Religion

Lithuanian Public Television Features Program about Litvaks

The Lithuanian Radio and Television television program Misija: Vilnija [Mission: Vilnius Region] about ethnic communities and minority cultures in Lithuania featured Litvaks as the program entered its fourth season at the beginning of October.

In the interview with Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius, he remarked how much freer children have become in Lithuania, which he said has its plusses as well as minuses. He said he never sees students carrying books during breaks between classes anymore and that the current student body was born into a technological society they know better than his generation does. Hostess and interviewer Katažina Zvonkuvienė and Jakobas discussed the sense of loss and sadness in which the post-war generation of Lithuanian Jews lives and which is sometimes unperceived as such. They also talked about the role of the state in guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic communities in Lithuania and the multiethnic and interfaith composition of the Sholem Aleichem school’s student body.

Interviewed at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas spoke about the glorious reputation for scholarship Jewish Vilna once had, and the slow path to drawing back more Jewish families to tradition and to restoring what existed before.

Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke about the durability of Jewish tradition in the face of assimilation. She said rather than grandparents passing on tradition to children, the reverse process seems to be at work now: children are learning Jewish traditions at school and teaching their parents.

Riva Portnaja, the chief chef and baker at the Bagel Shop Café, recalled her childhood in Žemaitija when keeping a kosher kitchen was the customary thing, and spoke about the great demand in Vilnius for Jewish cuisine among Lithuanians.

The Pharrajimos and the Shoah: The Uncomfortable Photography of Richard Schofield and Andrew Mikšys

by Agnė Narušytė

Two photography exhibits which don’t exist provoked me to write this article. One was supposed to open next week, but will not, and the other ran for just one day in a synagogue full of construction platforms. Neither artist was born in Lithuania but they live here now. Both exhibits concerned ethnic groups who were victims of the Holocaust: Jews and Roma.

British photo-journalist Richard Schoefeld came to Vilnius in 2001 and lived there until 2013 when he moved to Kaunas to work on a project connected with Litvaks. Since then Litvak culture has been his main theme. In 2015 he established the International Centre for Litvak Photography, an NGO which seeks to make Jewish history and culture topical and especially for young people to learn about Litvak culture using photography, art installations, workshops and other means. For several years now he has been trying to convince the intellectuals and government of Kaunas of the need to restore the Šančiai synagogue which is falling into ruin. He hasn’t succeeded.

So then Schofield drew up a list of about one hundred Lithuanian synagogues and set for himself the task of visiting each one. He hitchhiked for 12 days, kept a diary and used his mobile phone to record some of the people he met and the surviving and ruined synagogues. Only a very few had any signs of restoration work: bags of cement, bricks, tools. Many are simply falling down, although they are protected by the Lithuanian state as “monuments of great cultural, historical and architectural value.” As an example, the entry in his diary about the synagogue in Žemaičių Naumiestis reads: “Trees and bushes are growing in the middle of the building. Rays of sunlight shine through holes in the roof. Someone needed some flooring so they just stole it.”

Sukkot Celebration in Panevėžys

This year the Panevėžys Jewish Community and the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community celebrated Sukkot together. According to tradition, during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (or more simply “tents”), everyone sets up a sukka, a booth or tent, together in which the ancient holiday associated with the annual harvest is celebrated. It recalls the sojourn of the Jews in Sinai when the people lived in tents. The usual practice is to make a sukka according to one’s means. This year in Panevėžys a buffet table stood next to the sukka featuring fruit and vegetables grown by community members. The main feature of the Sukkot table is the four species, the lulav, hadas, aravah and etrog, bound in palm fronds.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman said Sukkot is a continuation of the Jewish high holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Many of the older participants spoke about how their families used to celebrate Sukkot when they were children. They used to make the sukka out of green wicker and put the table next to the sukka, where the whole family sat. The children received gifts rare at the time: bananas, oranges and tangerines. They also recalled the times of difficulty for the Jewish people when they wandered in the deserts of Sinai.

Information Stands Recall Tragedy of Zapyškis

The Kaunas administration and the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania have placed information stands at two sites in the village of Zapyškis.

Zapyškis in 1923 had a population of 589, over half of them Jewish. The center of the community’s cultural life was the Zapyškis synagogue and there was the Bal-Makhshov cultural association, a library, pharmacy, several shops and a Jewish primary school.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Stele Unveiled for Jewish Rescuers at Monastery of the Missionaries in Vilnius

A stele was unveiled to commemorate those who rescued Jews from the Holocaust in the Tymas neighborhood of Vilnius September 21. The stone marks the future site of a larger monument to rescuers.

This milestone event was achieved only after many years of requests by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to the city of Vilnius for a site for such a statue, without response. Discussions on a monument commemorating Righteous Gentiles continued for several years with the institutions responsible criticizing one another.

The LJC asked for a commemoration site near Ona Šimaitė street, named after the Righteous Gentile Ona Šimaitė, at the intersection of Misionierių and Maironio streets in Vilnius. The courtyard of the Missionaries Monastery was the site of the final selection on the last day of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, September 23, 1943. Thousands of Jews from Vilnius were forced to undergo the selection and several members of the ghetto resistance were hung in the courtyard.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, who initiated the idea for a statue to the rescuers, spoke at the ceremony and personally thanked the Žukauskas, Matukevičius, Daugevičius and Lukaševičius families for rescuing her relatives from death.

Sukkot

You and your family are invited to celebrate Sukkot together in the tent beginning at 6:30 P.M. on September 23 at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. The prayer service will be followed by a holiday dinner at Bokšto street no. 19 in Vilnius at 7:30 P.M. Additionally, holiday lunch will be served in the sukka at 12:30 P.M. on both September 24 and 25.

WJC and Lithuanian Jewish Community Mark 75 Years Since Liquidation of Vilnius Ghetto

WJC and Lithuanian Jewish community mark 75 years since liquidation of Vilnius Ghetto: “We must continue to strengthen Jewish life in Lithuania”

WJC President Lauder praises Pope’s participation in commemoration: “Pope Francis is a true friend of the Jewish people”

NEW YORK–The World Jewish Congress and its affiliated community in Lithuania marked the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, alongside Pope Francis and other notable personalities.

“Seventy-five years ago, the Germans and local Lithuanian accessories nearly obliterated one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, a hub of cultural and intellectual Jewish life for thousands of years,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said. “But they did not succeed entirely. From the ashes of the Holocaust, the broken community is slowly rebuilding itself and working to ensure the future of Jewish life in Lithuania.”

Star of David Composed of Stones in Former Vilnius Ghetto


Photo: Saulius Žiūra

by Vytautas Budzinauskas, BNS

A star of David was composed of stones on Rūdninkų square in Vilnius Sunday to mark the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. Pope Francis is expected to say a prayer in memory of Holocaust victims at the square on Sunday as well, the final day of his visit to Lithuania. More than 50 people turned to wait for the Pope and slowly filled a metal frame with stones in line with the Jewish tradition of placing stones on grave markers. The crowd included entire families and visitors from around Lithuania and from abroad.


Photo: Vytautas Budzinauskas

Events to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto

September 21

10:00 A.M. Ceremony at the President’s Office to award rescuers of Jews the Order of the Life Saver’s Cross (by invitation only)

3:00 P.M. Ceremony for the erection of a stele marking the future site of a monument to Righteous Gentiles in the green space behind the Church of the Assumption and the Missionaries’ Monastery located at Subačiaus street no 28 in Vilnius and accessible from Maironio street (near the former Rosa Square)

September 22

6:00 P.M. Premiere of the play Ghetto, National Drama Theater, Laisvės prospect no. 71, Kaunas

September 23

10:00 A.M. Reading of the names at the Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39, Vilnius

12:00 noon Reading of passages from Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary, Rūdininkų square, Rūdininkų street, Vilnius

2:30 P.M. Commemoration at the Ponar mass murder site, Ponar Memorial Complex, Agrastų street, Vilnius. Bus departs LJC at 1:00 P.M.

Exact time to be announced: Pope Francis commemorates Holocaust victims in the former ghetto in Vilnius Old Town

6:00 P.M. World premiere of “Under the Star of David” by the Giedrius Kuprevičius chamber symphony, Vaidila Theater, Jakšto street no. 9, Vilnius

Pope’s Prayer in Ghetto Important to Holocaust Survivors and Rescuers

Vilnius, September 19, BNS–Pope Francis plans to say a silent prayer in the former Jewish ghetto in Vilnius on the 75th anniversary of its final destruction.

Lithuanian Jews say this gesture is important to both Holocaust victims and Christians who rescued Jews.

“We are overjoyed the Pope is sending a message to the world by honoring the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. I hope he includes in his thoughts the Christians who rescued Jews as well,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky told BNS.

“It is a great honor the Pope is visiting us, without regard that we belong to a different faith. We are citizens of this country and we are so glad this visit is taking place on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the state. This is an extraordinary pope. He is very democratic and is fighting valiantly against violence,” she said.

Pope Francis is scheduled to honor the victims of the ghetto at Rūdninkų square in Vilnius on September 23. The final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto including what is now the square took place on September 23, 1943.

Full text in Lithuanian available here.

Yom Kippur at the Choral Synagogue

Program of events for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Sunday, September 16

2:30-4:30 P.M. Preparations for Yom Kippur: lessons, kapparot (kappores) ritual

Tuesday, September 18

6:00 P.M. meal before fast
7:00 Kol Nidre
7:10 P.M. beginning of fast

Wednesday, September 19

9:30 A.M. Shacharit morning prayer
12:30 P.M. Izkor prayer
6:15 P.M. Mincha prayer
7:15 P.M. Niila prayer
8:19 P.M. end of fast, meal

Rosh Hashanah at the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year 5779. Cilė Gleizer reminded the audience of the meaning and traditions of the holiday. Frida Šteinienė lit the candles and said a prayer to kick off the celebration. Community chairman Naum Gleizer greeted members and wished everyone a good, healthy and sweet new year. He delivered greetings from the Panevėžys Jewish Community and from former residents of Šiauliai now resident in Israel.

The holiday table contained the tradition dishes–challa, apples and honey, pomegranates and gefilte fish, the latter prepared by Maja Burštein. The traditional treats of teiglakh, imberlakh, apple pie and other sweets were made by Frida Šteinienė, Irina Pres and Cilė Gleizer.

Vadim Kamrazer and his daughter Sofija performed live Jewish music and song. The celebration was much enjoyed by young and old alike. Everyone received the new calendar for 5779.

Rosh Hashanah at the Panevėžys Jewish Community

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, on September 9 at the Parko street restaurant. The event began with the lighting of candles, the blessing was read and good wishes were made to friends and relatives. Michailas Grafmanas blew the shofar horn to usher in the new year 5779. Community chairman Gennady Kofman read the prayer of repentance and hope and Community members greeted one another with the wish God would author them a good coming year.

Guests included city council member A. Petrauskas and the history teacher V. Jakonis from Biržai, Lithuania.

The holiday table included challa, pomegranates, apples and honey. Fish was also served along with other traditional Jewish dishes. The celebration included songs and poetry by children who were rewarded for their work. There was also dancing and different games.

Rosh Hashanah Celebration at Choral Synagogue

On Sunday the Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, 5779, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Rosh Hashanah symbolizes the sixth day of the creation of the world: on this day the Most High created the forefather of mankind, Adam.

Rosh Hashanah is first mentioned in the Mishnah (the oral Torah) where it is called Yom Troy (Pipe Festival), which is connected with the commandment to blow a horn on this day. In synagogues the shofar horn is blown on Rosh Hashanah, whose sound is supposed to confound the enemy and bring clear thought and repentance to believers. The shofar tradition goes back centuries and the ram’s horn is associated with the ram which Abraham substituted for his son in making a sacrifice to G_d. The word “shofar” comes from the words for improvement and correction.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue

Program for Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Sunday, September 9

7:00 P.M. Mincha/Maariv, holiday prayers, kiddush, buffet

Monday, September 10

9:30 A.M. Shacharit (morning prayer)

12:00 noon blowing of the shofar

12:30 P.M. Musaf (prayer)

6:00 P.M. Tashlich (prayer by the river at Bokšto street no. 9, Vilnius)

6:30 Rosh Hashanah celebration: blowing of the shofar, presentation of new calendar for 5779, holiday meal

8:43 P.M. Maariv prayer

Tuesday, September 11

9:30 A.M. Shacharit

12 noon blowing of shofar

7:00 P.M. blowing of shofar

Sutzkever Exhibit

The Judaic Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library celebrated European Days of Jewish Culture with an exhibit called “Žaibo prisiminimas,” or “Memory of Lightning,” dedicated to the poet Abraham Sutzkever. The poet was a partisan and one of the first authors of memoirs of the Vilnius ghetto. Before the war he contributed to the flourishing of Yiddish literature in Jewish Vilnius; after he chronicled the death of Jewish Vilnius.

Sutzkever’s granddaughter Hadas Calderon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon participated at the event.

Meeting to Discuss Commemoration of Great Synagogue

According to 15min.lt, an international creative workshop of “academic youth,” professors and specialists involved in heritage protection, urban planning, architecture, communications and museum studies from Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine have come up with ideas for commemorating the Great Synagogue in Vilnius and will present their proposals next Thursday at the Old Town Hall in Vilnius.

“The presentation will talk about ideas for commemorating the synagogue, the name of the new cultural space, archaeological findings, the range of activities and the architectural expression of the idea,” the article on the 15min.lt website said.

The article also claims the Nazis burnt the Great Synagogue down, which isn’t true.

Full text in Lithuanian here.