Yiddish

No, Mr. Kasčiūnas, Jews Did Not Create the Corona Virus

No, Mr. Kasčiūnas, Jews Did Not Create the Corona Virus

by Arkadijus Vinokuras

I’m having a dark laugh, Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats member of parliament Laurynas Kasčiūnas did not, thank God, accuse Jews for the corona virus. But he did accuse the Lithuanian Jewish Community of financially supporting “that liar” Rūta Vanagaitė’s book “How Did It Happen.”

You might ask what my fake headline has in common with MP Kasčiūnas’s accusation against the LJC. Well both ideas are false and allow for manipulating the truth.

See, the main figure in the book isn’t Rūta Vanagaitė, but Dr. Christoph Dieckmann, one of the best known European historians and an expert on the Holocaust in Lithuania. Or is it this fact which frightens Kasčiūnas? It’s one thing to criticize a “dilettante of history” (as Rūta Vanagaitė’s critics claim) and quite another to criticize a member of the International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, convened and supported by the president of Lithuania.

Lithuanian Government Lists Famous Litvaks

Lithuanian Government Lists Famous Litvaks

The web page of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania now features in Lithuanian and English texts about the Vilna Gaon, famous Litvaks and visual materials for celebrating 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History.

§§§

Most Prominent Jewish Personalities in Lithuania

Lithuania has been home to many Jews, who were born in this country, lived and created here leaving an indelible mark in the scholarly and cultural heritage of Lithuania as well as of the world.

Writers

Icchokas Meras (1934-2014). The author of books on the Holocaust (Geltonas lopas (The Yellow Patch), Ant ko laikosi pasaulis (What the World Rests on), Lygiosios trunka akimirką (A Stalemate), and a film script writer for well-known Lithuanian films Kai aš mažas buvau (When I Was a Child), Birželis, vasaros pradžia (June, the Beginning of Summer) and Maža išpažintis (Small Confession).

Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Vilna-born writer, a member of Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. Chaim Grade is considered to be one of the leading Yiddish writers in post-Holocaust period. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Vilnius Religious Jewish Community Chairman Inspects Electrical Work at Synagogue, Discovers Nobel Prize Winner by Accident

Vilnius Religious Jewish Community Chairman Inspects Electrical Work at Synagogue, Discovers Nobel Prize Winner by Accident

Around noon on Wednesday I went to take a look at the progress of the electrical wiring being installed in the prayer hall of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. I noticed a man who was looking over the synagogue carefully. I greeted him in Hebrew and he immediately began asking me questions about synagogue operations, Lithuanian Jewish life and in general “how are you living in Lithuania?” A usual Jewish question.

As a Jew I of course responded to his questions with questions: where are you from, why are you interested in the synagogue, are you perhaps in need of tefillin? … Then the visitor humbly introduced himself, explaining he was attending an academic conference at Vilnius University and had given himself an extra day especially for going to the synagogue, hoping to meet a Jew and get a chance to talk, maybe even in Yiddish, and then walk around the Vilnius Old Town a bit.

His family came from Poland and Vilnius looks a lot like where they came from. Then he said almost in passing, “I was invited to Vilnius University because I’m a Nobel prize winner…” I thought it was quite a good joke! In Yiddish I asked him to tell me the story of his life and how he had come to be the recipient of this most prestigious prize in the world.

The Truth Heals: Grigoriy Kanovitch Interviewed by Son Sergejus

The Truth Heals: Grigoriy Kanovitch Interviewed by Son Sergejus

As the Vilnius Book Fair ramps up this year, Grigoriy Kanovitch’s “Miestelio romansas” (the Lithuanian translation of his “Shtetl Love Song”] is reappearing on bookshop shelves. The novel tells the stories of people in small-town Lithuania, including Jews, Lithuanians, Poles and Russians, in the period between 1920 and 1941. Kanovitch’s son Sergejus, also an accomplished author, interviewed him in a press release for the book fair.

How does Shtetl Love Song fit in the context of your entire corupus? How important is it that the Lithuanian edition has gone into its second printing?

Shtetl Love Song is my most personal book. It’s the most biographical. I wouldn’t say I’m spoiled by second editions. Of course there have been some. But I should consider the additional publication of Shtetl Love Song the most important. News of this made me extraordinarily happy.

Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Commemorates Holocaust Victims

Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Commemorates Holocaust Victims

On January 28 the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Lithuanian Jewish Community held a commemoration of International Holocaust Day at the ministry.

“The Holocaust is a horrid scar on humanity, on the face of Lithuania. It is a wound which likely will never heal. Let’s hope and try so that humanity never experiences this again. We are endlessly grateful to all the survivors of the Holocaust who are with us here today. In celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, we hope Vilnius will again become a center of gravity for the Jews of the entire world, as the Jerusalem of Lithuania once was,” foreign minister Linas Linkevičius said after presenting red roses to Holocaust survivors attending the event.

A student choir from the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium performed three songs in Yiddish and Lithuanian.

Condolences

Ruth “Rivke” Feldman Katz has passed away at the age of 98 at her home in Florida. She was the wife of the Litvak Yiddish writer, poet and teacher Menke Katz and is survived by her son Dovid Katz and Menke’s daughter from a previous marriage, Mrs. Troim Katz Handler. Both children went on to teach Yiddish as adults.

Lithuania’s Jewish Victims of Genocide Remembered in Ponar

Lithuania’s Jewish Victims of Genocide Remembered in Ponar

Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide was marked at Ponar September 23 in a March of the Living event. Although some of the traditional March of the Living Litvaks resident in Israel attended, they were far outnumbered by Lithuanians and especially by Lithuanian high school students.

As usual, people gathered on the west side of the railroad tracks in the town of Paneriai or Ponar just outside Vilnius to march the kilometer or so into the Ponar Memorial Complex for the ceremony at the central monument there. This year, however, hundreds of students arrived by train and walked in on the pedestrian overpass over the railroad. Also new this year was the Lithuanian honor guard who led the procession.

Poles, Russians, Lithuanians and Soviet POWs were also murdered at Ponar, albeit in significantly lower numbers than Jews. This year a Polish delegation and Catholic priest awaited the procession at the Polish monument at the entrance to the memorial complex.

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter September 1

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter September 1

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 Doors Open: An Installation to Remember Jewish Merkinė

The Doors Open: An Installation to Remember Jewish Merkinė

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.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives Esperanto Speakers

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives Esperanto Speakers

The Panevėžys Jewish Community hosted a meeting with Esperanto speakers during the 55th Baltic Esperanto Congress held in Panevėžys, with visitors from Ukraine, Israel, Romania, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Estonia and Latvia all speaking the universal language invented by Ludvik Zamenhof.

Polish director, writer and Esperanto enthusiast Roman Dobrzyński spoke about Zamenhof, aka Dr. Esperanto, and took an interest in the history of the Holocaust in Panevėžys. Lucy Rimon, a translator from Israel, proposed a joint project to offer Lithuanian Jews an opportunity to learn Esperanto. Amri Wandel, a professor of astrophysics at Hebrew University, guest professor at UCLA and president of the Esperanto League in Israel, donated his book and other items to the Panevėžys Jewish Community. He spoke about Jewish Esperanto speakers in Israel. The Russian delegation was represented by writer, translator and author and performer of Jewish songs Mikhail Bronshtayn, who performed several of his works in Yiddish.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told guests of the founder of the Esperanto organization in Panevėžys, Yakob Kan, who lived at Respublikos street no. 49 in the city. Kan was graduated from the Jewish gymnasium, was a press correspondent and had a personal library. He attended the 26th Esperanto congress in Stockholm, studied medicine at Moscow University in Tsarist times, was widely-read and a music enthusiast, especially opera. Kan’s wife Regina, whom he married in 1937, was his true helper and advisor. Kan was taken prisoner in June, 1941, and shot. His wife left Panevėžys immediately after his execution on June 21.

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius. Part of a Proud Past Which Must Be Protected

In the international sphere there has been no respite regarding preservation of the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius (in the historical neighborhood of Piromont, now known as Šnipiškės): petitions are being circulated, the issue has even been raised in the United States Senate and there is the attempt being made to put a halt to plans to renovate the Palace of Sports building there. But are these disputes over the now-destroyed cemetery sufficiently well-founded?

The Soviet Era Destroyed the Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery and Buried Its Memory

It’s important to look at the history of the Šnipiškės cemetery. The old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius established in 1592 or 1593 (although other sources say 1487) was for all intents and purposes closed in 1830, after which part of the cemetery was destroyed, with another part surviving to the end of World War II.

The Executive Committee of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a resolution on October 15, 1948, to close the old Jewish cemetery. At that time it had an area of just over three hectares, a quarter of the size of the Užupis Jewish cemetery on Olandų street in Vilnius.

Yale University President Peter Salovey Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community

Yale University President Peter Salovey Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community

Yale University president Peter Salovey visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the last day of his visit to Lithuania on June 21.

Salovey, a descendant of the famous Soloveitchik family of rabbis who were followers of the Vilna Gaon, maintains close connection with his Litvak roots in Kaunas and Volozhin. One of his relatives was Max Soloveitchik, a Zionist who was a member of the first interwar Lithuanian parliament, an attorney and who actively fought for recognition of Lithuania’s independence at the Paris Peace Conference. He later became Lithuanian minister of Jewish affairs.

Peter Solovey is known for his theory of emotional intelligence. With John D. Mayer, he significantly expanded the scope of the concept and authored several of the field’s seminal papers, arguing people have widely ranging abilities pertaining to emotional control, reasoning, and perceptivity. In contrast to earlier theories of intelligence which held emotions in rivalry to reason, Salovey and Mayer claimed emotion could motivate productive outcomes when properly directed. He worked to develop models and tests of emotional intelligence such as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. Salovey’s second area of research is in health psychology, where he applied social psychology principles to investigate the efficacy of information and education in promoting HIV risk reduction, early cancer detection and quitting smoking

Enchanting Pflaumen-Tzimmes

Enchanting Pflaumen-Tzimmes

Bagel Shop Café cooks have been sharing some of the secrets of Litvak cooking this summer with the managers of a small restaurant in Merkinė, Lithuania, called Šilo kopa. They’ve been making bagels, herring and pflaumen-tzimmes together.

Pflaumen-tzimmes is a stew made of plums and beef often made for the Sabbath table and Rosh Hashanah.

Bagel Shop Café cook Riva remembers this dish well and still makes it according to a simple recipe: about 1.5 kilograms of beef (from the forequarter), bone, about 15 to 20 plums, about 1.5 kg of potatoes and 1 onion, which is later removed. Laurel leaves aren’t required, only salt. The flavor is enhanced by several tablespoons of caramelized sugar added at the end.

The beef is boiled with the onion for about 2 hours, the onion is removed, the plums are added for about an hour and later the potatoes. When everything has been boiled sufficiently, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of liquefied caramelized sugar.

Vilnius YIVO Headquarters Commemorative Plaque Ceremony Held

Vilnius YIVO Headquarters Commemorative Plaque Ceremony Held

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invited guests and the public to a ceremony to unveil a plaque near the site of the former Vilnius headquarters of YIVO on Vivulskio street in Vilnius June 20. Those attending included deputy to the LJC chairwoman professor Leonidas Melnikas, the heads of YIVO, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian culture minister Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja and the mayor of Vilnius.

YIVO began in Vilnius in 1925 and was originally housed in the apartment of its founder and prime mover Max Weinreich on Basanavičiaus street (aka Pogulanskaya, Pogulnaka and Wielka Pohulanka street) in Vilnius. Dedicated to research on the language, literature, culture and history of Jews in Eastern Europe, the institute collected a large mass of documents and archive material from local Jewish communities before the Holocaust.

Architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon designed the new YIVO plaque.

Although much of YIVO’s material was lost during the war, some made its way to the provisional war-time headquarters in New York, which became world headquarters following the war.

Soloveitchik Family Exhibit Opens June 25 in Kaunas

Soloveitchik Family Exhibit Opens June 25 in Kaunas

Vytautas Magnus University pro-rector for international relations professor Ienta Dabašinskienė and Dr. Vilma Gradinskaitė are presenting a new exhibit about the famous Soloveitchik family of rabbis from Kaunas in Kaunas at the Valdas Adamkus Presidential Library located at Daukanto street no. 25 on June 25. Peter Salovey, an American psychologist, professor and president of Yale University, comes from this family and is scheduled to receive the regalia of an honorary doctorate at Vytautas Magnus University on June 20.

The Soloveitchik family is known for its many accomplished rabbis and Talmudic scholars. Their roots reach back to the early 18th century in Lithuania. They are Levites who are commanded by the Torah to sing in the Temple in Jerusalem. The surname comes from the diminutive of the Russian word for nightingale. The Kaunas branch of the family gave rise to the famous rabbinic dynasties in Volozhin and Brest-Litovsk.

The exhibit will run till the end of September.

Lithuania Marks Day of Mourning and Hope June 14

Lithuania Marks Day of Mourning and Hope June 14

Mass deportations to Stalin’s camps began on this day in 1941.

About 17,500 people were deported from Lithuania between June 14 and 18, 1941, (the fates of 16,246 have been determined so far), a number derived from the 4,663 arrested and 12, 832 people officially deported. The deportations were a huge loss and tragedy for Lithuania. Not all those deported were ethnic Lithuanians: about 3,000 Jews, according to various sources, were also deported and about 375 Jews died at the camps and in exile.

Jews deported to Siberia resisted the brutality and terror of the oppressive Soviet organs with a deep spirituality and faith. In 1941 about 1.3 percent of the total Lithuanian Jewish population were deported, and as a percentage constitute the largest group by ethnicity deported from Lithuania.

Santariškės Children’s Hospital doctor Rozalija Černakova tells the story of what happened to her grandfather and family. Her grandparents were deported with their families. Rozalija’s parents were still children when they were deported: her mother 11 and her mother’s brother 8. They were sent to the Altai region. That’s where Rozalija was born.

Commemorative Plaque to Mark Site of Former YIVO HQ in Vilnius

Commemorative Plaque to Mark Site of Former YIVO HQ in Vilnius

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invite the public to attend an unveiling ceremony of a plaque to commemorate the site of the former headquarters of YIVO in Vilnius at 3:00 P.M. on June 20 at the building now located at Vivulskio street no. 18 in Vilnius. YIVO, the most significant center for the study of Jewish culture, history and languages in Eastern Europe, was located near this site from 1925 to 1941. Its founder moved its activities to New York which became world headquarters following the German invasion in 1941.

Participants at the ceremony are to include YIVO director Jonathan Brent and YIVO board of directors deputy chairwoman Irene Pletka.

Sabbath with Designer Agnė Kuzmickatė

Sabbath with Designer Agnė Kuzmickatė

For a number of years now the Lithuanian Jewish Community has been inviting artists and special guests to celebrate Sabbath with the community. Last Friday LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas presented Lithuanian designer Agnė Kuzmickatė to members. She holds a doctorate and is sometimes called butterfly queen because of her use of her butterflies in her designs.

Renaldas led the discussion and tendered questions to the famous young designer, starting with questions about her family. Her father is the philosopher Bronislovas Kuzmickas, PhD, who was a founding member of Sąjūdis, the Lithuanian independence movement, who went on to become a member of parliament, a signatory to the Lithuanian declaration of the restoration of independence and served as deputy to parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis.

Agnė Kuzmickatė’s grandmother Gita Jekentienė was at a children’s summer camp in Palanga, Lithuania, when World War II arrived. She and some of the other children were evacuated to safer locations in the Soviet Union. When she spoke of her family, Agnė Kuzmickatė repeatedly returned to her grandmother Gita’s experience and said she only know understood how her grandmother’s environment shaped her. She said she and her grandmother often spoke about Jewish identity, about the Yiddish language and the tragic loss of family, all of whom, except for her grandmother’s brother, were murdered at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. Returning to Lithuania after the war, her grandmother experienced all sorts of bullying and name-calling because she was Jewish. Agnė Kuzmickatė said she had never experienced this and everyone at school respected her because of her father’s activities on behalf of independent Lithuania.

Small but Significant Features of Jewish History in Vilnius

Small but Significant Features of Jewish History in Vilnius


bernardinai.lt

Before World War II a large Jewish community lived in Vilnius whose cultural, religious and social traces are only recalled today in statues and commemorative plaques. It’s a rare resident of the city who knows why Vilnius was called the Jerusalem of Lithuania, who knows what an active community life bustled on the narrow streets of the Old Town and how the tragic events of World War II changed forever the face of the Lithuanian capital.

For many years Vilnius was a Jewish spiritual and academic center. Besides some faded inscriptions in Hebrew characters on buildings which were part of the Vilnius ghetto, there are more surviving traces of the history of this people. Before World War II Jews accounted for more than a third of all city residents.

Today we invite you to discover with us some small details of this history, small but important to our city.

Full text in Lithuanian here.