, at interest, of course.

Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, provided a favorable environment for Jews living here to expand customary and create new businesses. The Jewish people, as no other, seized upon the opportunity; they attempted to restore and expand the shops, workshops and factories they had before World War I. Many courageously started new businesses and in many cases were the first in Lithuania to engage in little known or unprecedented enterprises.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Litvak Takes Lithuanian Genocide Center to Court over Noreika

Litvak Takes Lithuanian Genocide Center to Court over Noreika

War Hero or Nazi Collaborator? Family Partners with Victim’s Kin to Expose Truth

Vilnius trial will see whether Jonas Noreika was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center; his granddaughter says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews

by Robert Philpot

LONDON–Seventy years after he was shot by the Soviets, the reputation of Jonas Noreika goes on trial in Lithuania next week.

Noreika–a hero to many in the Baltic state for resisting Communist subjugation of their country–stands accused of being a Nazi collaborator complicit in the Holocaust.

The case before the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court charges the state-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania with intentionally distorting the role of Noreika in the murder of Jews.

It has been brought by Grant Gochin, a Lithuanian citizen living in the US whose relatives were among Noreika’s victims.

In an extraordinary twist, Gochin’s effort is being actively supported by Noreika’s granddaughter. Silvia Foti has spent more than two decades investigating “General Storm,” as her grandfather is known to many in his former homeland. Her conclusion is brutal: “Jonas Noreika willingly played a role in cleansing Lithuania of Jews. He did everything in his power to help the Nazis kill Jews, and nothing to stop them.”

Full story here.

Note: The trial was postponed by the court, allegedly at the Government’s request, until March 5.

Goodwill Foundation Funds for Most Significant Lithuanian Jewish Projects

A meeting of the board of the Goodwill Foundation has resolved to fund the most significant Lithuanian Jewish projects, approved spending limits for 2019 and planned the 2019 budget for administrative costs for the foundation.

One of the more interesting projects is on-going archaeological exploration of the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius. There is also a project to commemorate the Jurbarkas synagogue with a statue by the sculptor Dovydas Zundelovičius. The foundation will also remember conductor, teacher and professor Saulius Sondeckis with the publication of a monograph.

The Goodwill Foundation board also addressed the issue of ownership of the former Tarbut gymnasium building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius, the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Full text here.

Thank You

Thank You

The Lithuanian musicians support fund and association Atgaiva held a concert at the Church of Sts. John January 7, 2019, and the audience filled the church.

Excellent and well-known musicians performed: the trio Musica Camerata Baltica with Leonidas Melnikas, Boris Traub and Valentinas Kaplūnas, and solo vocalist Judita Leitaitė.

The wonderful acoustics of the church, the high level of performers and the program of works selected for the concert all cast a spell upon the audience. The applause endured for a long period as the audience thanked the performers for this unique, enchanting and sublime classical music concert.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky sincerely thanks the concert organizers and performers.

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The internet didn’t exist yet, and the way to connect from Israel with parents and friends left in Lithuania was by fax or telephone. There wasn’t a surplus of money and both means were very expensive, so hearing the voice of a loved one was the greatest gift; letters are fine, but human nature it seems is such that we need living emotion, moments which dissolve in the past… When you hear the voice of your Father, or Mother, or grandfather, it feels as if you are with them, much more than reading a letter which has been in transit for a long time. Sometimes the people who helped us in so many ways in saving our son knew the longing for loved ones, they knew what longing means, because they themselves had experienced these separations and knew what they meant. The independency of Lithuania was going slowly, so it was expensive to call from Israel to Lithuania and from Vilnius to Tel Aviv. As I remember it, from Vilnius you longer had to wait for a previously ordered international call, all you had to do was dial 8, wait for the tone and then enter the number. But it wasn’t raining and isn’t raining money anywhere, neither there where rivers of milk flow along banks of honey, nor there where pack-ice gently caresses the banks of the Neris. Sometimes the worst thing you could pull out of the mail box was a nostalgic numerical reminder for some month, sometimes the telephone bills were such that you wanted to take that apparatus to a bank and lock it in the safe.

Osip Mandelshtam Commemorated in Kaunas

Osip Mandelshtam Commemorated in Kaunas

The Kaunas Jewish Community and the Russian meeting club Nadezhda held a commemoration of Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam (aka Osip Mandelstam, 1891-1938) at Palangos street no. 1 in Kaunas, where the poet lived as a child, on December 27, 2018.

For many years it wasn’t known Mandelshtam died en route to his second deportation, the gulag in Kolyma, just as it wasn’t known he was a Lithuanian Jew and both parents were Litvaks: his father Emil Mandelshtam was from the town of Žagarė and his mother Flora Verblovskaya was from Vilnius. Many of the relevant documents in the life of Osip Mandelshtam are still unknown to literary experts.

The public release of these documents began relatively recently. Even so, even in the newest articles about Mandelshtam, for example, in Pavel Nerler’s “Osip Mandelshtam: Life and Family” (Znamya no. 12, 2016), the claim is made that Mandelshtam’s vital records have never been located. This is no longer true: Geršonas Taicas from Vilnius has found the record of Mandelshtam’s birth in Warsaw.

Taicas did further research and discovered the reason why Osip Mandelshtam (and his father, mother and their other son Aleksander) lived in Kaunas in 1896. Taicas also believes the surname, Mandelshtam, might not mean exactly what the accepted interpretation says it does, namely, “almond tree.”

Rudashevski Diary Book Design Wins Place in Tokyo Competition

Rudashevski Diary Book Design Wins Place in Tokyo Competition

Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary published in Lithuanian by the Lithuanian Jewish Community was compiled and translated by Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas. The unusual design of the book itself was the creation of Sigutė Chlebinskaitė. The Tokyo Type Directors Club has recognized the book design as worthy to be nominated along with another 2,860 books for their annual award in 2019, in the design category.

From the organizers of the Tokyo TDC Annual Awards 2019:

Dear Sigute Chlebinskaite,

Thank you very much for your entry to the Tokyo TDC Annual Awards 2019. We received 2,860 works from around the world. Among the entries, we are pleased to inform you that your entry below has been selected for our annual book. We hope the year 2019 will be a fruitful year for you.

Tokyo Type Directors Club

Golden Age Camp for Seniors

Golden Age Camp for Seniors

Senior clients of the Social Programs Department of the Lithuanian Jewish Community spent December 13 to 17 at the Gold Age Camp by the sea in Pärnu, Estonia. The seniors spent several wonderful days at the Tervis Medical Spa where they underwent health procedures, did morning exercises, walked in the fresh air, were consulted by experienced doctors, took part in educational activities, attended lecture/discussions with interesting lecturers, did art therapy and discussed their experiences with members of the delegation. They also played a game aimed at improving memory. Evening programs included Israeli dance, watching films, a talent show, and a play performed by actors from the Youth Theater in Tallinn. They also celebrated Sabbath.

The Golden Age Camp is held annually with seniors from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia attending.

Condolences

Amos Oz (aka Amos Klausner) passed away December 28, 2018, following a battle with cancer. He was born in Jerusalem on May 4, 1939. His father was a Litvak from the Vilnius area who studied comparative literature. Our condolences to his friends, family and many fans.

Amos Oz, Saintly Intellectual Who Turned Israel’s Reality into Art, Dead at 79

Amos Oz, Saintly Intellectual Who Turned Israel’s Reality into Art, Dead at 79

(JTA)–Amos Oz would often speak in the kind of tossed-off epigrams that come only with a lot of practice. But just when you wanted to smack him for his breezy erudition, he would redeem himself with a flash of spot-on–and hilarious–self-awareness.

In 2011, speaking at the 92nd Street Y about the novel he’d just published in English, “Scenes from Village Life,” Oz said that 99 percent of the typical media coverage of Israel involves extremist settlers, ultra-Orthodox fanatics and brutal soldiers “and one percent saintly intellectuals like myself.”

Oz died Friday at age 79, having won nearly every literary prize short of the Nobel and having become perhaps Israel’s most widely translated author. If Jews were in the canonization business, Oz would have earned his wings (halo? robe? my theology is shaky) on the basis of “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” his 2002 novel cum memoir. Like so much of what he wrote, the book is not just autobiographical, but a biography of Israel itself. Although his story ends before he is out of his teens, the young Amos bears witness to the destruction of European Jewry, the height of the British mandate, a Hebrew renaissance in Jerusalem, the great Zionist debates (and debaters) of the day, the rise of the kibbutz movement and the birth of the state.

Full text here.

Kaunas Marks Anniversary of Death of Osip Mandelshtam on December 27

Kaunas Marks Anniversary of Death of Osip Mandelshtam on December 27

The Kaunas Jewish Community and the Lithuanian-Russian Meeting Club Naderzhda invite the public to a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the death of famous Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam at 12 noon on December 27 outside the house where he spent his youth, located at Palangos street no. 1. Similar commemorations are to take place simultaneously in Riga, Kiev, Warsaw and Paris.

Works by Litvak Sculptors Presented in Panevėžys

Works by Litvak Sculptors Presented in Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community opened an exhibit of works by famous 19th century Litvak sculptor Mark (Mordechai) Antokolski to mark the 175th anniversary of his death at the Panevėžys Jewish Community headquarters in cooperation with the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

Antokolski was born in the Antakalnis neighborhood in Vilnius in 1843 to a religious Jewish family. From childhood he liked to draw and he learned to carve wood. He matriculated at the St. Petersburg Art Academy in Russia in 1862, was graduated in 1871 and thereafter embarked on a series of works on Jewish and other themes. His bas-relief “Jewish Tailor” won a silver medal. His works were much heralded in artistic and cultural circles in St. Petersburg.

His works reflect a variety of subjects, including scenes from antiquity and Christian, historical and ethnic themes. The sculptor passed away in 1902 and is buried in St. Petersburg. A small street in the Vilnius Old Town was named in his honor following his death.