Yiddish

Old Kalvarija Synagogue Springs Back to Life

Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.

The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.

Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Polish Group Vocal Varshe Performs at Sacred Site in Vilnius

Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.

Vocal Varshe Concert at the Winter Synagogue in Kalvarija

The Vocal Varshe group from Poland will perform a concert of Jewish songs in Yiddish and Hebrew including songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos at the synagogue located at Sodų street no. 18 in Kalvarija, Lithuania, at 7:00 P.M. on June 7. Entry is free. Limited transportation from Vilnius will be provided with a small bus leaving the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 4:00 P.M. on June 7 and returning sometime between 10:00 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. Please contact neringa@lzb.lt if you want to make use of this limited transportation.

Jews in Lithuania Experiencing Crisis in Values

by Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Jews as with any people are not homogenous. The history of Jews in Lithuania stretches back almost 700 years and during that time all sorts of things happened, rises and declines, and the effects of the Holocaust were especially painful in Lithuania, and following the attempt at physical annihilation the Soviet occupation attempted to destroy the Jewish people spiritually.

People often ask me, Jews are so united, why is it different in Lithuania? It’s not different in Lithuania, divisions exist in secular and religious Jewish communities in Israel as well as the rest of the world. The wealth of the Jewish people is our diversity, our knowledge, our faith and our ability to remain Jews.

I am proud of my people. Unfortunately, all sorts of things go on inside the Jewish community. It’s sad, but we have only partially passed our “trial by money.” On the one hand, we have the well-functioning Goodwill Foundation, which only adopts decisions by consensus and allocates compensation for Jewish communal/religious properties, and which has been audited for many years now by the Office of State Auditor, the highest auditing institution, and has always received a glowing review. On the other hand, we have over-ambitious community members who believe they can do everything the best, in the most transparent manner and preferably all by themselves. They claim the opinion of the majority is merely a simulation of democracy.

In Lithuania, as in the world, volunteer leaders lead the Jewish communities. This post is for me first of all an honor and a pleasure. Before I assumed responsibility, I learned much from the earlier chairmen, Grigory Kanovitch and Dr. Simon Alperovitch. Much of what is needed for this work I learned from active Community members and intellectuals attorney professor Jurijus Bluvšteinas, Josif Levinson and Maša Grodnikienė.

Happy Birthday to Professor Pinchos Fridberg!

Our best wishes go out to Holocaust survivor, resident of Vilnius, Jewish intellectual, doctor habil. of physics, author of numerous articles, great Yiddish speaker and true Jewish and Litvak patriot Pinchos Fridberg!

We wish you the best health, patience, much happiness, more smiles and a care-free life filled with gentleness and happiness. Your sense of humor is endless and ironic, and everyone has greatly enjoyed your Motke Chabad stories published in Obzor.

Mazl tov! May you live to 120!

March of the Living 2018 at Ponar

For the eleventh time now in Lithuania the March of the Living walked the route from the Ponar train station to the Ponar Memorial Complex to commemorate the Jews murdered there. Among the marchers were Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro. Other participants included Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, as well as members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, students from the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, members of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and Holocaust survivors Fania Brancovskaja and Sameul Bak.

The Lithuanian foreign minister, the Israel ambassador, representatives of the Vilnius mayor’s office, the LJC and former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners among others laid wreaths at a monument in the center of the Ponar Memorial Complex to the accompaniment of violin music.

Fania Brancovskaja spoke: “Ponar was a murder machine where from 1941 to 1943 before Vilnius was liberated from Nazi occupation murder was carried out continuously. Seventy-thousand Jews were murdered in Ponar just because they were Jews, all that remains of them is ashes mixed with sand. Not many of us are left, but we are here. I am one of those who went through the entire ghetto and please, do not forget them. As long as we live, we ask you to pass on the information to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they do not forget the victims who died.”

Busy Week for Kaunas Jewish Community

The second week in May saw numerous events and meetings at the Kaunas Jewish Community.

The hectic and hot week began with a meeting between representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community and the Denkendorfer Kries für christlich-jüdische Begegnung (Denkendorf Association for Chirstian-Jewish Encounter) from Germany. Association board members Eva and Otmar Vöhringer have been inviting their compatriots for several years now to undertake what are in a sense pilgrimages to Holocaust sites in Poland and the Baltic states and to meet survivors and descendants of survivors in those countries. More than 20 years ago now Dr. Hartmut Metzger began and became the spiritual inspiration behind this initiative. He also worked with late Kaunas Jewish Community member Judelis Ronderis to organize aid for impoverished Jews who had been evacuated to the Soviet Union during the Holocaust.

On May 8 the members of the association of family and friends of deportee convoy no. 73 visited Kaunas and the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. The group comes to Kaunas from France once every two years and warm and friendly friendships have been made with the Kaunas Jewish Community. LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas attended the ceremony at the Ninth Fort this year. On May 15, 1944, convoy no. 73, a train from Drancy, France, delivered 878 Jews to the Baltic states, most of whom were taken off the train in Kaunas and shot at the Ninth Fort. Others were taken to the camp in Pravieniškiai, Lithuania, and to Estonia.

LJC Chairwoman Delivers Holocaust Diary to Yad Vashem

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky met Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, on May 15. She personally gave him a copy of the LJC’s Lithuanian translation of the Holocaust diary of Vilnius ghetto prisoner Yitzhak Rudashevski. They discussed the influence the book would have in the future on Holocaust consciousness in Lithuania. Avner Shalev praised the LJC and the chairwoman’s continuing efforts and work in raising Holocaust awareness and promoting Jewish culture.

Busy Week of Events at the LJC

The second week in May was especially busy and event-filled this year at the Lithuanian Jewish Community. May 8 and 9 saw different Victory/VE Day celebrations, with veterans and members laying wreaths at the Sudervės road Jewish cemetery and at the military cemetery in Vilnius. Veterans and LJC members were invited to a special concert May 10 with a performance by the Fayerlakh ensemble in Yiddish. LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas gave a moving speech and so did Lijana Jagniatinskytė, granddaughter of the veteran Levas Jagniatinskis, who was unable to attend. Other children and grandchildren of deceased veterans also attended.

The Sunday lecture series on May 13 was a lesson in Gaucher’s diseases, an inherited condition which affects Ashkenazi Jews disproportionately. A free screening for the disease was offered following the lecture.

The LJC youth clubs that same weekend took children to the theater and shot bows and arrows under expert supervision at Vingis Park in Vilnius.

Lithuanian Translation of Rudashevski Diary Presented in Tel Aviv


Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

The Beit Vilna association of Litvak survivors from Vilnius hosted a presentation of the new Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary in Tel Aviv May 16. Rudashevski’s two surviving cousins Sora Voloshin and Golda Rudashevsky attended the event. Voloshin escaped while her family and Ytizhak and his parents was being sent to Ponar to be executed. She later found the diary written in school notebooks in the ruins of a location where the Rudashevski family hid.

The Lithuanian translation was the initiative of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas attended the event in Tel Aviv, as did Beit Vilna director Miki Kantor and Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky, the chairman of the executive board of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Isrsael.

Rudashevski’s diary is one of only a few Holocaust chronicles recorded as events happened, and one of even fewer such diaries written by children. He wrote the diary in Yiddish. The Lithuanian edition contains the same Yiddish text in the second half of the book.

Statue Unveiled in Kaunas to Abraham Mapu, Founder of the Modern Hebrew Novel

A sculpture to honor Abraham Mapu, the founder of the Hebrew novel who was born in Kaunas, was unveiled to the public at a ceremony held in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery on Mapu street in Kaunas Thursday evening. Sculptor Martynas Gaubas made the statue commemorating Mapu (1808-1867), who was born and lived in Kaunas and was a beloved local literary figure.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the Kaunas municipality for its favorable view on commemorating Litvak figures and noted Mapu is known and loved in Israel where even small towns have a street named after him. She praised the Kaunas Jewish Community for its unity and initiative and singled out Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas for his success in cooperation and getting things done.

Chairman Žakas and Olegas Darčanovas, the prime mover behind the statue project, noted the large turnout for the ceremony but also said the statue had begun drawing people into the yard even before the ceremony, with locals and tourists flocking to get a look.

Members of the Kaunas city council Ina Pukelytė and Jonas Audėjaitis spoke of the Litvak contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of Kaunas, Lithuania and the world, and confirmed there would be continued commemoration of notable Litvaks who were born, lived and worked in Kaunas.

Vilnius Ghetto Diary makes Top 7 List of Lithuanian Books for April

The Vilnius Ghetto Diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski was named as one of the top 7 books for April on the 15min.lt website’s monthly list. The diary was recently published in Lithuanian translation with the original Yiddish provided as the second half of the book. Other works recommended on the list included Lithuanian translations of Abraham B. Yehoshua’s Mar Mani [Mr. Mani], Isabel Allende’s Más allá del invierno [In the midst of Winter] and others, and original Lithuanian works such as Marius Burokas’s latest book of poetry Švarus buvimas [Clean Existence].

Film “My Vilnius” at the LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community began marking Yom haShoa with a screening of the documentary film “My Vilnius” about centuries-old Jewish Vilna life snuffed out in the Holocaust.

Directors Saulius Beržinis and Vytautas Gradeckas and photographer Rimantas Dichavičius attended the screening on April 10. The soundtrack featured works by composer Anatolijus Šenderovas. At the same event an exhibit of works by graphic designer Ovidijus Talijūnas was also launched. Called “Manologas,” each picture features a letter of the Yiddish alphabet and an interpretation of the letter’s meaning.

The images of a lost world on screen with all the people, buildings, cemeteries and synagogues reminded the audience Vilnius was the Jerusalem of Lithuania before the Holocaust, sometimes called the spiritual center of Jewry. With that in mind, we listened intently on the eve of Holocaust Day, Yom haShoa, to photographer Rimantas Dichavičius who managed to capture something of what left after the Holocaust in Vilnius, namely, the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street destroyed in 1965.

Headstones were used as construction material and over the decades the approximately 10-hectare territory was overgrown with bushes and trees. The territory is currently being put in order and should feature a monument soon.

Yom haShoa Commemoration at the LJC

Yom Ha Shoa aukų pagerbimas Lietuvos žydų (litvakų) bendruomenėje

Holocaust Day or Yom haShoa was marked at the Lithuanian Jewish Community Thursday with the sound of a siren blaring and standing in silence in memory the victims.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalled the family members she lost to the Holocaust buried in Kaktiškės, Lithuania. She lit a candle and recited their names. Survivors Mina Frishman, Shapsai Kholem and Fania Brancovskaja also lit candles, as did Ruta Kaplinsky, the daughter of Shmuel Kaplinski who guided a group escaping the Vilnius ghetto through the sewer.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon lit a candle in honor of those who heroically opposed the Holocaust, those who rescued Jewish children and the brave fighters and partisans. The ambassador spoke of the Warsaw Uprising; Israeli president Reuven Rivlin was in Warsaw today to mark the 75th anniversary of the uprising.

About 240,000 Jews lived in Lithuania before the Holocaust. Almost every town and village had a Jewish community. There are about 250 Jewish mass murder and mass grave sites known in Lithuania.

Come Watch Meyn Vilne Film

You’re invited to a screening of the first part, “People and Stones,” of the documentary film “Meyn Vilne” at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday, April 10, at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius.

Jewish Theater in Inter-War Lithuania

An event to launch the new book “Žydų teatras tarpukario Lietuvoje” [Jewish Theater in Inter-War Lithuania] by Dr. Ina Pukelytė will be held at 6:00 P.M. on the second floor of the Grand Dukes Hall in Kaunas on Wednesday, April 4.

All theater and book lovers are invited to attend to learn more about Jewish activities in Lithuania and other countries in the period between the two world wars, the place Lithuanian Jewish theater holds abroad and about the evolution of Lithuanian theater after the war.

Head of Vytautas Magnus University’s Theater Studies Cathedral Dr. Edgaras Klivis is to moderate the event.

Public Launch of Rudashevski Vilnius Ghetto Diary at LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a second, more public launch of the new Lithuanian translation of the Yitzhak Rudashevski Vilnius ghetto diary Tuesday, following last month’s and exclusive initial presentation at the Vilnius Book Fair.

Rudashevski was 14 when he and his parents were imprisoned in the Vilnius ghetto. He celebrated his 15th birthday there. The family hid during the ghetto liquidation, were discovered and then murdered, presumably at Ponar outside Vilnius. Over the last two decades Rudashevski’s diary has emerged as one of a handful of testimonies by children. It was initially published in extracts in the original Yiddish in Israel, and then in English in 1973. An older and newer French translation ha4xandra Zapruder’s books about children in the Holocaust and in a documentary on the same topic aired on MTV.

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Most Active Members

The Kaunas Jewish Community has been honoring its most active members for over two decades now. This year KJC chairman Gercas Žakas invited such members to an evening party to thank them for their sincerity, presence, communication and individual contributions of the most varied sort, including contributing homemade pastry for the Hesed Club, cakes cooked with love for various occasions, furthering traditions and the Yiddish language, honoring Holocaust victims, broadening individual horizons through excursions and cultural events, sharing memories and experience, participating at sporting events and extending a helping hand to other members of the community.

Live musical performances contributed to the fun with performances by the collective including Mihail Javič on saxophone, Arvydas Joffė on percussion, Rolandas Babraitis on keyboard and the young vocalist Viktorija. We all know small gifts can cement friendships and everyone who attended received valuable books.

Sabbath Celebration with MP Gabrielius Landsbergis

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Sabbath last Friday with Gabrielius Landsbergis, a member of parliament, leader of the Conservative/Christian Democratic Party and great-grandson of Righteous Gentile Ona Landsbergienė.

Lansdbergis completed a degree in history from Vilnius University in 2003. In 2005 he was graduated from the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University with a master’s in international relations and diplomacy. He worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania and the Chancellery of the President of Lithuania. In 2007 he joined the staff of the Lithuanian embassy in Belgium. Landsbergis returned to Lithuania in 2011 and worked in the Chancellery of the Government of Lithuania. He was elected a member of the European Parliament in 2014 as a member of the Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats faction. Landsbergis was elected chairman of the Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats (Conservative Party) in April of 2015.

During the cozy meeting at the LJC, the young politician spoke of his family and early years, his work at the Lithuanian embassy in Belgium and his thoughts about the domestic political situation.

Landsbergis said Lithuanian schools aren’t dedicating enough attention to Lithuanian Jewish history and the Jewish contribution to the development of the nation.

“I don’t think many people know the major portion of the law of the land, the Lithuanian constitution, was written in Yiddish. Attorneys, Jewish legal experts, worked on this document. There are so many facts testifying to the Jewish contribution to the development of Lithuania. This is little discussed, unfortunately. I am interested and read as much as possible about Lithuanian Jewish history. I tell my children about it as well. We can only create an open European society through education,” MP Landsbergis said.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas moderated the discussion with Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Rudashevski Vilnius Ghetto Diary Presentation March 27

The literary monument of a fifteen-year-old chronicler of the Jewish ghetto to the suffering of the Holocaust, Yiddish culture, the will to survive and hope. For those who haven’t yet had a chance to learn about the Vilnius ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski, we invite you to come to the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on March 27, 2018, for a public books launch. Participants: LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, translator Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, designer Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, Holocaust historian Neringa Latvytė-Gustatienė. Dr. Lara Lempert will serve as moderator.