A smaller gathering than usual met at Ponar outside Vilnius this year to mark Yom haShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. On Thursday a group including Holocaust survivors, Lithuanian Jewish Community representatives and diplomats paid respects at the largest mass murder site in Lithuania. They placed wreaths and stones on monuments there.
Dear Simas, we greet you heartily on your birthday and wish you good health. May your home never lack peace, tranquility, happiness and coziness, and may you always have at your side a person on whose shoulder you can support yourself in a difficult moment. Happy birthday.
It is now 76 years since the death camp at Auschwitz was liberated. As we commemorate Yom HaShoah today, it is useful to take a look at how the Holocaust is affecting public morality all these years later — and how it is still being abused.
It is both helpful and not helpful to talk about the Holocaust when discussing the disturbing resurgence of antisemitism in the world today.
On the one hand, as reflected in ADL’s pyramid of hate, it is instructive to recognize, as the history of the Holocaust demonstrates, that things can escalate from stereotypes, to discrimination to anti-Jewish legislation to mass murder if hate is not addressed early on. The Holocaust continues to teach us that society cannot be complacent, so that so-called low levels of hate won’t mutate into much more serious and devastating manifestations, culminating in genocide.
Mykolas Preis died at the age of 104 in Israel March 31. He was twice the Lithuanian champion of the 100-meter dash in the interwar period. He was buried at the Har haMenukhot cemetery in Jerusalem next to his wife Olia. Preis’s family emigrated to Israel in 1973. The Lithuanian Jewish Community remembers Mykolas Preis as an outstanding doctor and athlete. Our deepest condolences to his family.
Preis was the last interwar Lithuanian track champion. He took first place two years in a row, in 1939 and 1940, running the 100-meter dash in 11.5 seconds both times.
Preis was the senior medical doctor at the Sports Medicine Center located on Rožių alley in Vilnius in 1948. His contemporaries spoke of him as a great organizer as well as athlete. According to the Makabi records he came to prominence as a runner in 1938. Preis shared his memories of childhood and adolescence in the book “Lietuvos sporto klubo ,Makabi 1916–2016” [Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club, 1916-2016] and spoke about his many friends and the influence of his caring and warm teacher Rozalija Sondeckienė when he attended the Šiauliai Boys’ Gymnasium.
A state ceremony was held in Israel April 7, 2021, to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel executive board member Roza Bloch spoke in the name of Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem institute.
April 7, 2021
Symbolic Commemoration of Holocaust Victims at Ponar
A symbolic ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust will take place at 12 noon on April 8, Yom haShoa, the Israeli Day of Remembrance of Holocaust Victims and Heroes, at the Ponar Memorial Complex outside Vilnius. Adhering to all safety requirements, members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, diplomats and surviving Vilnius ghetto prisoners will place stones and flowers at monuments and the mass graves and the cantor will perform kaddish, a prayer for the dead.
“The March of the Living traditionally took place on this occasion, repeating the final march of those condemned to death from the railroad station to the Ponar Memorial Complex, but due to the pandemic situation, this year this won’t be a mass commemoration. Only a few of us are gathering, carrying out the responsibility to preserve and pass on to future generations the memory of the Holocaust. This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust in Lithuania, after all. With us today is an eye-witness to those horrific events, Kaunas ghetto inmate Dovydas Leibzonas,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said.
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin has sent a letter to the Lithuanian Jewish Community thanking the LJC for presenting him a Lithuanian commemorative coin celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon.
“I was especially moved by this gesture as the President of the State of Israel and as a proud descendant of the Vilna Gaon,” president Rivlin wrote in his letter.
He continued: “The gift, indeed, reflects the strong and everlasting ties between us, Jews in the State of Israel and Jewish communities in the diaspora, and reflects the historic ties between Israel and Lithuania.”
President Rivlin ended his letter by calling himself a proud Litvak and sending warm greetings from Jerusalem to all members of the Community.
The Lithuanian parliament fired Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (Genocide Center) general director Adas Jakubauskas Thursday.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
We invited readers to participate in the traditional Purim carnival mask and costume contest by dressing up and sending in photographs, as well as drawings and photographs of home-made hamentaschen and recipes for such. We are pleased to announce that after long consideration of many more entries than anticipated we have finally narrowed the field down to a list of winning entries.
And the winners are…
Lilia Dulkė, in the category of best costume among grown-ups;
Mark Svešnikov, best costume for children;
Viljamas and Aleksandra Žitkauskai, best family costumes;
Marija Jurkevičiūtė, best mask;
Consolation prize for youngest contestant goes to…. Adam Segal!
And prizes go to Ronas, Lara and Glorija Rozovskiai for sending in the most photographs with different costumes!
We would like to thank all who participated and wish those who didn’t win this year greater success next Purim.
The LJC invites you to attend a joint virtual Sabbath celebration with Rabbi Julia Gris of the progressive Shirat ha-Yam Synagogue in Odessa at 7:00 P.M. on Friday, April 2. The event will be held in Russian. To receive Zoom credentials to participate, register at https://forms.gle/S8b5qntv722qcq7DA
The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community wish Maša Taicienė a very happy birthday. We know Maša as a warm, energetic person, a treasured and highly active member of the community who always stands ready to lend a helping hand whom we love and respect. We want to wish you joy, happiness and success!
The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a virtual tour of the only synagogue operating in Vilnius according to all Jewish laws, the Choral Synagogue. The virtual guided tour will demonstrate the synagogue itself and also offers tourists the chance to learn about Jewish cultural and culinary traditions and the High Holy Days.
The virtual tour covers the synagogue’s interior, the mikva, the kosher kitchen and the only surviving matzo-making machine in Lithuania, as well as Jewish religion, philosophy, traditional holidays, lifestyles and Jewish sacred songs. Virtual lessons are available in the kosher kitchen for those wanting to learn about the Jewish culinary tradition. Over six millennia strict traditions have developed for religious and secular holidays for making certain foods for specific holidays, for example, only round loaves of challa are baked and fish heads prepared for the Rosh Hashanah table, doughnuts and potato pancakes are fried for Hanukkah and hamantaschen, pastries filled with poppy seeds, are made for Purim.
Around 10,000 tourists visit the Choral Synagogue annually, many of them the Litvak descendants of Holocaust survivors living in diaspora around the world, and also local residents, students, and social partners in the field of culture and tourism in Lithuania and abroad. Visiting the synagogue is being restricted because of the corona virus, so a virtual tour has been set up for Lithuanians and for Litvaks living abroad who are able to visit at least virtually the synagogue of their parents’ youth or adolescence.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said the virtual introduction to Jewish culture and tradition strengthens the multicultural expression of the city community and popularizes Jewish cultural heritage.
The Lithuanian Cultural Council is financing the project called “Choral Synagogue of Vilnius: Prayer, Kitchen, Mikva.”
The Vilnius Gaon Jewish History Museum and the EZCO creative agency are presenting an initiative called “Art Creates Tolerance” inspired by the life and work of Samuel Bak.
The project’s goal is to use Vilnius-born Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak’s art “to encourage public discussion using modern multimedia on the past and socially-sensitive issues of the present, to find historical signs and to discover the value of tolerance,” according to museum director Kamilė Rupeikaitė.
The project will use the museum’s existing physical and virtual exhibits about Bak and expand them with new exhibits.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Gennady Kofman, chairman, Panevėžys Jewish Community:
Happy Passover, one of the most important holidays on the Jewish religious calendar.
Passover holiday greetings to all. We wish you a happy time talking with your families.
This is the evening of sacrifice which took place before God led the Israelites out of Egypt. During Passover we eat unleavened bread, matzo. The first, second and last evening are marked with a large dinner with strict traditions: the head of family reads a passage from the Book of Exodus, prayers and a collection of liturgical hymns. A hand-washing ceremony is performed before eating. Before the end of the holiday meal a beautiful cup with grape juice is placed and the door is left open, and this is called “Elijah’s cup.”
Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė greets the Lithuanian Jewish Community and Litvaks throughout the world on the occasion of the religious holiday Passover.
“I sincerely greet the Lithuanian Jewish Community and all Litvaks on the special religious holiday Passover. It is connected with traditions kept for millennia which recall the exodus from Egypt and commemorates the fundamental values, the spiritual rebirth and liberation of the Jewish people. Sadly, for the second year now Lithuanian Jews and Jews around the world greet Passover in difficult conditions and not all families are able to come together for the ceremonial seder dinner. I want to sincerely wish you that this holiday celebrating liberation and the spring would increase your faith that all obstacles will be overcome. Be healthy and happy, and may wisdom and endurance follow your every step, may a sunny mood fill your hearts and homes. Hag Pesakh sameakh, a happy Passover holiday!” the Lithuanian prime minister said in her greeting.
Passover, the most important Jewish holiday which lasts for eight days, begins on March 27 this year. The date for celebrating Passover is set by the lunar calendar: the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The name of the holy day comes from “pesakh,” meaning passed over, recalling the story of the Angel of Death which passed over the Israelites before Moses led the slaves out of Egypt.
“The symbolic meaning of this holiday is that it wasn’t separate Jewish families which came out of Egypt, but a single, united Jewish people. The Jewish people throw off the yoke of slavery and leave in order to reach the Promised Land, and there create their nation,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky explained.
Passover Traditions over the Millennia
Keeper of Jewish cultural and religious traditions Natalija Cheifec said although the exodus from Egypt occurred more than 3,300 years ago, Passover traditions have remained almost unchanged over the many centuries. The main feature of the eight-day holiday is the seder dinner when the Hagada is read out, prayers are made and people sit at the seder table and eat from the seder plate, or ke’are.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes all Community members a Happy Passover! Take a listen to the musical greetings from the Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble below.