This week we Jews observed the saddest day in our people’s tradition — Tisha B’Av (Yiddish: Tíshebov), the annual fast day which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem. On this day of mourning and lamentation we fast. While sitting on the floor and reading the Book of Lamentations and the Kinoys (sacred poems of mourning), I thought about the Tíshebov tradition of visiting graves of our great sages and of departed family members.
In Vílne (Vilnius), this tradition was observed for ages by visiting the Piramónt cemetery, where throughout a period of more than five hundred years hundreds of thousands have been buried there — the Jews of Vílne, our ancestors among them — and so many illustrious rabbis and sages, who passed on the infinite treasures of their wisdom to us, to help us find the most honest and ethical way of life. It is, in our belief, on account of their merits that the rebuilding of the third temple will come sooner.
“I would ask you to imagine, that the Piramónt cemetery is the cemetery where the kings, priests, sages of your nation are buried, even the ancestors of your own family. Would you so readily agree to build on this site the new conference and entertainment center?”
The sad stories told at Tíshebov painfully lead me to think about the fate of the old Jewish cemetery of my city Vílne. The desecration of the graves started under the Soviets. The grave stones (Yiddish: matséyves) were pilfered, taken away and smashed into pieces as raw building material. The destruction of a matséyve causes big pain to the soul of the buried one: the inscription on the matséyve is the soul’s relationship to this world of ours. Once the inscribed stone is smashed, that relationship is broken forever. That was done deliberately and drastically.
But as if that was not enough, the new “democratic” plans for construction will involve extensive ground excavating works what will take away from buried ones not only their peace, but also their place.
If only people could have a look at the photos of the building works that I have seen from the first stage of construction, some ten years ago, already in the times of independent Lithuania! The foundation for the two new apartment buildings built on our cemetery was built in pits precisely in the middle of the shamelessly uncovered bones of our ancestors. How can people live there?
Unfortunately, many signs make it clear that the sad story is repeating itself and we are approaching the worst. It is impossible to understand, but the Piramónt cemetery has being doomed for its final destruction. The plans are for building on the Piramónt cemetery a large conference and public events center. Why this major new construction there? To build one more building in the capital’s center? As if there is a need for this! Right nearby there stand a number of semi-abandoned buildings that are in need not of mere upgrading, but of serious restoration.
Piramónt cemetery is not the site for new construction works.
Leave in peace the graves of the Jews of Vílne, of our great forefathers.
Leave in peace the cemetery where the citizens of Vílne purchased their plots. Where our rabbis blessed this place forever as a cemetery. Only, for the eternal rest of the buried, and for no other purpose.
I would ask you to imagine, that the Piramónt cemetery is the cemetery where the kings, priests, sages of your nation are buried, even the ancestors of your own family. Would you so readily agree to build on this site the new conference and entertainment center? To forget the more than five hundred years of history? It is absolute barbarism.
Ruta (Reyzke) Bloshtein, born in Vilnius and resident in the city, is active in its Jewish religious communities. This translation from the original Lithuanian has been approved by the author.