Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Photo: Faina Kukliansky, by Vidmantas Balkūnas, courtesy 15min.lt

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remembers January 13. Lithuanian Jews, who restored their community finally 30 years ago after decades of restrictions, took part in events in those days [in 1991] Nowadays when they talk about the struggle for freedom, members of the community emphasize the greatest gift: the opportunity to speak freely.

What do you remember personally about that fateful night at the TV tower, the Lithuanian Radio and Television building and the parliament? What does the Jewish community remember about these events?

Jews did the same thing as everyone else in Lithuania. We have collected the recollections of our community members of that fateful night. They watched the television broadcast until it was cut off and they went to the barricades, in Vilnius but also in Kaunas and other cities.

We were there where the majority of Lithuania was. I remember when I travelled from Varėna during that time and saw the road full of tanks. At that time I had an elderly guest from America who said he was seeing tanks for the first time in his life.

On that particular night my friends and I–all of us were together with our young children–followed events, held vigil, waiting for our husbands who were there in the crowd by the barricades or who were doing their job as doctors.

My children are now grown up and always remember that night and the tension. It wasn’t clear what would happen and the tanks were already in place in the city. We didn’t have any information, we had seen the final frame when E. Bučelytė had to quit the [television] studio. We learned that night from medics that there were dead and wounded people.

Interview with Simas Levinas, First Principal of the First Post-War Jewish School, Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community

Interview with Simas Levinas, First Principal of the First Post-War Jewish School, Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community

by Ilona Rūkienė

The entire Lithuanian Jewish community knows Simas Levinas as the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community, which includes two Jewish religious communities in Kaunas and the Klaipėda and Vilnius Jewish Religious Communities. Mr. Levinas was the first principal at the post-war Jewish school in Vilnius and has also served as the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Social Center.

Vilnius has only one working synagogue [excluding Chabad Lubavitch House], the Choral Synagogue on Pylimo street. How are prayer services conducted there?

Prayer services are held three times daily. There are sufficient numbers of those who come to pray. Judaism is complicated, people come to prayer in the morning, afternoon and evening. Life is structured by coming and going to synagogue. They only come once during Sabbath. There are a lot of people in attendance during the summer and famous rabbis come, the followers of the Vilna Gaon. People are frequently proud of their Lithuanian roots, because being Litvak means the continuation of the Gaon’s school, meaning that their parents or ancestors came from the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, many of them from [the smaller ethnically-defined nation-state of] Lithuania. They dedicate an entire day to prayer, then travel on to Volozhin, where Chaim of Volozhin [1749-1821], a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, taught the Gaon’s method of textual analysis at the yehsiva he [Chaim] established especially for that purpose. During the Jewish holy days the synagogue is packed, at least before the pandemic, and it’s not just Jews who come, many Lithuanian guests do as well. Ambassadors from many countries resident in Vilnius also participate.

New Archaeological Discoveries at Pakruojis Synagogue Complex

New Archaeological Discoveries at Pakruojis Synagogue Complex

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Pakruojis regional administration mayor Saulius Margis, administration director Ilona Gelažnikienė, deputy mayor Virginijus Kacilevičius and others attended a lecture by Dr. Ernestas Vasiliauskas presenting new archaeological discoveries at the Pakruojis synagogue complex.

The Pakruojis regional administration reports:

Dr. Ernestas Vasiliauskas gave a presentation October 14 detailing the newest archaeological discoveries in the winter synagogue and shtibl at the Pakruojis synagogue complex. The project “Maintenance of the City Park and the Banks of the Kruoja River in the City of Pakruojis” decided to perform the archaeology in concert with the Cultural Heritage Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture.

There is a lot of surviving information about the summer synagogue in Pakruojis, but very little about the winter synagogue and the shtibl. Senior archaeologist Dr. Vasiliauskas said the wooden synagogue complex built in the 19th century in Pakruojis is unique in Lithuania and blends different architectural styles, including late baroque (summer synagogue), classicism (winter synagogue) and traditional architecture (the shtibl), and was an important part of the cityscape, one of the dominant buildings on the Pakruojis skyline.

Chiune Sugihara Statue Unveiled in Kaunas

Chiune Sugihara Statue Unveiled in Kaunas

A statue was unveiled Saturday to World War II-era Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara. He issued so-called visas for life, saving thousands of Jews from Lithuania and Poland as Nazi Germany advanced on the small Baltic country of Lithuania.

The bronze statue is almost 12 feet high and is located on Kaunas’s famous promenade, Laisvės aleja or Freedom Alley, next to the Metropol hotel where Sugihara continued to issue visas even after being ordered to stop, close down the Japanese consulate and to travel to a new assignment in Berlin. There are numerous stories Sugihara even issued visas from the train as it was pulling away from the station, and that he left blank visas and stamps with Jews in the city so they could make their own visas for life.

The sculpture designed by Martynas Gaubas depicts origami cranes which he says symbolize freedom. An inscription in Lithuanian, Japanese, English and Yiddish, reads: “Whoever saves a life, saves the world.”

Kaunas Commemorates Lea Goldberg

Kaunas Commemorates Lea Goldberg

There’s a larger-than-life fresco painted on the wall of a building on Kęstutis street in Kaunas featuring a portrait of celebrated Israeli poetess Lea Goldberg, with a poem by her in Hebrew and Lithuanian. Her family fled their home in this building 85 years ago, with Leah making aliyah and settling in Tel Aviv in 1935, after receiving PhDs from universities in Bonn and Berlin in Semitic and Germanic languages.

Now the Lithuanian city is scheduled to become the European Union’s honorary European Capital of Culture for the year 2022. Now, in the run-up to that auspicious year, local and visiting Jews in Kaunas held a celebration of, perhaps, the town’s most famous poet, as well as its lost Jewish heritage.

Bella Shirin, who has been appointed “ambassador” of Kaunas, Capital of European Culture 2022, recited in selections from Goldberg’s corpus in Hebrew to musical accompaniment. Israeli exchange student Shahar Berkowitz sang Goldberg’s work.

President Gitanas Nausėda Speaks at Ceremony to Commemorate Victims of Genocide at Paneriai

President Gitanas Nausėda Speaks at Ceremony to Commemorate Victims of Genocide at Paneriai

Dear Holocaust survivors,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered here today to pay our respects to the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Shoah means catastrophe. But this is not just the tragedy and catastrophe of the Jewish people. The Shoah is Lithuania’s. This is the Shoah of all mankind. This is a Shoah of our humanity, compassion and ambivalence.

Here alone in Paneriai, we, the state of Lithuania, lost tens of thousands of our fellow citizens with whom we built the independent Lithuanian state together. Fighting together in the battles for independence, suffering together the young state’s most difficult years, together putting our hopes in the future of an independent Lithuania.

We lost talented scholars, artists, poets, doctors, businesspeople and artisans, teachers and clerics. Me lost elders who preserved the memory of hundreds of generations living together in friendship, and we lost the children who would have been this country’s future.

Ponar Calls on Us to Remember

Ponar Calls on Us to Remember

I thank all of you who walked with the Lithuanian Jewish Community today along the route taken by 70,000 men, women and children 77 years ago.

While the bodies of the victims of Ponar, reduced to ashes, will not rise again, no attempts to burn the pages of history will liberate our fellow citizens from the guilt dwelling in the subconscious over the murder of the Jews, nor will it relieve the suffering of the experience of the Holocaust even of the generation which came after.

No actions will return the lives of the more than 200,000 people of Lithuania lost during the Holocaust while words, whether in Lithuanian or Yiddish, will only briefly return a glimmer of the crown of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The memory of the Holocaust, however, isn’t just filled with shame for one side and pain for another. Its memory awakens our conscience and our duty to the future: to remember and honor the dead, thus imparting some sense to the victims of senseless hatred, lessons written in innocent blood for humanity. As long as we’re alive we must insure through joint effort, testifying to the memory of the Holocaust victims, the tragedy of Ponar never recurs, and that it doesn’t become the object of new and error-filled forms of hatred.

As we recall the events of that era of pain, it’s just as important to remember those giants of the spirit. I don’t know how many times now here in Ponar I’ve talked about Liba Mednikienė, a heroine of Lithuania’s battles for freedom. Finally now, during the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History, a monument to her memory, to this Lithuanian patriot murdered at the hands of Lithuanians, has found a home in the town of her youth, Širvintos.

Today hope is reborn, listening to the words of the president and prime minister and watching the soldiers pay tribute to Lithuania’s Jewish victims of genocide, hope that our society and out state have matured, have reached a new stage in the dialogue between Jews and Lithuanians, devoted wholly to learning and recognizing historical justice. We have an history inherited and shared from the time of Vytautas the Great, and so I believe commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and being an indivisible part of it will become, eventually, not a matter of just marking an event or opportunity, but an issue of civic dignity and our view of the world.

Thanks to all of you for being here today with us, the small Lithuanian Jewish Community, for blazing a path in remembering those who were innocent and were sentenced to death.

Faina Kukliansky
September 23, 2020
Ponar, Lithuania

Public Still Knows Little about 2021 as Year of  Lukša-Daumantas

Public Still Knows Little about 2021 as Year of Lukša-Daumantas

The Lithuanian parliament’s draft resolution naming 2021 the Year of Juozas Lukša-Daumantas is largely unknown to the public, as is the man Juozas Lukša-Daumantas. The Lithuanian parliament has made a tradition out of naming years after people and events, but this time it isn’t clear what is being celebrated, and perhaps only Lithuanian MPs know the answer.

So far we only have official explanations on the Lithuanian Activist Front and Juozas Lukša-Daumantas’s membership in this organization, including on the official website of Lithuania’s Orwellian Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, where Juozas Lukša-Daumantas is listed as an LAF member.

We are presenting additional information from Chaim Bargman, amateur historian and tourist guide from Kaunas, to try to elucidate the nature of the historical figure. We would very much welcome additional information from scholars and academic works.

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

The Švenčionys region of Lithuania is a multicultural place where Lithuanians live alongside Poles, Russians, Belarussians, Jews and people of other ethnicities.

The Švenčionys Jewish Community was reconstituted in 2013. It is now headed by the energetic Švenčionys native Moshe Shapiro (aka Moisiejus Šapiro).

There was a large Jewish community living in the Švenčionys region in the period between the two world wars. In fact there were five synagogues operating there.

Jews there set up an herbal pharmaceuticals factory and different workshops in the center of the town of Švenčionys. Jewish effort, initiative and expertise were involved in all fields of production and business.

This Year Marks 160th Anniversary of Birth of Famous Litvak Writer, Yiddishist, Journalist and Politician Abraham Cahan

This Year Marks 160th Anniversary of Birth of Famous Litvak Writer, Yiddishist, Journalist and Politician Abraham Cahan

Abraham “Abe” Cahan (July 7, 1860 – August 31, 1951) was Jewish American socialist newspaper editor, novelist, and politician. Cahan was one of the founders of The Forward, an American Yiddish publication, and was its editor-in-chief for 43 years. During his stewardship of the Forward, it became a prominent voice in the Jewish community and in the Socialist Party of America, voicing a relatively moderate stance within the realm of American socialist politics.

Abraham Cahan was born July 7, 1860, in Podberezhie in Belarus (at the time in Vilnius Governorate, Russian Empire), into an Orthodox Litvak family. His grandfather was a rabbi in Vidz, Vitebsk, his father a teacher of Hebrew and the Talmud. The devoutly religious family moved to Vilnius in 1866, where the young Cahan studied to become a rabbi. He was attracted by secular knowledge and clandestinely studied Russian, ultimately demanding that his parents allow him to enter the Teachers Institute of Vilnius from which he graduated in 1881. He was appointed as a teacher in a Jewish school funded by the Russian government in Velizh, Vitebsk, in the same year.

Musical Happy Birthday from the Kaunas Jewish Community

Musical Happy Birthday from the Kaunas Jewish Community

As spring finally arrives, the Kaunas Jewish Community sends birthday greetings to our beloved member Liuba Stulgaitienė.

Liuba is very active in Community events, a member of the Yiddish Club, a member of the Union of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners and a woman who always radiates positivity, optimism and joy. She smiles at the whole world despite all injuries experienced and the world answers her the same way.

Dear Liuba, keep being so young at heart, so energetic, so thirsty for knowledge and someone who is able to say the years are not a burden, but a rich experience.

Mazl tov! May you live to 120!

Faina Kukliansky Interviewed by Lithuanian Media on Yom haAtzma’ut

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky was interviewed by Lithuanian publicist Donatas Puslys on Yom haAtzma’ut, Israeli independence day, and spoke about what the holiday means to Jews in Lithuania, to her personally and to Jews around the world. She also spoke about the Holocaust, Litvaks living in Israel, the promise Eretz Israel held out to Soviet Jews and the country’s progress over the last 72 years. The interview was conducted in Lithuanian but concludes with warm wishes in Yiddish.

EBRD Awards Grigoriy Kanovich’s Book Devilspel European Literature Prize

EBRD Awards Grigoriy Kanovich’s Book Devilspel European Literature Prize

From Noir Press:


April 22, 2020

Lithuanian author wins €20,000 Literature Prize from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
The UK publishing house Noir Press is delighted Lithuanian Jewish author Grigory Kanovich has just won the €20,000 EBRD Literature Prize, a prestigious award celebrating literature in translation.

The prize, normally awarded at Bank headquarters in London, was awarded virtually this year because of the quarantine announced by the UK Government. The award was announced on Twitter on April 22.

Rosie Goldsmith, chairwoman of the panel of judges for this year’s prize, said the winning novel “is sincere, it is warm, it is generous. It has the feeling of a very great classic.”

Jewish Holiday of Freedom Celebrated without Foods Recalling Slavery

Jewish Holiday of Freedom Celebrated without Foods Recalling Slavery

Judita Gliauberzonaitė, 42, chairwoman of the Vilnius Lithuanian Jerusalem Jewish community, recalls how her grandmother Cilė Žiburkienė every spring before Passover would cleanse the entire house so that, God forbid, not even a grain of flour would remain, which would mean leavened bread remained in the house, a sign recalling the enslavement of the Jews in the land of Egypt.

Jews around the world who count their history in millennia begin celebrating their Passover holiday on the 15th day in the month of Nisan (March or April), lasting for seven days in Israel and eight elsewhere in the world. Secular Jews who keep to tradition usually celebrate the first and last days of Passover, gathering as families for dinner.

Judita Gliauberzonaitė says more religious Jews attend synagogue every day of Passover.

Passover often coincides with Catholic Easter. This year it began on April 8 and continues till April 15.

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.


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.