Religion

Jews from Australia Visit Panevėžys

The families of Jews who lived in Panevėžys before the war are now scattered around the world. Even before the war, back in tsarist times, Panevėžys Jews migrated widely to countries such as Argentina, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brasil and also South Africa and Australia. The Panevėžys Jewish Community often receives visitors from these countries, and especially from South Africa. This time Kelly Rozmarim from Australia visited with her husband, brother and two daughters. She brought documents showing her grandfather Hona Shepts was born in Panevėžys in 1908 and immigrated with his brother to South Africa in 1939. Her father Judelis Shepts was a rabbi. He and his three sisters were also born in Panevėžys and stayed in Lithuania. All of them died in the Holocaust.

In South Africa in 1939 there was a world-renowned Jewish community called Ponevezh. Kelly Rozmarim has a document, a list of people who sailed to South Africa which includes members of her family. She and her brother have also discovered relatives in Šeduva, Pasvalys and Biržai.

The family’s visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community enriched our archives and provided valuable information about the Jewish residents of Panevėžys back then. The visitors thanked Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman for his active efforts to preserve the Litvak heritage and to commemorate it in Panevėžys. All of the family members left warm words and greetings in the Community’s guest book.

Great Synagogue Excavation to Resume

Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced excavation of the Great Synagogue and the former complex of surrounding buildings known as the Shulhoyf in Vilnius will resume this summer July 9 and will continue till July 27. Those interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Seligman, address below.

The Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius): The 2018 Season
A Research, Excavation, Preservation and Memorial Project

A Quick Summary of the Work until Now

The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, the 2015 ground-penetrating radar survey and the 2016 excavation showed us the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. Given the resources available to the team, we decided to initially concentrate on issues relating to the water system of the shulhoyf that developed in and around the Great Synagogue in the 18thcentury. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingrių springs, that belonged to the Dominican friars, to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal “well,” and apparently to the bathhouse constructed between 1823 and 1828 that included a miqve and a public lavatory.

First Hebrew Camp

For the first time in post-war Lithuania this summer a Hebrew language camp was held from June 22 to 24. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches organized the event. She has been teaching Hebrew to adults for two years now at the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Ruth says the idea for the camp occurred to her spontaneously. “I was speaking with students and we began to talk about how it wasn’t enough to learn Hebrew in the classroom. We were thinking about immersion in a Hebrew language environment and how good it would be to go to Israel for that reason. But first we decided to attempt to create a Hebrew environment at a camp,” she said.

The camp was held on a rural farm where for three days over 40 people from all over Lithuania gathered. The people ranged in age from students to pensioners.

Kaunas Remembers Lietūkis Garage Victims

On an overcast Monday afternoon members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, friends of the Community and those who care honored the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalled the historical event when in the first days of World War II in Lithuania when one group of citizens brutally tortured and murdered another group of citizens just because they were Jews as a crowd looked on in the middle of the day. She spoke about enduring myths about Jews, the Holocaust and the reasons the Holocaust happened.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and ghetto inmate Fruma Kučinskienė recalled what their family members said about those horrible and not-so-distant times and the still living, blood-curdling images fixed in memory.

Chairman of the Kaunas chapter of Sąjūdis [Lithuanian independence movement] Raimundas Kaminskas and Ninth Fort Museum deputy director Marius Pečiulis both expressed condolences to Holocaust victims and their descendants and apologized for the crimes of their countrymen.

All speakers expressed a common idea: the need to educate children, not just to talk about the historical facts, crimes against humanity and genocide, but to try to figure out together with children how and why these sorts of crimes occur, what happens to the human mind, psyche and spirit so that a person loses all sense of humanity and commits inconceivable acts.

Israelis Visit Panevėžys

For the fourth year now Edit Perry from Israel has led delegations of visitors to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. This year, on June 25, the guide and teacher led a group of 23 people from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel engaged in researching Jewish heritage and history. They are university students who study Jewish history during the academic year and spend their summers actually visiting locations connected with the life of their forefathers in Lithuania and Poland.

Community member Jurij Smirnov shared his experience of the Holocaust as a child in the concentration camps in Šiauliai and Panevėžys, the death of family members and how he came to Panevėžys with surviving family.

Following the discussion, the visitors viewed a photography exhibition and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman presented a brief history of the Jews of the Panevėžys region before World War II. All visitors were given a Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community featuring drawings and paintings of Lithuanian synagogues by Gerardas Bagdonavičius made before the war.

Conference to Preserve Jewish Heritage in Pušalotas, Lithuania

A conference and inspection tour took place in Pušalotas, Lithuania, June 15, of the synagogue there known as “Yoshke’s house” which also included a Jewish primary school. The synagogue was built by Howard Margol’s great-grandfather, all of whose relatives lived in Lithuania during Tsarist times. One of Margol’s relatives is former Israeli prime minister and long-time leader of the Labor Party Ehud Barak.

The inspection tour in Pušalotas included members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, members of the Pušalotas community, officials from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and staff from the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pasvalys regional administration chairman G. Gegužinskas, Lithuanian MP A. Matulas, Pušalotas township alderwoman P. Stravinskienė and Pušalotas community chairman A. Kumpauskas, among others. They inspected the synagogue which is in critical condition. For 75 years it hasn’t been used as a synagogue and was left derelict for some time. Margol and family had a commemorative plaque placed on the synagogue and put the old Pušalotas Jewish cemetery in order in 2005. The external structure of the synagogue is intact and authentic, and it could be restored and used by the local community.

Unexpected Guests Visit Panevėžys Jewish Community

A group of former classmates now living in Israel, Russia and the United States have visited Panevėžys together. They attended a school which began operating in Panevėžys after liberation from the Nazis in September, 1944. Many of the students were Jewish. One such is David Dworkin, who now lives in Miami, Florida. His father was an airman and the commander of a military unit. Another is Semion Zuselevič Šteiman who lived on Ramygalos street with his parents. His children Genadij, Leonard and Jevgenij also attended the school. Vladimir Maksimičiov lived in Panevėžys and is a member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. His brothers Genadij and Baruch also attended the same school after the war.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the guests the history of Jewish schools in Panevėžys, include the Yavne girls’ religious gymnasium which some of the visitors attended before the war, built in 1922 by Rabbi Josef Shlomo Kahaneman. It was closed down in June of 1940 along with all other Jewish schools, gymnasia and high schools in Lithuania. The chairman also told the guests about community activities and treated them to kosher wine and matzo.

The visit was useful to the Panevėžys Jewish Community as well as the visitors and the chairman said he’s grateful so many people have come and shared new photographs and documents with the community over the last 20 years.

Those wishing to visit during summer should contact beforehand the chairman of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, who might be able to help locate old homes, former teachers and places where parents and grandparents once worked.

Old Kalvarija Synagogue Springs Back to Life

Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.

The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.

Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Polish Group Vocal Varshe Performs at Sacred Site in Vilnius

Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.

Vocal Varshe Concert at the Winter Synagogue in Kalvarija

The Vocal Varshe group from Poland will perform a concert of Jewish songs in Yiddish and Hebrew including songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos at the synagogue located at Sodų street no. 18 in Kalvarija, Lithuania, at 7:00 P.M. on June 7. Entry is free. Limited transportation from Vilnius will be provided with a small bus leaving the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 4:00 P.M. on June 7 and returning sometime between 10:00 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. Please contact neringa@lzb.lt if you want to make use of this limited transportation.

Pianist Golda Vainberg-Tatz to Perform in Vilnius

St. Catherine’s Church at Vilniaus street no. 30 in Vilnius will host a concert by pianist Golda Vainberg-Tatz from the USA/Israel at 7:00 P.M. on Thursday, June 7.

Vilnius Municipal ST. CHRISTOPHER CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Artistic Director: MODESTAS BARKAUSKAS

Conductor: DONATAS KATKUS

Program:

From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore

English and Lithuanian editions of Dr. Shimon Lev’s book “From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore” (originally written in Hebrew) were launched at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the evening of May 31 with pageantry, live Indian music and dance, readings of selections and speeches by the author, the Lithuanian intelligentsia and members of the diplomatic corps.

Shovana Narayan, recipient of a national award in India and classical Indian dance master, performed several pieces based on Tagore’s poetry with two assistants to kick off the event. Narayan is related to Rabindranath Tagore.

Judita Gliauberzonaitė read selections of Tagore’s poetry in Lithuanian.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed the audience and speakers, noting the unique nature of Flaum’s travelogues and testimony, and said it wasn’t very often the LJC hosted such highly cultural and intellectual evenings as this one.

Former Lithuanian ambassador to India Laimonas Talat-Kelpša and his wife, celebrating her birthday, attended and Talat-Kelpša spoke about the remarkable travels Schlomith Flaum undertook in the early 20th century and the connections between Lithuania, India, Israel, and the connections between Zionism, the national movement in India and Lithuanian statehood.

Author and Israeli Litvak Dr. Shimon Lev talked about how Flaum became the earliest source of information about India in nascent Israel, her strength as an early female traveller and travel writer and the magic involved in the process of translation. He also spoke about Vilnius as a center of learning with the Vilna Gaon as the preeminent Jewish scholar in the modern age.

Litvak Scouting Revival

Before the Holocaust there were huge groups of Jewish boy and girl scouts throughout Lithuania. Some groups were religious, others Zionist, others secular. The one thing they all had in common was having fun outdoors, learning together the basic skills and fostering a shared Jewish identity.

Now there are plans to revive the Jewish scouting movement in Lithuania, which now has a mostly aging population of just under 3,500 Jews.

President of the International Forum of Jewish Scouts (IFJS) and member of the board of Éclaireuses éclaireurs israélites de France (EEIF) Alain Silberstein arrived in Vilnius to discuss French cooperation in the Litvak revival with Lithuanian Jewish Community leaders.

Parents of children aged 12 to 17 were invited to attend a discussion at the Lithuanian Jewish Community Wednesday. In an underwhleming show of support, several scouting-age Jewish girls, an interested member of the Jewish community in Vilnius and a handful of others came and heard a presentation by president Alain Silberstein and LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas.

Photography Exhibit Remembers Jewish Rescuers

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky took part in an opening ceremony for an exhibition of photography about Lithuanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, part of a joint project by the LJC and the Sovereign Order of Malta to commemorate and provide aid to rescuers. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Order of Malta ambassador to Lithuania Manfred Leo Mautner Markhof also took part at the opening ceremony in the exhibit space of the Tuskulėnai Memorial Park Complex in Vilnius May 29.

The Lithuanian president said the exhibit, which will go on display around Lithuania, documents Righteous Gentiles who saved hundreds of Jews at great risk to themselves. They shared hope, bread and their homes with Jews during the Holocaust. She said by extending a helping hand, they also saved humanity and the dignity of the Lithuanian nation. They have become a source of inspiration in the lives of Lithuania’s people today, she said, adding their attitude towards others and their self-sacrifice is needed daily.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said:

“More than 800 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to resist the axiomata of hate. Their only weapon was their conscience which, led by the choice to remain human, made these non-Jews an eternal and spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, nor measured in numbers; it is limitless and intangible, having become as it were a light of God’s being in the imperfect grey ghetto or in hiding in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom we gout back our energy for the old faith.

Educational Meeting at Panevėžys Jewish Community for Students from Region

Students and teachers from the Dembava Pre-Gymnasium in the Panevėžys region visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community. They have established a Tolerance Center at the pre-gymnasium and wanted to make contact with the Panevėžys Jewish Community to learn about the history of the Lithuanian Jewish community before and during World War II, Jewish traditions and holidays and also to learn about the Holocaust in Lithuania.

The Panevėžys Jewish Community places special emphasis on the education of young people and teaching tolerance to dispel negative myths about the Jewish people, and to teach what happened in Panevėžys and other Lithuanian cities and towns when so many innocent people were murdered. A special game-show like panel was suggested during which students answer questions.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the students about the Jews who lived in common with Lithuanians before World War II, often owning joint businesses and living as neighbors. They celebrated holidays together, shared the good and the bad, and often shared their last morsel of bread as well. During Tsarist times and in independent interwar Lithuania, Russian, Jewish and Lithuanian children attended the same school, Kofman recounted.

Jews in Lithuania Experiencing Crisis in Values

by Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Jews as with any people are not homogenous. The history of Jews in Lithuania stretches back almost 700 years and during that time all sorts of things happened, rises and declines, and the effects of the Holocaust were especially painful in Lithuania, and following the attempt at physical annihilation the Soviet occupation attempted to destroy the Jewish people spiritually.

People often ask me, Jews are so united, why is it different in Lithuania? It’s not different in Lithuania, divisions exist in secular and religious Jewish communities in Israel as well as the rest of the world. The wealth of the Jewish people is our diversity, our knowledge, our faith and our ability to remain Jews.

I am proud of my people. Unfortunately, all sorts of things go on inside the Jewish community. It’s sad, but we have only partially passed our “trial by money.” On the one hand, we have the well-functioning Goodwill Foundation, which only adopts decisions by consensus and allocates compensation for Jewish communal/religious properties, and which has been audited for many years now by the Office of State Auditor, the highest auditing institution, and has always received a glowing review. On the other hand, we have over-ambitious community members who believe they can do everything the best, in the most transparent manner and preferably all by themselves. They claim the opinion of the majority is merely a simulation of democracy.

In Lithuania, as in the world, volunteer leaders lead the Jewish communities. This post is for me first of all an honor and a pleasure. Before I assumed responsibility, I learned much from the earlier chairmen, Grigory Kanovitch and Dr. Simon Alperovitch. Much of what is needed for this work I learned from active Community members and intellectuals attorney professor Jurijus Bluvšteinas, Josif Levinson and Maša Grodnikienė.

LJC Reporting Conference

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will hold its annual reporting conference May 28, 2018, during which annual financial and activity reports will be considered.

The conference is the highest governance body of the LJC convoked and organized once per year by the LJC board.

Under LJC rergulations only real members of the LJC participate at the conference, meaning association members which are corporate entities and whose activities are connected with Jewish culture, education, religion, tradition, learning, sports and so on. All the regional Jewish communities are LJC members.

The LJC was especially active in 2017 in the areas of social welfare, culture and Jewish heritage. We are happy that hundreds of Jewish senior citizens, community members in difficult financial situations and young families across Lithuania received home care services, aid in acquiring household and hygiene items, help in preparing for school and appropriate heating during winter. More than 400 people made use of aid provided by the Community for acquiring food and medicine.

Happy Birthday to Professor Pinchos Fridberg!

Our best wishes go out to Holocaust survivor, resident of Vilnius, Jewish intellectual, doctor habil. of physics, author of numerous articles, great Yiddish speaker and true Jewish and Litvak patriot Pinchos Fridberg!

We wish you the best health, patience, much happiness, more smiles and a care-free life filled with gentleness and happiness. Your sense of humor is endless and ironic, and everyone has greatly enjoyed your Motke Chabad stories published in Obzor.

Mazl tov! May you live to 120!

March of the Living 2018 at Ponar

For the eleventh time now in Lithuania the March of the Living walked the route from the Ponar train station to the Ponar Memorial Complex to commemorate the Jews murdered there. Among the marchers were Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro. Other participants included Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, as well as members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, students from the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, members of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and Holocaust survivors Fania Brancovskaja and Sameul Bak.

The Lithuanian foreign minister, the Israel ambassador, representatives of the Vilnius mayor’s office, the LJC and former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners among others laid wreaths at a monument in the center of the Ponar Memorial Complex to the accompaniment of violin music.

Fania Brancovskaja spoke: “Ponar was a murder machine where from 1941 to 1943 before Vilnius was liberated from Nazi occupation murder was carried out continuously. Seventy-thousand Jews were murdered in Ponar just because they were Jews, all that remains of them is ashes mixed with sand. Not many of us are left, but we are here. I am one of those who went through the entire ghetto and please, do not forget them. As long as we live, we ask you to pass on the information to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they do not forget the victims who died.”