The Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble will perform a concert called Promised Land to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel at 4:00 P.M. on May 14 at the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius. Tickets cost 10 euros. For tickets or more information, call +370 687 79 309 or +370 5 261 30 03.
The Judaica Research Center at the Martynas Mažvydas Lithuanian National Library, the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum and Roma Social Center present their “mini klez-fest” which includes live music and a lecture on klezmer music.
The event will take place at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon Museum at 6:00 P.M. on Sunday, April 30. The performers decided to call their hour-long concert “From Vizhnitz to Vilne: Klezmer Music from the Carpathians and Beyond.” The program is composed of songs selected by Jewish music researcher, ethnographer and artist-in-residence in the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University Yale Strom, recorded during ethnographic field work and which were once performed from the Carpathian Mountains to Jonava in Lithuania and locations inside Belarus. Yale Strom currently teaches music at San Diego State.
The lecture component by Strom will take part on at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, May 3, at the National Library in Vilnius. It is called “Relationship between Romani and Jewish Musicians before World War II: How and Why?”
An excerpt from the great Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever’s memoir of the Vilna Ghetto
“Malines were built everywhere: underneath ruined buildings, in cellars, underneath garbage dumps, in caves, and everywhere else imaginable.”
The poet Abraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) moved into the Vilna Ghetto not long after the Nazis created it in September of 1941 and with his wife Freydke escaped to the forest in September, 1943. During his two years in the ghetto he worked with the theater and youth groups and was part of the legendary Paper Brigade, a group of ghetto inmates and their allies who rescued priceless Jewish books and manuscripts from Nazi destruction.
Full article and translation here.
by Zelda Kahan Newman
Last updated June 23, 2021
Born February 20, 1925. Rivka Basman’s mother died when she was five. Her younger brother was ripped from her hands and murdered by the Nazis, and she escaped from the Nazi death march. After the war, she helped the illegal immigration movement to what was then Palestine. During that time, she met and married the painter Shmuel Ben-Haim, who designed every one of her books. The couple lived on Kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil for sixteen years, where she taught schoolchildren. During the 1960s, she studied comparative literature at Columbia University for one year, and later went to Russia, where her husband was Israel’s cultural attaché. In Russia, she furthered clandestine contacts between Soviet Yiddish writers and the outside world. After her husband died, she added Ben-Haim to her name.
Family and Education
Rivka Basman Ben-Haim was born in Wilkomir (Ukmerge), Lithuania to Yekhezkel and Tsipora (née Heyman) on February 20, 1925. Her mother died in 1930, and her father remarried; he and his second wife had a son, Aharon (Arele).
As a child, Rivka attended a Yiddish-speaking folk-shul, and she and her classmates read and delighted in the poems and stories of the Yiddish woman writer Kadya Molodowsky. Even then, she wrote poems in Yiddish. She continued studying in a Lithuanian gymnasium (academic high school), but in 1941, before she could graduate, her family moved into what later became the Vilna ghetto. She spent two years in the ghetto, where she met the poet Abraham Sutzkever and read him her poems in Lithuanian and Yiddish. He encouraged her to write only in Yiddish and was her mentor and friend till his death.
The site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius with associated mikvot has been listed as a state-protected cultural heritage site, according to Baltic News Service.
The Lithuanian Culture Ministry issued a press release Thursday naming this site and the site of the first Lithuanian gymnasium in Vilnius was established on Basanavičiaus street. The YIVO occupied part of the latter space at its inception in 1925 before moving headquarters to Vivulskio street in Vilnius. The ministry reports state protection means more opportunities for funding protection and restoration of these sites.
The exact date the synagogue was built isn’t known. The Great Synagogue with adjacent ritual purification baths was part of a larger complex of synagogues, libraries and schools located around the Great Synagogue and the home of the Vilna Gaon.
Ownership of the ruins of the Great Synagogue and mikvot were passed to the Goodwill Foundation in 2020. Various plans for commemorating the site have been proposed, but so far the most likely is a humble protected excavation exhibit showcasing the subterranean main hall with bimah and floor.
Photo: Tunnel dug by archaeologists leading to central bimah, by Valdas Kopūstas, courtesy BNS.
Yiddish poet Rivka Basman Ben-Haim died last week at the age of 98, the Jerusalem Post reports. She was the last living Yiddish poet of her generation.
She refused to call herself a Holocaust survivor. The person who entered the Nazi camps, she explained, did not survive, but died, and a different person emerged. Rivka found comfort in their new families, friendships and in love.
She was born in Wilkomir [Ukmergė], Lithuania. Her father and brother were murdered. She spent around two years in the Vilna ghetto and was then sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.
Full Jerusalem Post story here.
More information about Basman’s Litvak origins and life here.
Grigoriy Shur’s Vilnius ghetto diary has been reissued with support from the Goodwill Foundation, with a new cover and new introduction.
Perhaps the most informative of the several Vilnius ghetto diaries, Shur’s manuscript was originally published in Lithuanian translation by the Era publishing house in Vilnius in 1997 with partial funding from the Lithuanian Culture Ministry, and was roundly ignored by the general public.
The new edition is the same translation published by Era back in 1997 by Nijolė Kvaraciejūtė and Algimantas Antanavičius. It contains the same introduction by Pranas Morkus and forward by Vladimir Porudominsky, but adds a new and short introduction by the writer Vytautas Toleikis, who surveys recent Holocaust literature published in Lithuanian, including his keen observations about the book “Mūsiškai” [Our People] by Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff, or more precisely, how Lithuanian nationalists responded to it. Here’s a rough translation of part of Toleikis’s introduction:
New York Jewish Week–YIVO has launched an eight-year project to digitize its Jewish Labor and Political Archives, widening access to some 3.5 million pages related to Jewish revolutionary, socialist and labor movements in Europe and America.
The project, the largest archival digitization project in the history of the Jewish research institute, will shine a light on the Jewish Labor Bund whose archives survived the Nazis and form the core of the collection.
Founded in Vilna in 1897 by Jews influenced by Marxism, the Bund played a central role in organizing Jewish trade unions and aligned with various socialist parties in pre-WWII Europe. It administered a massive network of secular Yiddish schools, stood up against anti-Semitism and supported an underground network against the Nazi genocide, activities kept up by members who managed to flee to New York in the early 1940s.
That history is reflected in the journey of the archive materials which were seized by the Nazis but were later rediscovered in France after the German army’s retreat. In 1951 the Bund Archives was brought to New York, and transferred to YIVO in 1992.
Purim starts tonight at sundown when the 14th day of the month of Adar begins on the Jewish calendar. One of the constituent features of Purim is the traditional pastry known as hamentashen. Although everyone has their own special recipe, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky makes her family’s version with poppy-seed filling, the traditional Litvak treat. The recipe dates beck to the period between the two world wars.
“This recipe was probably used earlier and recalls the time when the aroma of the pastry filled the Vilnius Old Town and many other cities and towns where Jews lived in Lithuania. Although you can purchase this version now, it’s always more fun to make it yourself,” she commented.
Happy Purim! Hag Purim sameakh!
Faina Kukliansky’s hamantashen recipe:
The open-source RODA (Repository of Authentic Digital Objects*) platform has been chosen to digitize and conserve our European Jewish legacy.
The international J-Ark European Jewish Community Archive project was started in early 2021 and will continue till early 2023, creating and testing a long-term storage platform for digital content. This digital Jewish archive will include selected video, audio, visual, photographic and other materials connected with the history of the Lithuanian Jewish Community since the restoration of Lithuanian independence.
“Vilna. Žydiškojo Vilniaus istorija” [Vilna: The History of Jewish Vilnius] by Israel Cohen, 2nd edition, 2023, translated by Miglė Anušauskaitė, 384 pages.
The Vilnius publishing house Hubris has published a Lithuanian translation of British writer and early proponent of Zionism Israel Cohen’s book “Vilna: A History of Jewish Vilnius.” The author was born in London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He worked as a correspondent for the Times of London, the Manchester Guardian, Manchester Evening Chronicle and Jewish World. The book was first published in 1943 by the Jewish Publication Society as part of a series showcasing Jewish communities in various countries for English speakers.
More information in Lithuanian here. See below for an excerpt from the original English edition.
“Slaptoji Kauno žydų geto policijos istorija” [Secret History of the Kaunas Ghetto Police] by anonymous Kaunas ghetto police officers, published 2021, translated by Aistis Žekevičius from the English edition edited by Samuel Schalkowsky, 504 pages.
A unique document written in Yiddish by Kaunas ghetto police between 1942 and 1943. It lay buried in Slobodka for years and was discovered in 1964 when construction was underway at the site, and turned over to the Soviet KGB. It was translated to English and published in the USA in 2014.
A Lithuanian translation of interwar Jewish author Kalmen Zingman’s book “On the Spiral Staircase” was recently published by the Hubris publishing house. Goda Volbikaitė translated it.
What can this novel written in 1925 and only now available in Lithuanian tell today’s readers? First of all, it talks about Kaunas. The translation of this book is also a kind of proof Kaunas wasn’t just a Lithuanian city. People of other ethnicities also lived there whose works can (and should) be listed in our literary canon. We spoke with the translator of this book about the little-known figure of Kalmen Zingman, spiral staircases, the Aleksotas aerodrome, Slobodka and Yiddish literature.
Just three years before his death, Zingman wrote in his diary: “I feel like that wonderful time when I will be recognized and famous isn’t far off.” Unfortunately his dream was not to come true. Why do you think Zingman wasn’t successful in literature and recognition?
For truth’s sake, it has to be said that no Yiddish writer working in Kaunas in the period between the two world wars got famous. We are talking about around 30 authors in total who lived in Kaunas for a shorter or longer time.
It’s very clear why they didn’t become famous in the Lithuanian context: there was a lack of interwar translations from the Yiddish language into Lithuanian, just as there is in our time. I should say Lithuania is still just in the early stages of discovering Yiddish literature. Sutzkever and Kulbak are better known now, and some rarer names such as Matilda Olkin and Yitzhak Rudashevski. But basically whole strata of Yiddish literature made in Lithuania are still unknown to the Lithuanian reader.
Photo: Chaim Grade and his wife Inna Hecker Grade in the United States in 1978. They met in Moscow in 1945. Courtesy YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
by Andrew Silow-Carroll, jta.org, February 5, 2023
JTA–Years ago, when I worked at the Forward, I had a cameo in a real-life Yiddish drama.
A cub reporter named Max Gross sat just outside my office, where he answered the phones. A frequent caller was Inna Grade, the widow of the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade and a fierce guardian of his literary legacy. Mrs. Grade would badger poor Max in dozens of phone calls, especially when a Forward story referred kindly to the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Grade’s widow described Singer as a “blasphemous buffoon” whose fame and reputation, she was convinced, came at the expense of her husband’s.
As Max explains in his 2008 memoir “From Schlub to Stud” Mrs. Grade “became a bit of a joke around the paper.” And yet in Yiddish literary circles, her protectiveness of one of the 20th century’s most important Yiddish writers was serious business: because Inna Grade kept such a tight hold on her late husband’s papers–Chaim Grade (pronounced “Grah-deh”) died in 1982–a generation of scholars was thwarted in taking his true measure.
Inna Grade died in 2010, leaving no signed will or survivors, and the contents of her cluttered Bronx apartment became the property of the borough’s public administrator. In 2013 Chaim Grade’s personal papers, 20,000-volume library, literary manuscripts and publication rights were awarded to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the National Library of Israel. They are now stored in YIVO headquarters on Manhattan’s West 16th Street.
Roza Bieliauskienė has died. She was born in 1956 in Vilnius to Holocaust survivors from a shtetl just outside the city. She grew up speaking Yiddish at home and hearing it on the street. Trained as an engineer, she eventually immersed herself in research, writing and teaching about the Holocaust, Yiddish and Jewish topics. She worked at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Community from its inception for 20 years and taught at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius. She worked on the translation of the Grigori Shur Holocaust diary, numerous other books published by the Vilna Gaon Museum, translated a number of children’s books, translated genealogies in Yiddish and was working on a book about the Jewish history of Lithuania at the time of her death. Our deepest condolences to her many friends, colleagues and family members.
Today Vilnius begins celebrating its 700th birthday with a series of events over the coming year. Over its entire 700 years of history the Jewish people have lived, built, created, started families, studied and achieved major milestones in culture, medicine, business, the arts and many other fields of human endeavor.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remarked: “Today there remains only a very small Vilna Jewish community, but the contributions made by many generations of Jews to the success and thriving of this city called the Jerusalem of the North won’t allow us to forget.”
The Lithuanian Jewish Community has published a calendar to mark Vilnius’s 700th anniversary with a special Vilnius 700 logo and collages from old Jewish Vilne. The designers of the calendar were Victoria Sideraitė Alon and Albinas Šimanauskas from the creative group JUDVI & AŠ.
“The 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of Vilnius is a wonderful and significant day for all residents of the city and beyond. Sadly, in the excitement in preparing for this holiday, few remember who built the capital of Lithuania, who contributed so significantly to giving birth to this pearl of UNESCO,” chairwoman Kukliansky commented.
Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė expressed her condolences on the death of the writer, dramaturg and translator Grigoriy Kanovich.
“Grigoriy Kanovich’s work gave a voice to entire generations of Litvaks who died and raised the curtain for the painful 20th century for a view into the profound, rich culture fostered for centuries in Lithuania, and at the same time, by presenting the agonies society experienced from the Holocaust, he formed the modern reader’s understanding and sympathy. Grigoriy Kanovich will remain in our memories as a person who carried the light through his works and through his always penetrating, respectful and hope-filled way of seeing. We have lost one of the great writers who was just as concerned with the present as with the past, with being able to live in harmony, in the emergent commonality, in what is shared rather than the categorical. I extend my sincere condolences to Grigoriy Kanovich’s loved ones during this difficult time of loss,” the Lithuanian prime minister wrote in her letter of condolence.
Full statement in Lithuanian here.
The writer Grigoriy Kanovich has passed away at the age of 93. Our deepest condolences to his sons Sergejus and Dmitrijus, wife Olga and his many friends and fans around the world. He served as chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community from 1989 to 1993, when he moved to Israel.
The Vilnius Jewish Public Library presents a lecture by Oleksii Chebotarov called “Topography of Pogroms: Spatial and Social History of Anti-Jewish Violence on the Imperial Peripheries” on December 15.
On December 22 the library will feature an evening of poetry and music by Leonard Cohen.
On December 29 the library will screen the made-for-tv documentary film “The World Was Ours” (2007) about the pre-WWII Jewish community of Vilnius. According to imdb:
“A documentary chronicling the rich, vibrant history of the Jewish community of Vilna (then Poland, now Lithuania) known as ‘The Jerusalem of Lithuania’ before its destruction in World War II.”
For more information, send an e-mail to email@example.com or call 8 604 15765.
Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas reports the concert of Yiddish music by vocalist Alejandra Czarny and Michel Gonzalez on guitar in Kaunas was a great successe with the audience.
The concert was part of a series the Kaunas Jewish Community has been putting on called “Yiddish Hear Again in Kaunas.” This concert was called “Inspired by Grandmother’s Songs.” Czarny’s grandmother and that side of the family all came from Kaunas. She’s a transplant to south Florida from Argentina and charmed the audience with tango melodies along with Yiddish favorites, which became sing-alongs with the audience, and Alejandra Czarny’s own creations which at times evoked Venezuelan music, according to Gercas Žakas.
Alejandra Czarny and Michel Gonzalez were also scheduled to perform at the restored synagogue in Alytus on November 30.