A Confusing Week in Jewish Vilnius




OPINION  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE

by Zecharya Olickij

This last week has been very confusing to me. I’m a local Vilna Jew, and I have been very happy to see the harmony in the city’s Choral Synagogue for many years now. In fact, for over a year now, all Jews have been praying together in absolute harmony in the main synagogue, the only one to survive the war intact.

I was very happy when I saw a large number of local Jews (most of whom are not personally observant) flocking to the synagogue to celebrate Simchas Torah last week. How beautiful to watch the dancing, the singing, the joy, the Torah. No strife, no quarrels, no negativism. The atmosphere of sheer holiness of this ancient and eternal Jewish joy. It was wonderful.

But then came Friday evening (the 28th of October, eve of the Sabbath of 27 Tishrei).

I had been told that the main shul — the Choral Synagogue — would need to be closed for both Friday night (Eve of Sabbath) and Shabbos morning services because of some plumbing problems. Okay. So far so good. I heard that the davening (praying) would be held at the Jewish community center at Pylimo 4, so without giving it much thought, I went there, but came a little late due to some delay at my end.

The moment I entered, I immediately saw that something was weird. Everyone I spoke to told me that the community’s official chairperson was present and had used hired guards to prevent Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky and the Jews who came with him to pray, from entering the building to pray there.

So I asked the people there: Why?  Very quickly, I found out that the community chairperson used hired guards to prevent Rabbi Krinsky and those who came with him, from entering the center in order to daven there.

I was given a very dishonest “excuse” that this was because of “Rabbi Krinsky’s misbehavior in the synagogue.”

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Which, of course, confused me beyond description, since not only has he been always very helpful to the congregation but he did not “misbehave” in any way whatsoever. More than that, just those few days ago, everyone had been dancing together with the Torah like good Jewish brothers.

I saw absolutely no warning signs of such a frankly unwise and totally uncalled-for action on the part of the community center.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The guards and the community’s chairperson called for police “help” to throw us out! Of course, we didn’t want to leave. We came for Kabbolas Shabbos, the weekly Friday night service that we’d all been having together each week. Believe it or not, the police did throw us out, and I myself got personally dragged into a police car for “creating havoc.” What havoc? I simply asked to stay and be allowed to pray.

What could I have done to bring forth such a response? I had, to tell the truth, politely asked the police several times about their grounds for being there and why they were trying to throw us out.

They answered that “they were called to make order.”

But that too was not the end of it.

Suddenly one policeman decided that they need to bring several of us to the police station. I must remind you, this was some time after the congregation inside has started the Eve of Sabbath service. I told the policeman that according to my religion, I can’t be riding in a car on our Sabbath. I alone was placed in a police car. After sitting in the car for about five minutes, I was released. So maybe my plea did after all help avert us riding on the Sabbath.

But I am confused. Why was I, an observant Jew in Vilnius, dragged into a police car in the first place for turning up to the weekly Sabbath service that had been moved by the official community leaders from the synagogue to the community building because of an ostensible plumbing problem?

Also very disturbing: I was told that one of the rabbis invited to Lithuania by the chairperson of the community, physically grabbed Kalman Krinsky, the rabbi’s son, and dragged him out of the room where the prayers were taking place, to the shock and dismay of a sizable group of visitors from the United States.

I only wanted to daven (pray) with the unified congregation that has been praying together so nicely for so long.

So yes, I still feel confused. Really.


The author, a young Jew born in Vilnius, works in the field of kashrus (ensuring the proper preparation of kosher food).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Defending History is an open forum for transparent discussion and debate. Leaders of the official Jewish Community of Lithuania, which owns the Choral Synagogue, are cordially invited to publish a response or clarification on these pages. To date, the only (tangential) reference to any aspect of these events on the community’s website is the notice of the synagogue’s closure for repairs, announced for Friday and Saturday, 28-29 October, in its Russian-language section. Curiously, the notice, indicating that services would be transferred to the community center for the two days, ends with the Russian equivalent of “We are waiting for you!” See DH’s earlier report last month.


SEE ALSO:

Jacob Piliansky’s eyewitness account; Dovid Katz’s article; Faina Kukliansky’s article; Leon Kaplan’s first and second comments; Former Chief Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s comment.

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