Religion

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.

Ceremony for Inscribing New Torah Scroll Held at Choral Synagogue

A ceremony marking the beginning of the writing of a new Torah scroll was held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius September 4, initiated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky. This is an historical event, the first time since the Holocaust Jews have written their own “Litvak” Torah scroll.

Calligraphy experts (soferim) with special ink are inscribing the new Torah scroll with special quills on parchment together with members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. This is a centuries-old scribal tradition among Jews. For most, this is the first time they’re witnessing such an event. This is the first time Torah has been copied since Lithuanian independence in 1990 and since World War II.

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th birthday this year, will receive a unique, sacred gift.

Smhuel Levin, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community

Back to Shul Exhibit at Zavl Shul

Richard “Sco” Shofield presented a photography installation at the Zavl Shul at Gėlių street no. 6 in Vilnius September 2.

The exhibit was part of European Days of Jewish Culture which began last Sunday.

Schofield is a photographer and director of the non-profit International Centre for Litvak Photography which he founded. He studied photo-journalism and documentary photography at the University of the Arts in London.

The Zavl and Levinson Shul is still undergoing renovation but the catwalks and platforms were successfully used to hang the works. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky opened the exhibit and Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang.

Statement Regarding False Information in the Media on Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Mass Murder Sites

The Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) is disappointed to report that the text “On the Old Jewish Cemetery Located at Žalgirio street no. 3 in Šiauliai” containing false information was posted on social media and sent to official representatives of the Lithuanian state on August 29, 2018. The text was signed by representatives of the Šiauliai District Jewish Community, the Panevėžys Jewish Support Association, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, the Klaipėda Jewish Community, the Ukmergė Regional Jewish Community, the Klaipėda Jewish-Judaic Religious Community and the Vilnius Jewish Community.

The text, among other things, claims a court has found the LJC leadership to be illegitimate. The LJC notes there is no court decision which found the LJC leadership was elected illegitimately. The intentional propagation of this text with false information harms the LJC’s reputation, insults the Jewish people and possibly violates article 154 of the criminal code of Lithuania, and the LJC reserves the right to defend its interests in the manner prescribed by law.

The text also takes a position on the protection of Jewish heritage. In reply, the LJC notes that over many years of consistent cooperation with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (hereinafter Committee) official positions and assessments have been provided on issues surround the protection and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries and mass murder sites. The cooperation which has come about is founded on the high competence, expertise and experience of the Committee and is beneficial in the attempt to insure the protection of Jewish heritage and to insure that all conservation work would meet the requirements of Jewish law. The state and municipal institutions engaged in protection of Jewish heritage sites also need the expertise and judgment which the Committee provides.

European Days of Jewish Culture 2018

Everyone who’s interested is invited to attend European Days of Jewish Culture. For several years now European Days of Jewish Culture are held beginning on the first Sunday in September. The theme for the next year is chosen as soon as the Days have concluded so that organizers have time to prepare. This year the theme is “Jewish Stories” allowing for broad interpretation and broad public education on Jewish heritage with a special emphasis on true stories, jokes and visual work.

The story-telling tradition remains current in the Jewish collective memory. Stories come from the Torah, and there is a rich oral tradition from the shtetlakh. Stories is an inclusive theme which offers a number of opportunities. All European Days of Jewish Culture coordinators are free to choose and propose their own topics and organize this interesting event. This is what the Lithuanian Jewish Community is offering this year:

September 2

2:00 P.M. Richard “Sco” Schofield’s installation “Back to Shul” at the Zavel and Levinson synagogue, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 6, LJC

3:00-5:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café invites you to come learn how to make challa. Registration: goo.gl/bstFEC

6:00 P.M. Presentation of the 5779 LJC calendar

September 7

4:00-5:30 P.M. Concert by Vitalijus Neugasimovas, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 9, Leipalingis, Lithuania

11:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café presents Jewish dishes on the eve of the Great Autumn Holidays, Leipalingis manor square, Leipalingis, Lithuania

Sabbath at the LJC with Actor Marius Repšys (Cohen)

What does cohen mean? That was the question for some who came to celebrate Sabbath at the LJC with famous Lithuanian actor Marius Repšys, who turned 34 on September 1. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas moderated the event.

“I wanted to get back my father’s surname, Cohen, which was changed when I was a child, but when I went to the Justice Ministry, I found out I can’t do that, because it’s difficult to prove following my father’s death in Israel,” Repšys told the audience. Marius’s father was Jewish and his mother is mixed Tartar and Russian. When he was 8 his mother decided it would be better for him to change his surname, to be a Lithuanian rather than a Jew, because, she said, “everyone attacks Russians and Jews.” She had divorced his father when Marius was 4. He only learned his father was Jewish when he was 7.

Twenty years later he visited his father in Israel on his father’s birthday and brought as a gift an album of photographs of him in his childhood. “My father was moved and cried, but the next day there was an ashtray on top of the photo album,” Marius recalled. He went to Israel the second time for his father’s funeral.

Renaldas Vaisbrodas recalled it was fairly common to switch ethnicity in Soviet times, and parents did this to protect their children from bullying.

Q&A on Ceremony for Writing of New Torah

What you should know about the ceremony at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius for writing a new Torah to be held Tuesday, September 4, at 6:30 P.M.

1. What are we celebrating?

The unique beginning of writing a new Torah for the first time since World War II. A sofer with special calligraphy skills will write the new Torah on parchment with a special quill and special ink. It will take about a year.

2. Who may participate in the ceremony?

All Jews, men, women and children.

3. How do I participate?

Come to the synagogue at 6:30 P.M. Tuesday.

4. How much does it cost to participate?

It’s free.

5. How does the ceremony work?

Each person individually or with their family may join the sofer and write a letter on the new Torah scroll. The sofer will also write your name on a piece of parchment which you may take home as a keepsake.

6. Where will the new Torah go when it’s written?

It will be used at the Choral Synagogue.

Pope Francis to Honor Holocaust Victims in Vilnius

According to the Lithuanian Government’s planning committee for the visit of Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church will honor Holocaust victims in the Vilnius ghetto after returning from Kaunas on September 23.

On September 23, 1943, the final destruction of the ghetto took place. In Lithuania September 23 is marked as the Day of Genocide of the Jews of Lithuania.

First New Litvak Scouting Camp, Sabbath in the Forest

The first new Litvak scouting camping trip with children from Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Molėtai took place over the weekend. Litvak scouting has a long tradition in Lithuania until the Holocaust and there were thousands of scouts. Jewish scouting stopped after the Holocaust, making the revival, Sabbath in the Forest, an important milestone. The goal of the renewed organization is to include religious Jewish children, secular Jewish children and non-Jewish children in Jewish scouting activities. The main concern is to make sure minimal standards are adhered to to allow religious Jewish children to attend the camping trips. The camping trips place special emphasis on Jewish religious traditions and prayer, serve kosher food and observe all the requirements of the Sabbath.

Many of the children experienced the great outdoors for the very first time, setting up tents and sleeping in them, setting up wooden picnic tables, cooking bread on the fire and challa in an outdoor oven and going on an evening hike.

Fania Brancovskaja, a member of the Bin scouting organization in Vilnius, ushered out the Sabbath last Saturday. The scouts called her “Sister Fania” as she shared her experience in scouting and stories about the scouts in pre-World War II Lithuania. Fania was presented a Lithuanian scouting necktie.

Binyamin Netanyahu Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community at Choral Synagogue

A long queue of Lithuanian Jews and friends of Israel eager to hear Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu crowded the sidewalk outside the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Sunday. Scheduled to start at 11:00 A.M., Netanyahu arrived about an hour and a half late, which only seemed to increase the audience’s anticipation, with applause when he and his wife entered. The main hall and the balcony were full to capacity as Israeli and Lithuanian security scanned the crowd during the first visit ever by an Israeli prime minister to Lithuania.

Netanyahu appeared very natural at the podium, thanked everyone for coming and singled out Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, MP Emanuelis Zingeris, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon and his wife and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky for special recognition.

In his brief address Netanyahu said he was a Litvak on both sides of his family, that he was returning to Lithuania as the prime minister of a powerful and innovative state and that he took two lessons from the Holocaust: that brutality and extremism need to be stopped as soon as they appear, and that Jews need to be able to defend themselves. He said the state of Israel was that defense. He also said Israel has many friends in the world, none greater than the United States, but that Israel has many more friends than people know, including in the Arab world. He mourned the passing of US Republican senator John McCain of Arizona. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas introduced the prime minister and provided an accurate synchronous translation of his words in Lithuanian.

Rafaelas Karpis performed the Partisan Hymn in Yiddish and several other songs, after which Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yaatov sang a biblical passage about the loss of Israel. Rabbi Ber Krinsky thanked the prime minister for coming and expressed special support for Israel, for the prime minister and for his family. The event ended with the Israeli national anthem.

Israeli PM at Ponar


VILNIUS, August 24, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ponar Friday, part of Vilnius where over 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

After laying a wreath at the Ponar memorial, Netanyahu said that his grandfather had been severely beaten near what he called “a forest of death.”

The Israeli prime minister said that he had learned two lessons from the Holocaust.

“First, we must fight barbarism or it will burn all of us. The second for us, Jews, is that we must never be defenseless again,” Netanyahu said.

“I want to say to my grandfather today: saba, I am back here today and this is a forest of death. As the prime minister of Israel. We will never be defenseless again,” he said.

“We have a state, we have an army and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves”.

Netanyahu’s grandmother Sarah Mileikowsky, née Lurie, was born in Šeduva, a town in Lithuania, and his grandfather Nathan Mileikowsky was born in Kreva in what is now Belarus.

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Arrive in Lithuania


VILNIUS, August 23, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arriving in Lithuania for an historic visit Thursday.

Netanyahu’s four-day visit is aimed at securing greater support from the Baltic countries for pressure on Iran and paying tribute to the Jewish heritage in Lithuania.

Lithuania would like Israel to take a tougher stance toward Russia.

“We need to better understand each other’s security policy challenges, because security is indivisible, and problems in one region can move to other regions, too,” Government vice-chancellor Deividas Matulionis told BNS.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet for talks Thursday evening before being joined by Latvian and Estonian counterparts Friday. Netanyahu is also to meet Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite Friday.

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Make Historic Visit to Lithuania This Week

VILNIUS, Aug 20, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to pay a visit to Lithuania this week, Lithuanian Government officials confirmed to BNS on Monday.

Netanyahu, who is to arrive in Lithuania for the first visit by an Israeli prime minister on Thursday, is scheduled to meet with his Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian counterparts, as well as with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and the local Jewish community.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on the eve of the visit that Israel is a strategic Middle East partner of Lithuania.

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


Programme

September 18

2:00 P.M. Reading of the names of prisoners of the Šiauliai ghetto, library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Žygimantų street no. 1 (time subject to change)

September 21 

3.00 P.M.  Ceremony to unveil memory stones commemorating Lithuania’s Righteous                   Gentiles, Garden of the Missionaries, Mairono street.

September 22

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

September 23

10:00 A.M. Reading of the names of Vilnius ghetto prisoners, Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39
12 noon Readings from the diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski in the former ghetto (location to be announced)
2:00 P.M. Commemoration ceremony at the Ponar mass murder site, Ponar Memorial Complex, Agrastų street
* Pope Francis to honor Holocaust victims in ghetto territory in Vilnius Old Town
6.00 P.M. World Premiere by Giedrius Kuprevičius “Under David’s Star”, Vaidila Theatre, A. Jakšto street no. 9

September 26

6:00 P.M. Tenor Rafailas Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and poet Sergejus Kanovičius present “Embrace the Past Tense.” Can Yiddish and Lithuanian meet under one roof? Is it possible to recognize a lullaby if it is sung in unknown words? Is dialogue possible between those singing in Yiddish and those reading their work in Lithuanian? Can love, longing and shared grief meet in memory? The Old Arsenal, Arsenalo street no. 3

September 27

6:00 P.M. Evening of Vilna Ghetto songs by Marija Krupoves, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

September 28

Commemorative Sabbath, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

October 4

6:30 P.M. “Heroism against Destruction,” an evening of creativity by Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble (Israel) dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Theater Hall, Vilnius University, Universiteto street no. 3

For more information write info@lzb.lt or call +370 672 40942

Amehaye Summer Camp 2018

In July the Lithuanian Jewish Community sponsored a day camp for members’ children aged 5 to 12. As every year, this year’s camp was held at a beautiful natural location, the Karvys manor in Paežeriai village in the Vilnius region.

Parents and children alike look forward to the camp and the experience of nature, relaxing by a lake and playing with friends. The day camp includes educational activities, walks and breakfast, lunch and dinner. Buses take the children to the camp in the morning and return them home in the evening. The day camps were held from July 16 to 27 this year. This year 49 children attended, from Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Norway, the USA and Great Britain. Children learned songs and Israeli dance, performed skits and learned to bake challa bread for Sabbath. The educational program included discussions about Jewish traditions, art, swimming, athletics and other activities.

Camp counselors took the campers to visit dog trainers and to meet with scouts in Labanoras Forest. The scouts talked about what it means to be a scout and everyone had a nice picnic by the lake.

Lithuania’s Russian Drama Theater actress Yuliana Volodko created a play with the children called Noah’s Ship which the children performed for parents at the closing ceremony. The play was followed by a Sabbath celebration with children and parents, attended by about 90 people in total. The closing ceremony featured cake and fireworks, and children made wishes and then released helium balloons.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanks all the organizers, volunteers and guests who made this year’s Amehaye such a success, and also thanks the company Nikadita, the Bagel Shop Café and the Sluoksniai Café for their support and help.

Paving the Way for Orthodox Couples to Marry

Miami, August 5, 2018–It’s not easy, and sometimes it is not even possible to get married in an Orthodox ceremony in Israel, due to the strict regulations set by the Chief Rabbinate, which is the only body authorized to carry out Jewish marriages. But times are changing, and a new organization called Chuppot is challenging the Rabbinate’s monopoly over who is allowed to marry.

Chuppot is the first organization to openly enable any Jewish couple in Israel to marry in a halachically Orthodox ceremony outside of the framework of the Rabbinate. Targum Shlishi recently awarded a grant to Chuppot to help the organization market itself.

“Chuppot is addressing a real and urgent need in Israeli society. The Chief Rabbinate, in setting forth parameters for weddings that many Jews simply cannot fulfill, has been abusing its power for years,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is a travesty that the Rabbinate routinely refuses to marry Orthodox Jewish couples. Many of those who are affected by the refusal are immigrants who are not able to document their Jewishness according to the unreasonable standards set forth by the Rabbinate.”

Marriage in Israel

The Chief Rabbinate’s strict standards over who is allowed to marry is not the only issue—many argue that the overall climate fostered by the Rabbinate is negative, with marriage just one aspect of a growing polarity between the Rabbinate and much of society (other areas of discord include divorce, ritual immersion, kashrut, and conversion). This negative climate reflects the increasing divide in Israeli society overall, in which the Rabbinate is becoming increasingly extremist and isolated, while more moderate Orthodox and traditional Jews are seeking a Judaism that is more in tune with their values.

Paul Packer, New Chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Visited Lithuania in July

Paul Packer, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, visited Jewish heritage sites including the Ponar Memorial Complex and the old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės with representatives from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the US embassy, the Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and discussed Jewish heritage topics and directions with representatives of the Lithuanian Government and Vilnius municipality.

The chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish heritage sites together in Kaunas, Kėdainiai, Pakruojis and Joniškis. Packer praised efforts by the LJC and local municipalities to preserve authentic Litvak heritage and especially maintaining authentic synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries.

Packer visited the Great Synagogue archaeological site and learned about the dig there. He was keenly interested in possibilities for commemorating the sacred and symbolic historical site. The LJC plans to continue active cooperation with the chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad who has taken a firm position on the control of the Great Synagogue. He said the Great Synagogue should be under the Lithuanian Jewish Community. A resolution protocol was adopted by the Lithuanian Government on June 29, 2018, tasking the LJC with drafting a study for ways to restore fragments of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

Three Weeks of Digging Culminate in Discovery of Bima at Great Synagogue

On July 26 reporters were invited to get a better look at the results of this year’s archaeological digs at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

An international team of Israel, American, Canadian and Lithuanian archaeologists made a number of discoveries this year, the third summer in a row digging has been conducted in and around the Soviet-era school built in 1952 on top of the former synagogue. Under one classroom the edge of the bima, the raised platform where the Torah is read, and the base of a column in the elaborate design of the bima were discovered. Lead archaeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority Dr. Jon Seligman explained to reporters the aron kodesh, or ark where the Torah is kept, would like be just under the fence bordering the street in the front of the school. He said the street had slightly shifted in location since the pre-war period. The bima and the ark form the main axis around which activities take place in the main hall of the synagogue.

Digging resumed in the playground and uncovered the men’s mikve next to the women’s discovered last year and suspected the year before. The mikvot constituted a two-storey building behind the synagogue from the side of the street still called Jewish street. A mikve is a bathing facility used for ritual purification. Two areas uncovered displayed what appeared to be almost new, slightly over-sized ceramic bathroom tiles, alternating squares of white and an orangish-red color.

Adjacent to the mikve building archaeologists determined the exact location of the outer wall of the synagogue proper this year.

Great Synagogue Site Compared to Acropolis and Vilnius Castle

15min.lt

Last week the Lithuanian Jewish Community confirmed archaeologists had discovered the bimah, or speaking platform, one of the most important elements of the Great Synagogue. Experts say this gives real stimulus to the digs at the site which have been going on for three years now. The Great Synagogue in Vilnius was one of the most important Jewish centers from the end of the 16th century to World War II. Damaged during the war, the Soviets razed what was left to the ground in the 1950s and built a school there. The green and brown Baroque bimah built in the 18th century was found under the school.

Call to Get Rid of Noreika Commemorations

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the archaeologists who studied historical descriptions and blueprints as well as digging for sharing their finds. “We are in the former ghetto, and this find is comparable on Vilnius’s scale to discovering the Acropolis. Not the shopping center, the historical Acropolis,” Kukliansky said. She thanked the Vilnius municipality for the support and initiative in commemorating the former synagogue, and used the occasion to remind Vilnius city leaders commemoration of the Great Synagogue isn’t compatible with a public plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika. “I want to make this little observation that the Great Synagogue and a monument to Noreika don’t really go together in one city,” the LJC chairwoman said at press conference next to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, asking for the issue to be solved..

Full story in Lithuanian here.