Religion

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.

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

Facts worth knowing about the Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam

by Rūta Ribinskaitė, LJC member, for 15min.lt

As we mark the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelshtam, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a new look at one of the most renowned poets of the Silver Age of Russian poetry. We present to readers long-forgotten and little-known facts about the phenomenal poet Osip Mandelshtam.

Mandelshtam’s family on both his mother’s and father’s side came from Lithuania. The Mandelshtam family’s roots are in northern Lithuania in the town of Žagarė. There are assertions the family settled in the town in the early 19th century.

The poet’s mother Flora Mandelshtam née Verbolvskaya was a musician and his father Hatzkel-Emil Mandelshtam belong to the first guild of merchants and was a leather tanner. The young married couple lived in Warsaw where the future poet was born on January 15, 1891, and then moved to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1896 and 1897.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Ilan Club to Teach Sabbath History

Ilan Club to Teach Sabbath History

The Ilan Club and the Lithuanian Jewish Community are inviting children to come together and celebrate the Sabbath this January 15 at 5:00 P.M. on Zoom. We will read the history of the Sabbath together with the children. Please register by sending an email to sofja@lzb.lt or by calling +370 601 46656.

Our Freedom We Won Back Thirty Years Ago on January 13

Our Freedom We Won Back Thirty Years Ago on January 13

Tanks next to Lithuanian Radio and Television. Photo: P. Lileikis

Aleksandra Jacovskytė, scenographer, photographer, graphic artist

Šura Jacovskytė remembers those days in January of 1991. She lived in the center of Vilnius and her friends used to gather at her apartment during those tense days and they watched events unfold together on LRT television.

“I saw and I still remember the final frames when Soviet soldiers broke into the television [studio], the image vanished and there was darkness… It was a horrible feeling,” Šura recalled. “I felt the same as everyone else did. I couldn’t believe the Soviet miasma would come back. The people of Lithuania were already different, they had got a taste of freedom, so it was impossible to go back. It was by then inconceivable to support the actions of the government of the Soviet Union, what they were getting up to, that was totally clear. Even a few months later, after the coup began, I told myself: ‘No, this cannot be…'”

Algirdas Malcas, director, Vilnius the Jerusalem of Lithuania Jewish Community

“I was at the parliament during those days. I walked every day from one site to another, and I had arrived with my dog. I used to go day and night, like a watchman’s rounds. I lived in the center so friends used to come to me to warm up. I was young then and the memories are unerasable.

Lithuania and Israel: A History Connecting the Future

Lithuania and Israel: A History Connecting the Future

by Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, DELFI.lt

“The purpose of redemption is to protect the truth,” the Vilna Gaon said. One of the most renowned scholars and exegetes of the Torah and the Talmud, the Vilna Gaon held great influence through his works on the religious and cultural identity of Litvaks. The Lithuanian parliament declared 2020, the 300th anniversary of his birth, the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak history.

The year 2020 was dedicated to the extraordinarily rich, continuing 700-year history of Jews in Lithuania. The unique Lithuanian shtetlakh gave birth to many religious authorities and sages, and also to Jewish artists of world renown. The painter Marc Chagal bloomed under Lithuanian skies. Memories of Lithuania live in contemporary author Grigoriy Kanovitch’s work. The land inspired Emmanuel Levinas to ponder the secrets of existence and provided the nostalgic ring to Lea Goldberg’s poems. When we talk about the exceptional history of the Jews of Lithuania, we also remember the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust. All of us must pledge never to forget what happened, and to judge honestly and objectively our shared past, no matter how painful it might be.

Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies’ Open Recruitment Process

Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies’ Open Recruitment Process

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well.

We’re looking for brighter days in the feature and with this hope we’re opening the recruitment process for the Paideia One-Year Jewish Studies Program 2021-2022.

The program is dedicated to future educators, activists and leaders wanting to broaden their knowledge of Jewish culture and history and to establish a net of connection with over 700 of our graduates.

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.

The Unbelievable Story of the Kėdainiai Kloiz Being Restored

The Unbelievable Story of the Kėdainiai Kloiz Being Restored

by Rasa Jakubauskienė and Vaidas Banys for 15min.lt

Kėdainiai [Keydan] is a city rich in history, culture, heritage and synagogues. Currently one of the synagogues houses the Multicultural Center of the Kėdainiai Regional History Museum, another an art school, and yet another is undergoing restoration. Restoration of the exterior of the latter was finished last year and this year the interior is being restored.

Jorūnė Liutkienė, advisor to the mayor of the Kėdainiai regional administration, said work is ongoing inside and isn’t complete. Kėdainiai historian Vaidas Banys reported, as we were writing this article, that he had discovered interesting facts never before published concerning the emergence of this synagogue, and shared them for the first time with readers of the newspaper Rinkos aikštė [local Kėdainiai newspaper].

Klaipėda to Remember Synagogue Put to Torch by Nazis

Klaipėda to Remember Synagogue Put to Torch by Nazis

by Gediminas Pilaitis, Lrytas.lt

Many residents of Klaipėda don’t know the city’s largest synagogue once stood on Daržų street.

There are plans to commemorate the synagogue which operated in the interwar period in the Klaipėda Old Town. A commemorative plaque is to be placed on the hotel which now occupies the location. The city has approved the plan initiated by the local Jewish community.

Secrets of Jewish Graves Deep Underground

Secrets of Jewish Graves Deep Underground

by Artūras Jančys

Should we restore desecrated Jewish grave markers and set up meditation and commemoration spaces in Jewish cemeteries, or should we leave the dead in peace and leave everything as it was? There is still no one good answer to the these questions.

Several years ago the municipality of Kaunas took resolute steps to include old Jewish cemeteries in the general context of the historical heritage of Kaunas. Students from Vytautas Magnus University were organized and sent to make photographic records, recording almost 6,000 Jewish headstones on film.

Each gravestone was photographed from several different angles resulting in well over 10,000 individual photographs. They will be entered in a general database which will aid in the continuing project to restore Jewish graveyards. The students’ work will also be displayed on a special internet site created for that purpose.

“Traditions are a sacred thing, but even they change, and now there are even female rabbis,” Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, said.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Sabbath on Last Day of Hanukkah on Zoom

Sabbath on Last Day of Hanukkah on Zoom

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Ilan Club invite all children to log on and keep the tradition of celebrating the Sabbath together this Friday, December 18, at 4:00 P.M. on the last day of Hanukkah. We will wish one another well and real Jewish nakhes! Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium Jewish traditions teacher Algirdas Davidavičius will lead the Sabbath celebration. The virtual meeting will take place on Zoom. Please register by sending an email to sofja@lzb.lt or by calling +370 601 46656

With One Hand the State Comforts Jews, With the Other It Points Them to the Street

With One Hand the State Comforts Jews, With the Other It Points Them to the Street

by Vytautas Bruveris, lrytas.lt

The country is marking the end of the ceremoniously declared Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History, while the Lithuanian Jewish Community is looking at its front door and thinking it might have to leave its home. Because disagreements with state institutions are driving the Community from its longtime building in the center of the Lithuanian capital, located near the remains of Jewish Vilna and the city’s working synagogue.

Bailiffs and bricklayers in broad daylight have walled off one of the corridors in the building housing the LJC. This is the grotesque turn of events these days resulting from continuing disagreements between the LJC and the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum along with the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture. And even before this there were also episodes which seem rather odd, for example, letters from the museum to the members of the executive board of the LJC with accusations against the latter’s leadership, attempting to put political pressure directly upon the ethnic community/

With the new wall built, the LJC is now deciding on its future course: whether to dive headlong into legal battles, or simply pack its bags and hit the street. So why is all this happening? Because of disputes on how to share the courtyard which both the museum and the LJC, housed in the same building, claim. Instead of trying to act as moderator and as a moderating force, the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture has done the opposite. The neighbors are there next to each other, but separate.

AEPJ Wishes You Hag Hanukkah Sameach

AEPJ Wishes You Hag Hanukkah Sameach

Hag Hanukkah Sameach!

On behalf of all the members of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage, the AEPJ, we would like to send you our deepest wishes for joy, happiness and health on this Hanukkah 5781.

Chanukah Illuminates the Jewish Heritage of the Mediterranean

EJC President calls EU Court of Justice Ruling “Heavy Blow to Jewish Life in Europe”

EJC President calls EU Court of Justice Ruling “Heavy Blow to Jewish Life in Europe”

Thursday, December 17, 2020–European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor has slammed a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which allows member states to require stunning before religious slaughter of animals for meat as a fundamental attack on the basic rights of Jewish religious expression and practice.

The Court was responding to the question on a preliminary ruling by the Belgian regions of Flanders and Wallonia (and, by extension, other European authorities) to make an EU-law based religious slaughter exception meaningless by banning religious slaughter.

“The right to practice our faith and customs, one which we have been assured over many years was granted under European law, has been severely undermined by this decision,” president Kantor said.

Hanukkah Greetings from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

Hanukkah Greetings from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

Happy Chanukah to all of you in Israel and around the world.

At Chanukah, we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees.

We remember the miracles of that time. We come together as a family and we light together the Menorah. We sing together Maoz Tzur (מַעוֹז צוּר). Each verse reminds us of the enemies our people has faced, over our long history, and our strength as a community as a people. I have celebrated many Chanukhas and I remember nearly all of them; I love all of them; but this Chanukah is for sure a little different.

This has been a year with all kinds of challenges we have all been dealing with the corona virus pandemic. We have lost loved ones; our schools, synagogues, and community centers have been closed; and we still face great uncertainty about the future. The virus has forced us to stay apart, although in our hearts we feel closer than ever.

Chanukah shows us that united we stand together, we are strong.

May the lights of Chanuka give us all strength and bring light to all Jewish people, wherever they are.

Happy Chanukah and Shalom from Jerusalem.

Candle of Solidarity on Hanukkah Menorah for International Human Rights Day

Candle of Solidarity on Hanukkah Menorah for International Human Rights Day

Today the world marks International Human Rights Day which began when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Human Rights Declaration on December 10, 1948. The call to stand up for human rights invites us to get involved and engaged in creating solidarity and societies respecting human rights, and calls on us to learn more about ethnic, religious and cultural communities and the way they live. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky calls it symbolic that this year’s International Human Rights Day coincides with the beginning of the traditional Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, a celebration of victory in perhaps the first battle for freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.

“The victory for our religion two millennia ago has continuity with modern Lithuania where all people have religious freedom. Hanukkah is an opportunity for the broader society to undersant and discover traditional Jewish culture as well as the activities of our community. We believe that it is only through understand and communication that we can overcome miscommunication and stereotypes, to insure respect for the rights of all people living in Lithuania,” chairwoman Kukliansky said.

Respect for human rights is urgent right now, she continued, because Jewish communities around the world are facing anti-Semitic sentiments. The European Union Council has responded to increasing attacks against Jews and all manner of anti-Semitic expressions, and on December 2 adopted a declaration on joint-efforts to fight anti-Semitism. The European Jewish Congress representing the Jewish communities of EU member-states and other European countries is asking national leaders to listen to the words of the declaration, follow it and pay additional attention towards creating a relationship of solidarity with the Jewish communities.