Monday, June 23, 2014

Vilnius learning and fun ~ Monday, June 23, 2014

Fruma's shop in Vilnius, circa 1935
After breakfast we had a Jewish Heritage Tour of Vilnius with a pre-arranged guide named Jurate.  For the next three hours we walked through quite a bit of the older part of Vilnius, because Jews comprised more than 30% of the urban population and could be referenced at all major buildings.  

Sights included the one remaining synagogue, the location of the walls of the smaller and bigger Jewish ghetto, and the first Lithuanian monument dedicated to Chiune Sugihara.  Jurate seemed to have more energy for walking and touring, but we were brought to the town square where we broke for lunch.  

Lithuanians take great
pride in their coffee designs.

disquieting facade of a Vilnius theater company
 As usual, we all scattered to restaurants that served our favorite cuisines.

One group of students joined Dr. O'Sullivan for authentic German food.  Who knew you could find this in Vilnius?  Students enjoyed it very much.

outside of the only remaining historical synagogue in Vilnius
Although our walking tour had ended, our exploration of Jewish heritage in Lithuania continued with a visit to the “Center for Tolerance,” Lithuania’s Jewish State and Holocaust Museum, which contained a lot of information on the history of Lithuanian Jews.  There was an exhibit of 20th century paintings, and beautifully crafted silver ritual objects like candelabras, goblets, and spice boxes.  The museum also demonstrated the plight of the Lithuanian people under both German and Soviet rule.  Some of our students noted that, despite the dark period of the Holocaust, the museum's very existence is a testament to the will of the people to survive.

This museum was a great preparation for that night's event.  Prof. Myers had arranged a meeting with the leaders of the Vilnius Jewish community and some college students. 
can you believe these are doors to the university?!
We met at the Jewish Community Center, an attractive, well-guarded building topped with a large white statue of Moses.  We were greeted and served an assortment of cookies, chips, cheeses, coffee, and wine.  Amit, the president of the organization of Jewish college students in Lithuania, opened with a powerful speech declaring that the center was most important to the study of Lithuanian Jews because "it is the living part of the culture."  We were then greeted by a woman named Faina, the head of the Jewish community of Vilnius and Lithuania.  She told us her personal history and the responsibilities of her organization, one of which is to educate Lithuanian non-Jews about the Jewish historical experiences.  We then met Shimon, the community's executive director, who was one of the first beneficiaries of the JCC’s establishment after the Soviet era.

gone in no time
Amit then divided us into small groups and assigned one of her college student friends to each group.  We all made introductions and spoke about ourselves.  After about ten minutes, the Lithuanian students moved to the next small group.  As a result, we had individual welcomes from each of the students and had the chance learn about each other.  As thanks for arranging the meeting, Amit presented Prof. Myers with a  grafo sakotis (tree cake), a Lithuanian favorite.

Our meeting concluded around 8 pm, but the socializing was by no means finished. We dispersed for a quick dinner, and within an hour, many of our students met the Lithuanian college students for an exclusive tour of Vilnius night life.  Since it was the evening of the national holiday and the college students had just completed their final exams, they were eager to party all night long.  Some of our students happily joined in them, parting at different hours – some after the sun rose in the morning, just in time for the next day’s activities.   
our hostel's dog ~
at least he was alert the next day!

1 comment:

  1. So did you enjoy your trip to Vilnius? It seems to be a great one because you met a lot of local people! I am thinking about traveling to Lithuania but still have doubts about accessibility, communication and so on, however, it's much easier when reading your blog!