26 Jun The revitalization of Jewish life in Vilna, Lithuania
Vilna was one of the most famous Jewish cities in pre-World War II Europe, known around the world for its Torah institutions and scholars, especially the fabled Vilna Gaon. Before the war, the city had a Jewish population of nearly 100,000 – some 45 percent of Vilna’s total – comprising 200 Jewish communities. There were 105 synagogues and six daily Jewish newspapers.
After the Holocaust, though, only 24,000 Jews survived; 90 percent had been murdered. And yet now, more than 65 years after that devastation, Vilna is filled with Jewish life once again.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund was in Vilna last month and visited a Jewish kindergarten – a moving testament to the unprecedented revitalization of Jewish life in what was once known as “The Jerusalem of Lithuania.” We have a photo gallery and video showcasing the faces of the “next generation” of leaders in Jewish Lithuania. We also have pictures of the overall Vilna community here and a video of two young members of the Jewish community singing the classic “A Yiddishe Mama” – in fluent Yiddish!
Today, about 5,000 Jews live in what is now known as “Vilnius.” Only one shul is still in operation. Shavei Israel has been in touch with the JDC (the Joint Distribution Committee) representative there, Mr. Ariel Nadvornik, and Michael visited the city to explore the possibility of sending an educational emissary to work with the Jewish community. Michael met with leaders of the Lithuanian Jewry to learn more about the current state of Jewish life in Vilna and the challenges that it faces. While there, he also interviewed the Lithuanian Prime Minister for an article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post.
There is a personal note as well: Part of Michael’s family (on his paternal grandmother’s side) was from Vilna and from the nearby town of Salant, so it was also a “roots trip” for Shavei Israel’s founder.