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December 2, 2019 10:36 am

How Does One Hurt and Humiliate a Person (or a People)?

avatar by Ruta Bloshtein


Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: David Holt via Wikimedia Commons.

How does one hurt and humiliate a person (or a people)?

By actions.

2020 has been declared “The Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Jewish Heritage” in Lithuania. Sounds solemn? It only sounds so. Empty pots make the most noise. What are these words based on? On plans to build a convention center on Jewish graves? On the remains of the Vilna Gaon’s family members and tens of thousands of other Jews. How does that sound? Like a mockery of the close to 50,000 Jews and non-Jews from around the world who signed the protest petition. How does that sound? Like laughing at the sorrow of the venerable rabbis, of the great leaders of Litvak yeshivas. How does that sound? Like an attack on the very spirit of the religious and moral norms of the entire nation.

By written words.

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The “Litvak Symbol” coin, being produced by the state for this “occasion,” is nothing but yet another disgrace. The “official” (state-sponsored) Lithuanian Jewish Community, while not having much to do with religion, is juggling the sacred names and symbols like a circus performer. Using the name of the Vilna Gaon, this is what is in play. The defilement of the Gaon’s fathers and mothers’ remains has already been approved. Now there is the aggressive mutilation of the menorah. The menorah is an important Jewish religious symbol derived from the golden candelabrum of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem that must (obviously) retain its historical shape if it is to be a menorah. It has managed to do so over millennia up to this new mutilation: brutally squeezing it into the symbol favored and used by groups of people nowadays infamous for their intolerance towards Jews and other ethnic minorities. That is a blasphemy if there ever was one.

By the way, would Litvaks from Belarus and Latvia, and the Litvak parts of Poland and Ukraine, agree with this jumble? Is anybody paying any attention to the opinion of local or foreign Litvaks? Has anybody even asked for opinions?

By spoken words.

According to the old legend about Vilnius, a druid by the name of Lizdeika explained Grand Duke Gediminas’s dream about a howling wolf: “My Great Duke, the iron wolf means that there will be a capital city here, and the howling of the wolf — that the fame of the city will travel all around the world.”

What is the fame that this country chooses to let go into the world as we approach the 700th anniversary of the capital city’s founding? Is it the fame of honor and nobility? Or is it the infamy of meaninglessness and empty words, covered over with solemn slogans and painfully mangled holy symbols?

The author, a native of Vilnius who has worked for years in the Judaica department of Lithuania’s Martynas Mažvydas National Library, is a prominent member of Vilnius’s small Orthodox Jewish community. She is the author of the international petition to save the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery. English translations of some of her writings appear in her DH section. This translation of the Lithuanian original, incorporating several words added by the author (for clarity), has been approved by the author.

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