Religion

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s events, workshops, clubs and so forth are held often at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, as are Hebrew lessons, chess matches and Jewish holiday events attended by children. The safety of children attending events at the LJC is being called into question by the appearance of a swastika just meters from the front door. Its appearance coincided with the Peoples Fair inside, where children were preparing to give a concert. The goal of the Peoples Fair is to bring together the ethnic minority communities who call Lithuania home.

While the children were getting ready for the concert upstairs, down at the Bagel Shop Café a group of 43 elderly religious Jews from Jerusalem were holding prayers and waiting for breakfast when the swastika appeared, even closer to the front door of the kosher food outlet.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliaksy said there should actually be reverse discrimination for the Lithuanian Jewish Community considering how small it is now following the Holocaust.

No other state in Europe fails to provide protection and security for its Jewish community.

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

by Gintaras Šiuparys

The city of Telšiai has been putting its Old Town in order and has begun restoration of the former yeshiva there.

The remains of the building standing on Iždinės street doesn’t bring to mind the former glory of the world-famous yeshiva. Rabbis from the US, Great Britain, South Africa, Hungary Uruguay and other countries came to learner here. After a fire early in the 20th century, the rebuilt and expanded was huge. At one time up to 500 rabbis and other students studied here.

One of the most famous Jewish religious schools, it operated until the occupation of Lithuania in 1940. Actually it was recreated and still operates across the Atlantic: since November of 1941 the Telshe yeshiva has been operating in Cleveland, Ohio. It follows the same program of study as the former yeshiva in Lithuania.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

The Vincas Kudirka Public Library in Kaunas invites the public to a series of tours in a project called Jewish Heritage in Kaunas. The tours will be conducted on September 6, 8 and 10 and will cover modern architecture, the Old Town, Slobodka and major achievements by Litvaks. Registration required. Call (37) 22 23 57 or send an email to renginiai@kaunas.mvb.lt

The guided tour on September 10 begins at 6:00 P.M. and will be led by local guide Asia Gutermanaitė.

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Thursday evening a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was erected on the outer wall of the Vrublevskiai Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius. A number of police observed the scene.

This is a wanton act by a mob. It demonstrates the attitude of the organizers of this event, of those who hung the plaque, towards the law and obeying the law.

We saw the organizers took the path of force, pushing their belief as the only correct one. We saw that before in Lithuania in 1941.

Despite the LJC’s critical view of Noreika’s actions during the Nazi occupation, it never occured to us over those 22 years the plaque stood there to come and simply take it down. We respect the laws of Lithuania.

I have no doubt that the events of Thursday evening have done harm to the nation’s reputation. High-lvel delegations from the United States are due to arrive in September alone and we will mark the day of remembrance of the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania on September 23. And will this plaque look on from its central perch as we mark the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Litvak History declared in 2020?

It is crucial that the leaders of the Lithuanian state express their views and a principled position, and that the appropriate Lithuanian institutions take all necessary measures.

The only consolation seems to be that today, Thursday evening, as I watched this so-called action, I saw only a small group of people who truly do not represent the whole of Lithuania. There were no young people, no intellectuals on hand, whose voices have been lacking in this.

What we are demanding is very simple: 1) stop denying the Holocaust, 2) stop portraying Holocaust perpetrators as heroes, 3) honor the victims of the Holocaust and 4) follow the IHRA definition of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism adopted by Lithuania last year. If the IHRA definition isn’t followed it’s meaningless for Lithuania to remain a signatory to it or a member of IHRA.

I would like to remind the public again that my relatives were imprisoned in the Šiauliai ghetto, from which they never returned. I would like to quote the famous writer Sholem Aleichem, in whose honor a school is named in Vilnius. One of his works begins with the words: “How good it is that I am an orphan…” I would also like to say: “How good it is that I am an orphan and that my parents aren’t around to see the man who condemned their entire family to death in the Šiauliai ghetto celebrated and lionized.”

European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

A lesson on how to bake traditional challa bread will be held at 3:00 P.M. on September 15 at the Šeduva Crafts and Culture Center located at Vilniaus street no. 1 in Šeduva. Chefs from the Bagel Shop Café will share the secrets of traditional Litvak holiday customs and cuisine.

Home Movies from Before the Flood

Home Movies from Before the Flood

On Wednesday Kaunas Holocaust survivor Dita Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė spoke at the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and presented a home movie.

The silent film was a series of street scenes from Vilnius, Riga and Lvov before the war. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė explained how her uncle Hanon, a medical student in Paris, used to come visit the family. In bed for over a week with scarlet fever, the young Dita was overjoyed when her physician uncle told the family she could get up and do things around the house without making it worse. Dita said she jumped out of bed at the first opportunity and from that time on Hanon became her favorite uncle.

Hanon was an amateur filmmaker and used an 8 mm camera on some of his travels. As the Nazis drew closer to Paris, he grabbed a bicycle and rode south, to Vichy France. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė said he soon discovered life was dangerous for a Jew there, as well. After the Holocaust Hanon continued to live in Paris. Dita made it to Israel where it turned out she was, for whatever reason, one of the few Jews able to teach the German language. In the early 1970s she had the opportunity to improve her German teaching skills in West Germany, and visited Hanon in Paris during that trip. That’s when he mentioned he still had some of the footage he had taken before the Holocaust.

LJC Celebrates 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in Vilnius Old Town

LJC Celebrates 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in Vilnius Old Town

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated the 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in the traditional Jewish Quarter of Vilnius September 1 with song, dance and food. The weather was beautiful. Restaurants in the Vilnius Old Town feature Jewish foods with traditional breakfast served at the Bagel Shop Café, restaurants and cafés on Žydų and Stiklių streets and other locations. DJs RafRaf, Akvilina and Marius Šmitas provided dance music with a 10-hour musical program at the Amadeus Bar.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted celebrants and Vidmantas Bezaras, director of the Cultural Heritage Deparment, and Vida Montvydaitė, director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities, also spoke, noting there is no town or village in Lithuania without some sign of a Jewish presence. Vida Montvydaitė said this isn’t just Jewish heritage, it’s Lithuania’s legacy, and protecting it is becoming ever more important.

The writer Kristina Sabaliauskaitė spoke about her childhood memories of the Jews who still lived in central Vilnius then and with whom she made lasting friendships. She says interpersonal relationships are still one of the most important things in life to her.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Tours Jewish Sites in Akmenė Region

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Tours Jewish Sites in Akmenė Region

Members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community spent the day of August 20 touring the Akmenė visiting sites with once populous Jewish communities. The tour began in Šiauliai and continued on in Papilė, where wood carver, traveller, naturalist and geographer Steponas Adomavičius met the group and gave them a guided tour of Jewish residences from before the Holocaust. Members visited the old Jewish cemetery in Papilė, a cemetery which features a commemorative stone and which Adomavičius himself maintains without remuneration. He cuts the grass and hedges and plants small trees. A grateful Jewish man living in America installed a bench bearing Steponas Adomavičius’s name in the cemetery in order to thank him.

The group was unable to reach the Jewish mass murder site in the woods of the Papilė aldermanship because there was no path through the forest at all. Adomavičius spoke about new projects he’s doing in connection with preserving the memory of the Jewish people.

From Papilė the group went on towards Akmenė, where the teacher Rita Ringienė met them and imparted much important information. Some Jewish structures survive in Akmenė. The teacher and pupils from her higher classes have done a study called “Inscriptions on Headstones in the Akmenė Jewish Cemetery and Their Translation to Lithuanian.” The group visited the old Jewish cemetery in Akmenė.

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.

Happy Birthday to Moisiejus Šeras

Happy Birthday to Moisiejus Šeras

Our birthday greetings to Moisejus Šeras, long-time member of the LJC and the minyan at the Choral Synagogue. We wish you great health, love and happiness! May you live to 120! Mazl tov!

Notes from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

Notes from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

On May 21, teacher Nijolė Teišerskienė taught students about the history of the Šiauliai ghetto. Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community member Ida Vileikienė survived that ghetto and told the children her story, including how she was rescued by the Staškas family, how she lived in hiding and what she did after the war. She invited the children to learn to respect one another as a general life lesson.

On May 23 Inga Kvedariene of the Šiauliai territorial medical system met with community members and talked about the payment system hospitals use and which services are free to those who have social insurance. She then fielded questions from the audience.

On June 14 members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community visited the site of the former Lithuanian shtetl Zhagar (Žagarė) beginning with tours of the Žagarė Regional Park and the Naryškinas manor estate. Land management specialist Giedrė Rakštienė spoke authoritatively on the Jewish population of Zhagar and many community members learned new things about Jewish life there. Žagarė gymnasium geography teacher Alma Kančelskienė led the tour which included still-standing Jewish buildings which used to be synagogues, the house of the rabbi and a school, and members also visited the site of the former mikvah there. Members also visited the home of E. Vaičiulis. He is the owner now of the site of the former Jewish textile factory on the banks of the Švėtė river and of a wooden Jewish house where he now lives. Under several layers of wallpaper there are parts of old Jewish newspapers on his walls which the former owners glued there once upon a time. He has preserved the original exterior and the interior is decorated with period pots and dishes. Surrounded by a stone wall, Vaičiulis’s collection is a veritable museum of the former time when Jewish life was front and center in what is now a Lithuanian town. Pride of place is occupied by a Torah scroll discovered in Zhagar. Members also visited the Jewish cemetery and mass murder sites in and around the town.

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.

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter, a lost tradition where every Friday evening the Jewish family sat down at the dinner table together, lit the candles, prayed and broke bread, followed by a day of rest on Saturday, and the beginning of the new week on Sunday.

Let’s rediscover the ferment, history, tastes, smells and melodies of the Jewish Quarter on the European Day of Jewish Culture.

Program here.

Registration here.

Jews of Merkinė

Jews of Merkinė

Merkinė Jewish school, ca. 1928-1930

by Mindaugas Černiauskas

“Decades have passed since I left you, Merkinė. You are always on my mind. Every day I walk your small crowded streets in my thoughts. I know it’s not real, but I haven’t learned to come to terms with the fact the terror of the Holocaust was also in my town.” –Dorit Blatshtein, refugee from Merkinė.

Exactly 78 years ago the Jews of Merkinė were marched to the sand pits in Kukumbalis forest and left there for the ages powerless and desecrated. The introduction of the book “Mano senelių ir prosenelių kaimynai žydai” [My Grandparents’ and Great-Granparents’ Jewish Neighbors] published in 2003 contains the line that “the destruction of the Jews of Lithuania was so blood-curdling and unexpected, so cynical and public, accomplished right here in view of all other residents, that it essentially touched in one way or another every member of society.”

It’s difficult not to agree with this, as it is difficult not to agree with the idea that traumatic experience is often pushed into the subconscious. It’s clear experience doesn’t disappear and can become a festering wound and neurosis, especially when we view history based on idealized versions of national history where we only want to see examples of goodness, beauty and harmony which make us proud.

Zachor, Professor Landsbergis

by Grant Arthur Gochin

How did it come to this? Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, first head of dtate of Lithuania after liberation from the Soviet Union and founding father of the country’s Conservative Party (Homeland Union), putting himself squarely at the forefront of defending the hero status of Holocaust perpetrators and Nazi collaborators in Lithuania?

Landsbergis has gone on record calling Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius delusional for removing a plaque honoring the Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika from the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, a step called for years ago by a broad coalition of public intellectuals which included member of the European Parliament Leonidas Donskis, rector of Vilnius University Arturas Zukauskas and others (were they also all “delusional?”). Serving the Nazis as head of Siauliai district during World War II, Noreika signed orders forcing Jews into a ghetto and plundering their property (clearly they weren’t expected to come back).

Noreika’s granddaughter Silvia Foti, after discovering the truth, has courageously spoken out against the honoring of her grandfather. In what can only be described as an unstatesmanlike tirade, Landsbergis went so far as to publicly accuse her of “murdering him all over again” (Noreika was executed by the Soviets in 1947).

Landsbergis publicly condemned Vilnius City Council for removing the name of Kazys Skirpa, pro-Nazi leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front, the armed anti-Soviet resistance group behind the June 1941 Uprising, and nominal head of Lithuania’s provisional government under the Nazis, from a street in the middle of the capital. After the Vilnius synagogue was temporarily closed due to escalating anti-Semitism and threats of violence in the wake of these decisions, instead of calling for calm, Landsbergis continued to escalate his rhetoric, accusing head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky of being “useful to the Kremlin.”

Full text here.

Holocaust Haunts Lithuania as Names Are Erased from Capital’s Map

Holocaust Haunts Lithuania as Names Are Erased from Capital’s Map

Vilnius’s main synagogue shut its doors after the mayor denied city honors to two Holocaust enablers, prompting threats. It has since reopened, but the controversy over how to deal with the past has hardly died down.

This was never going to be an easy decision. The mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius, knew a storm was coming when he signed a decree on July 24 changing the name of Kazys Skirpa Street and days later another, to remove a memorial plaque dedicated to Jonas Noreika from the library of the country’s Academy of Sciences.

A small group of radical nationalists held a rally in central Vilnius to protest the mayor’s decrees, railing against “traitors who spit at the memory of the nation’s great sons.” Vilnius’s synagogue was temporarily closed. The president’s office tabled a meeting to address, among other issues, renaming streets and memorial plaques, the BNS news agency reported.

The most sensitive issue of Lithuania’s past–the Holocaust–had ignited passions once again.

Full story in English here.

Do We Accept the Pain of Our Fellow Citizens?

Do We Accept the Pain of Our Fellow Citizens?

by Donatas Puslys, Bernardinai.lt

Following news of the closure of the Vilnius synagogue and the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, I read on the social media that, allegedly, the Jewish community itself is inciting anti-Semitism in Lithuania today by dishonoring Lithuania’s heroes. The claim the Jews themselves are to blame for anti-Semitism is worthy of the title anti-Semitic.

I also read Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius is encouraging anti-Semitism. It seems to me, however, that only an anti-Semite is capable of spreading anti-Semitism. Since the mayor, whatever his shortcomings might be, is clearly not such, that seems to imply anti-Semites have existed in society even before this story began and have now found a convenient occasion to come out of the woodwork with their message of hate about traitors. The hero of Amos Oz’s book “Judas,” Shmuel, summarizes this message of hate succinctly, writing about how Judas was transformed from the New Testament figure into a symbol of betrayal and Jewishness, the former being connected with the latter. Today’s anti-Semites employ this imagery in their attempt to impose the opinion that discussions on the assessment of the activities of Noreia and Škirpa are themselves abnormal, while they are also difficult, painful and often get bogged down, but are nothing more than a betrayal by the Jews.

Anti-Semitism, it’s worth pointing out, is not just another position adopted in a dialogue, it is not an inevitability to which we must become accustomed for the sake of free speech. It is a cancer which should be removed before it metastasizes and infects the whole body, because, as [Baron Rabbi] Jonathan Sacks says, hatred which begins with Jews never ends with them alone.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel Appeals to Lithuanian President

Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel Appeals to Lithuanian President

Bella Ben Ari Grozdensky posted the following letter on her facebook page:

Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel

To: the honorable president of the Republic of Lithuania
Dr. Gitanas Nauseda

Re: Stop wave of anti-Semitism immediately

Your excellency president Nauseda,

As a result of the Vilnius municipality’s admirable activities regarding the memories of Skirpa and Noreika, a new violent wave of anti-Semitism has shown its face once again in Lithuania. It is vital that this wave of anti-Semitism be stopped immediately and eradicated so as not to taint the standing of the Lithuanian governments of the past thirty years.

It is inconceivable the only remaining synagogue in Vilnius is forced to shut its doors because of threats to the very existence of Jews only because they are Jews. This is the 21st century! Recall that prior to June 1941 there were more than 100 synagogues in Vilnius. Today there remains only one synagogue in Vilnius. The closure of this one and only synagogue on the most pious date, the 9th of Av, is not only shameful but criminal.

I do not wish to take part in the Lithuanian debate about Skirpa and Noreika. They were two people who enabled the violent expression of anti-Semitism as active participants of the Nazi program to annihilate the Jewish people. It is a know fact that the success of the Nazi collaborators in Lithuania was more successful that in the rest of Europe in their murder of 95% of the Jewish population in all of Lithuania.

I have travelled in Lithuania extensively, but I could not find Lithuanian memorial plaques to the righteous Lithuanians who actively saved Jews. In Kaunas there is a memorial plaque to the Japanese ambassador who did save many Jews.

I appeal to you, directly, because I am of the opinion that this is a national emergency. Anti-Semitism must be curtailed at once so as not fester and grow as it did 78 years ago. I beg you as our new distinguished president of the Republic of Lithuania to act responsibly and swiftly.

Respectfully,

Arie Ben-Ari Grozdenski, chairman
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Reopens

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Reopens

Disagreements over the historical legacy of Kazys Škirpa and Jonas Noreika reached a sort of culmination yesterday. It was great to see how many journalists and historians treated the topic objectively. We thank them for their civic-mindedness. You have defended Lithuania’s history and conscience.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky has a difficult mission. She was forced to make a decision based on the painful experience of her family and all LJC members. It was a courageous and difficult decision.

Sadly, this situation did not lead to greater unity among the Jewish communities. At least not verbally.

The take by the president and prime minister on events and their assurances of security meant much to us.