DOCUMENTS | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | CPJCE
JERUSALEM—The 1 February 2018 letter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites in Israel to the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, was released here today for publication. In it, the world-renowned rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, pleads with the president of Lithuania to “cancel this plan to make this site a convention center.” He reminds her of the tens of thousands of Jews buried at the old Piramónt cemetery of Vilna, now in the Šnipiškės district of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. His letter follows the 7 January 2018 letter from the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, and the pleas of virtually all the world’s leading rabbis of Litvak heritage (and many others) over recent years, in addition to many people of good faith of all backgrounds.
Last summer, a dozen US congressmen wrote to Lithuania’s leaders. In fact, over 42,000 people from around the world have signed a petition launched by Ruta Bloshtein, an Orthodox Jewish woman born in the city and one of its key religious personalities today; among the first to sign were Vilnius’s Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, and Riga-based Vilnius-active Rabbi Kalev Krelin. Longtime Vilnius based Rabbi S.J. Feffer and Rabbi Chaim Burshtein penned powerful essays (Rabbi Burshtein was fired for his, back in 2015). A Protestant minister, Catholic philosopher, Latvian-American journalist are among the many non-Jewish, universalist voices. DH now has a section in the Lithuanian language collecting oppositional statements. By contrast, the government’s arguments rely on one Satmar (“Aaron branch”) affiliated group of “grave trading rabbis in London,” the CPJCE, who have been alleged to be implicated in secret financial dealings with builders and politicians in dubious activities exposed by Wikileaks, the Jerusalem Post, JTA, and DH (CPJCE stands for “Committee to Preserve Jewish Cemeteries in Europe,” whose letterhead includes at least one OBE and one major UK businessman.
It is hoped that the Lithuanian government will do the right thing and treat the old Jewish cemetery the same way it would treat a medieval Christian Lithuanian cemetery where thousands of great scholars lie buried, not to mention all the everyday citizens of the city over close to five hundred years, whose families paid for their plots of land in perpetuity. A facsimile of the letter follows; it is also available as PDF.