Can small East European Jewish communities preserve their independence in the face of powerful state (and non-state) interests? Should the granting of restitution deriving from the value of properties of annihilated Jewish communities be directed to preserving free, democratic, vibrant and diverse Jewish life into the future as opposed to the interests of certain environments of governments and other elites, and their tiny cliques of so-called “Court Jews” — an endeavor that has, at times, here in Lithuania, declined into a race to the PR status of “Ah, but I am the last real Litvak, the rest of them, I don’t know…”
Events are now coming to a head. Simon Gurevich, longtime former executive director of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, has announced his candidacy for the community’s leadership. The country’s chief rabbi, former chief rabbi, and hundreds of younger, everyday community members rapidly signaled their support on Mr. Gurevich’s Facebook page. (Older members of the community, who tend not to use the web, do not yet by and large know of the looming elections.) The incumbent, the eminent attorney Faina Kukliansky, has a significant base of support too. The stage is set for a lively and dignified contest of ideas, plans and dreams for a small but beautiful Jewish future in the country. What with a substantial diaspora of diverse kinds of Litvak identification and rediscovery of roots, the implications are to some degree international. Incidentally, both candidates are scions of centuries-old Litvak families hailing from the depths of Lithuania.
But the official community’s trilingual website has still not mentioned the free and fair elections due in April by the Community’s constitution, or informed readers of the candidates. The government’s “Good Will Foundation” board allocates funds for the website from the restitution deriving from the religious properties of the annihilated Jewish population.
Will the Good Will Foundation now insist on fair website coverage, with the principle of equal time and space for all candidates and the rapid publication of rules, dates and information?
According to available information, elections must be held by 3 April 2017 for chair of the Vilnius Jewish Community and by 28 April 2017 for chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
It is hoped the electoral process will be honored with the speed of professionalism and integrity in the city once known as Jerusalem of Lithuania, with no recourse to the “let’s postpone the vote” tactics of oligarchies and banana republics.
On the mornings of 4 April and 29 April, respectively, the heads of the Vilnius and Lithuanian Jewish communities selected four years ago (at present, the same person holds both positions), would, in the absence of free, fair and transparent reelection, wake up having zero democratic legitimacy for clinging to office.
UPDATE OF 25 MARCH 2017
Following this editorial of 19 March, and Facebook statements by Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius) of 14 March 2017, 16 March, and 22 March, the website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community duly published its understanding of the rules in force for Vilnius Jewish Community elections, on 23 March 2017 in Lithuanian, and on 24 March 2017 in English.
On 24 March, Mr. Gurevich published a facsimile of the 23 March letter signed by (nearly all) of the members of the Vilnius Jewish Community board, to the community’s chairperson, Ms. Faina Kukliansky, calling for the board to be convened. It also appeared in Defending History.
As of 25 March, the website’s Russian section (rather more important than English for reaching community members) did not yet contain mention of the pending elections, and the large bloc of (particularly older) community members who rely on paper and postal communications had not been informed, but it is hoped these matters are in hand.