Religion

Purim at the Choral Synagogue

Beginning at 6:30 P.M. on February the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius will host a Purim celebration, including a reading of Megilat Ester, the Purim story, followed by a performance of classic Jewish and new Israeli songs by vocalist Yevgeni Valevich. A special program for children includes a magic show, clowns and lots of prizes. There will also be a contest for best Purim costume, and of course Purim treats for young and old.

Tickets are 5 euros (to be given to charity and can be bought starting February 19 either at the synagogue at Pylimo street no. 39 in Vilnius or from Liuba at the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius.

See you there!

Lithuania We Built Together, an Exhibit on Lithuanian Minority Communities

The Lithuanian House of Ethnic Minorities presented a new exhibit February 15 called “We Built Lithuania Together,” an overview of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities living in Lithuania, their history and famous figures from these communities.

The exhibit is the creation of students and teachers from the History Faculty of Vilnius University, the Lithuanian State Archive, the Vrublevskiai Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences and the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, with help from other museums, archives and libraries throughout Lithuania.

Following the launch, exhibit organizers planned to present it all over Lithuania at libraries, schools and exhibition spaces. The exhibit is in Lithuanian and English.

Netanyahu Congratulates Lithuania on 100th Birthday

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, a greeting from him and the people of Israel congratulating Lithuania on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lithuanian Republic.

Netanyahu wished the people of Lithuania a memorable and happy holiday. He noted the close historical connections between the people of Lithuania and Israel and the importance of the Lithuanian Jewish community to the entire Jewish people and their religious and intellectual development. The Jewish people who lived in Lithuania earned great respect and included famous philosophers, writers and scholars.

The Israeli PM also noted the current Lithuanian Jewish community and Israeli citizens from Lithuania celebrate a spirit of solidarity and close cultural contacts between the two peoples. Netanyahu noted Israel appreciates highly Lithuania’s promises regarding Holocaust education and in fighting anti-Semitism. He called Lithuania one of Israel’s closest partners in Europe at the present time, and said Lithuania had contributed significantly to fostering constructive dialogue between Israel and the European Union.

Lithuania’s 100th Independence Day was also observed by the municipality of Tel Aviv where the municipal building was lit in the colors of the Lithuanian flag.

Jokūbas Vygodskis: Lithuanian Jewish Affairs Minister, Lithuanian Taryba Member, Polish Sejm Deputy, Vilnius Jewish Community Chairman, Good Man



Jokūbas Vygodskis (Jakub Wygodzki in Polish, Yankev Vigodski in Yiddish) was born in Bobruisk now in Belarus in 1855 and his family moved to Vilnius in 1860, where he received a traditional Jewish education. He completed high school in Marijampolė and attended medical school at the University of Saint Petersburg, additional studies in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, after which he returned to Vilnius with the city’s centuries-old Jewish community.

Vilnius always had sufficiently capable people who knew how to organize the life of the Jewish community according to ethical standards, providing a helping hand to the poor and weak. Vygodskis organized the Society of Jewish Physicians in Vilnius besides practicing medicine as a gynecologist, pediatrician and medical researcher, as well as writing; initially he published medical articles in Russian and German journals, but later contributed to the Yiddish and Hebrew popular press and wrote at least three books of memoirs in Yiddish.

In September of 1917 the Lithuanian Taryba (national council) was elected in Vilnius with the goal of establishing an independent state. Wygodzki was appointed minister for Jewish affairs. In 1918 he joined the World Zionist Federation and is called a general liberal Zionist in the literature available on him.

Lithuanian Limmud 2018

LIMMUD LIETUVA 2018

Lithuanian Limmud 2018 kicked of Friday at the Grand Resort Hotel in Vilnius. The educational Judaism conference again invited all Jewish Community members to spend three days together, to feel what we have in common, to talk and to celebrate Sabbath together.

“Forever Yours, Anne Frank” Farewell Performance

For over 10 years Panevėžys theater director Valerijus Jevsejevas has been putting on an Anne Frank drama based on the diary on stages around Lithuania.

On February 4 there the play “Forever Yours, Anne Frank” gave its farewell performance at the Juozas Miltinis Drama Theater in Panevėžys, attended by members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Tenor Rafailas Karpis performed a concert concluding with kaddish.

Seminar Series Continues

Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky’s series of seminars continues this Sunday at 5:30 P.M. at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Admission is free and open to everyone. Call +370 650 18270 for more information.

Dr. Saulius Sužiedėlis Explains Why Gas Chambers Weren’t Used in Lithuania

Interview by Ieva Elenbergienė

Professor emeritus of history at Millersville University Saulius Sužiedėlis explains the Nazis didn’t need gas chambers in Lithuania. While 40 percent of Holocaust victims were murdered in gas chambers, this wasn’t the case in Lithuania, where the Nazis discovered sufficient man-power for mass murder. Although there were informal attempts to stop the violence in Lithuania, Dr. Sužiedėlis says there was no universal condemnation, nor public statements against by authorities. Church officials were also silent. Sužiedėlis says we must stop denying ugly things and look our past squarely in the face.

At the end of November Saulius Sužiedėlis was invited by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to speak at the conference #AtmintisAtsakomybėAteitis held in Vilnius.

When people are talking publicly and the topic turns to Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust, there is often a defensive reaction expressed as an attack on Jews: “But they did this and this and that to us!”

It’s not just characteristic of us, the human reaction of trying to place guilt on others. For instance, in the USA for a long time the destruction of the Indians was completely ignored, there was talk of the wars of the Wild West, but new studies show these so-called Indian wars were in many cases nothing more than the massacre of peaceful local residents. Of course some people didn’t like this, and accusations came up, for example, “But what did they do to the cowboys?” and so on. I personally, though, have no concern about what Jews have done. I’m concerned with what Lithuanians have done. Of course there were Jews, just as there were Lithuanians and Russians, who were involved in deportations. What does that have in common with, let’s say, Jewish children murdered in Telšiai? I don’t feel personal shame–I wasn’t even born yet–but I do feel a kind of collective shame, that people of my ethnicity were able to act this way in this Catholic, religion-practicing country.

LJC Chairwoman Meets Parliamentary Speaker

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas met speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis Wendesday. They discussed current issues in the Lithuanian Jewish Community regarding protection of Jewish heritage sites and the transfer of the former Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas for use by the Jewish Community, and agreed to work together to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto with an academic conference at parliament.

Photo: O. Posaškova/Lithuanian parliament

Verėna Wooden Synagogue Listed as Heritage Site

The two-storey wooden synagogue in Varėna, Lithuania, has been listed on the registry of cultural heritage treasures.

It was listed as being of local significance and important for its architecture and as a memorial. The synagogue has a stone and mortar foundation under the compact wooden building. Some of the original windows have survived.

The synagogue was mentioned in an account by a traveler from the Crimea in 1930, who wrote: “There were three Jewish synagogues and about 600 families in Varėna before the war. Now there are barely 70. There were three public schools, now there is only one. The only synagogue [left] was rebuilt in 1922. The Jews have their own People’s Bank established in 1920 with a turnover of one million litai in 1929.”

Vilna and Mezhrich: Two Schools of Torah Study

Vilna ir Mežrič: dvi Toros studijų mokyklos

Natalja Cheifec invites you to a lecture on the following topics:

Who are Litvaks?
Lithuanian Jewish traditions and customs
What is Hassidism, how it arose and a short history
Mitnagdim: the heirs of the Vilna Gaon
Mitangdim and Hassidim: is there a real reason for the communal conflict?

Time: 3:00 P.M., February 11, 2018
Place: Meeting hall, second floor, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Vilnius

Please register for free here: goo.gl/JbypwU

Book Review: The Book Smugglers


A wagon of newspapers and artwork, including a bust of Leo Tolstoy, recovered in Vilnius in July, 1944. Photo: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Lithuania has a long history of book smuggling, but the Lithuanian side of the story usually focuses on efforts by smugglers to import books in Lithuanian into the territory of the Baltic states incorporated into the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great and attempts to set up underground Lithuanian schools in barns across the country. The entire lore of book smuggling was popularized after World War II by the author Ray Bradbury in his novel “Fahrenheit 451.” Now the Wall Street Journal and author David Fishman remind Lithuanians and the world of another chapter in the same story: the “Paper Brigade” in the Vilnius ghetto answerable to Rosenberg charged with looting Judaica treasures from YIVO, the Great Synagogue and other sources in the Nazi-occupied Lithuanian capital.

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The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis. The True Story of the Paper Brigade of Vilna, by David E. Fishman. 312 pp. 28 photos, 2 maps. University Press of New England, 2017. Audiobook narrated by P. J. Ochlan.

Review by Gerald J. Steinacher

The Book Smugglers of Vilna

How a small band of Jews resisted Nazi efforts to destroy the cultural treasures of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The Nazis did not merely want to murder all the Jews; they were also determined to eradicate all Jewish art and literature. In “The Book Smugglers,” David E. Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, introduces us to a thriving Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and to the people who risked their lives to save this culture from the barbaric Nazi onslaught.

Vilna, better known today as Vilnius, was the cultural capital of Eastern European Jewry. Nicknamed the Jerusalem of Lithuania, on the eve of the Holocaust the town had an ethnically diverse population of 193,000, of whom about 28% were Jews. It was foremost a city of books for the people of the book. Yiddish literature flourished in a vibrant writers’ scene. The city’s Jewish cultural institutions, such as the Strashun Library and the Yiddish Scientific Institute, were famous for their rare literature and Jewish-history collections.

Tu b’Shvat

Today is the Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shvat, the 15th day of the month of Shvat, the New Year for trees also known as Israeli Arbor Day. It is traditional to eat of the shvat ha’minim (seven species endemic to the Land of Israel): wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Hag sameakh!

Pope Tells Anti-Semitism Group Memory Antidote to Indifference

Pope: Indifference a virus which is contagious in our time

Pope Francis stresses the importance of responsibility, remembrance and education in fight against anti-Semitism.

In his speech to participants attending the Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Area, the Pope got right to the heart of his address by emphasizing three words, responsibility, indifference and memory.

Regarding responsibility, Pope Francis said, “we are responsible when we are able to respond. It is not merely a question of analyzing the causes of violence and refuting their perverse reasoning, but of being actively prepared to respond to them.”

Indifference

He went on to say, “the enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference; for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right.”

I do not grow tired of repeating, he said “that indifference is a virus that is dangerously contagious in our time, a time when we are ever more connected with others, but are increasingly less attentive to others.”

What Happened to Poland?

The Jews of Poland were once the largest Ashkenazi Jewish community in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but those of them who remain today, it seems, will not be able to understand the decision made by the Polish Sejm on January 26, 2018. Historically Lithuanian and Polish Jewish communities are connected by ties of friendship in all spheres, we maintain exemplary relations with the secular and religious community, we know of the efforts made by Lithuanian MPs in solving disputes over the use of Polish orthography and we remember the efforts made by the Polish presidents Aleksandr Kwaszniewski, Lech Kaczynski and Bronislaw Komorowski to improve relations with Lithuania.

What could have happened so that the current members of the Polish parliament adopted a law imposing three years’ imprisonment to anyone who openly says the Polish state or nation is guilty of Nazi crimes, or who uses the formula “Polish death camps?” The law reflects the official position of the Polish Government that the great majority of Poles acted heroically during the Nazi occupation. Nonetheless there were many in the country who did collaborate with the Nazis and committed horrific crimes.

Another question arises for me: isn’t it from such irresponsible steps, from these sorts of anti-Semitic laws and assessments as well as statements that everything began during World War II?

We also remember Chiune Sugihara who provided the Jews of Poland condemned to the Holocaust in Kaunas his “visas for life.”

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Emmanuel Levinas and His Connection with Lithuania

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of “Laikas and kitas,” a Lithuanian translation of Litvak philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s book “Time and the Other,” on January 25. Translator Viktoras Bachmetjevas, an advisor to the Lithuanian minister of culture, was there, as were Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė of the Religious Studies Center of Vilnius University, philosopher Dr. Danutė Bacevičiūtė of the same center and Vytautas Magnus University Public Communications Cathedral teacher Algirdas Davidavičius. The four held a panel talk and talked about the book based on a series of lectures by Levinas.

The Jonas ir Jokūbas publishing house published the book with support from the Goodwill Foundation.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė agreed to talk more about the Litvak philosopher for www.lzb.lt.

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We can speak of two aspects of the connection between one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), and Lithuania. First, it is known he was born and grew up in Kaunas and his parents were also from Lithuania. He was born in Kaunas January 12, 1906, old style, which is December 30, 1905, on the Julian calendar, or the 15th of Tevet on the Hebrew calendar. Kaunas then was the seat of the Kovna guberniya in the Russian Empire. According to the entry in the vital records of the Kaunas Jewish community, his father was Kaunas resident Yekhiel Levin and his mother was named Dvoira. There’s also a date for his circumcision in the entry, January 6 according to the Julian calendar.

His father was also a native resident of Kaunas, born there to Abraham Levin and Feige in 1878, and his mother came from Ylakai, where she was born in 1881 to Moshe Yitzak and Eta Gurvich. He attended a Jewish primary school in Kaunas until World War I. The family was forced to evacuate as many Lithuanian Jews were during World War I. The Levin family ended up in Ukraine, where Emmanuel was accepted at a gymnasium in Kharkov, where at the same time a Kaunas boys gymnasium had been relocated. The story goes the entire family was overjoyed because this represented an opportunity for Emmanuel to pursue a higher education somewhere in the Russian Empire, but the war ended and the chaos and changes of the revolution began and Lithuania achieved independence, the family returned to Lithuania.

Jewish Educational Conference Lithuanian Limmud 2018

Dear friends,

This year Limmud will be even better than usual, so if you haven’t registered yet, do so now.

The conference will take place at the Vilnius Grand Resort Hotel from February 9 to 11.

Lecturers and performers are to include:

Prof. Zeef Chanin from Israel.

Yulia Rutberg, an actress from Russia, to host the Creative Evening.

Yuri Tabak, religious studies scholar, Jewish history expert and writer from Russia.

Tzvi Kaplan, rabbi, family specialist and psychologist from Israel.

Dr. Lara Lempertienė, scholar, Vilnius University teacher, senior bibliographer for Jewish books at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, from Lithuania.

Regina Pats, a film expert from Estonia, to present program of new and interesting films.

Hop Stop Banda, a German musical band.

Maja Tarachovskaja, teacher, writer from Lithuania.

Sasha Song, a vocalist from Lithuania.

Ala Segal, beauty expert, Lithuania.

Grigoriy Abramovich, rabbi, Belarus.

Irina Abromovich, rebitsen, Belarus.

Svetlana Liser, yoga activities, Lithuania.

Laurina Todesaitė, Jewish culinary expert, Lithuania.

Boris Kirzner, violinist, Lithuania.

Daumantas Levas Todesas from Lithuania, to present the film “Aš turiu papasakoti” [I Must Tell the Story].

Boris Burda from Ukraine and the game “Who, what, where?”

Play by students of Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium “Let Me Live.”

For more information, contact limmudlietuva@lzb.lt or call Žana Skudovičienė at +37067881514.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Lithuanian Foreign Ministry January 26

Honorable foreign minister,

Dear Holocaust survivors,

Dear rescuer friends,

Members of the Jewish Community,

Honored ambassadors,

This day is dedicated to remembering, thinking and looking towards the future.

We have gathered here to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Today we mourn together.

Let us honor the victims of the Holocaust with a minute of silence.

We mourn our countrymen, our friends, patriots, and in the case of members of my community, every time we experience the loss again of our family members.

We appreciate that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, in other words, the Lithuanian state, initiated this shared honoring of the victims.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Appeal Regarding Legal Disputes within the Jewish Community

I would like to address our Community again:

• As you know, a group of people calling themselves “the Vilnius Jewish Community” initiated legal proceedings.

• We received no reply to our proposals, made directly and in written form, to give up these legal disputes. A decision was handed down in the Vilnius Jewish Community’s petition which will be appealed in the usual appeals process and we have complete confidence the decision will be annulled.

• In other legal proceedings, the court found the rules and regulations of the LJC were not legal, and the point allowing the formation of a representational quorum during elections was voided. The court again emphasized the rules and regulations must conform to the law: one member, one vote. This affects the regional communities, but moreover all of the associated members, and means that the LJC elections in 2017 were held in keeping with the law. This decision by the court is final and is not subject to appeal.

Again, every Lithuanian Jew may decide for him or herself what sort of community they want, but first, everyone must know the truth. Leaders and community members who await the end of the disputes so they can decide which side to support must wait a little longer. I feel this decision is a matter of conscience for each person to make on their own.

I ask those who are sowing division between Jews, engaging in provocations, filing complaints and spreading rumors and gossip to stop it, without regard to whatever posts they occupy. You are doing harm to the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community.

I invite all members of the community to come together and join forces for things that are important rather than engage in fruitless internal struggles. Our priority tasks are celebrating and passing on the distinct Litvak culture and historical memory of the history of Jews in Lithuania, and making life better for Jews here and now. We can only accomplish this by coming together.

Kaunas 2022 Program to Revive Lost Memory

The first event in the Kaunas 2022 program has been held at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum and was dedicated to commemoration of the Kaunas Jewish community before the Holocaust.

Kaunas residents often boast their city is the most Lithuanian city, but that’s not the whole truth. In the early 20th century Kaunas was very multicultural and this was an important part of the city’s identity. The “Office of Memory” part of the Kaunas 2022 program is aimed at reviving the history of the city and encouraging residents to remember that which has been forgotten.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said there must be realization the Jews of Kaunas were Lithuanian citizens who had lived in the country for aeons, loved their country and worked to improve it. The ambassador spoke of a modern Jewish museum, one which would be attractive and interactive, “telling the story of the entire nation through the stories of different individuals.”

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the old Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas would be an ideal site for such a museum. He also said the heroes of the brutal period of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and that a monument to Lithuanians who rescued Jews should be erected outside the museum.

Full story in Lithuanian here.