In Reply to 40,000 Petition Signatories, Lithuania’s Chancellor Rehashes Reliance on Allegedly Corrupt Group of London Rabbis who Reject Consensus of Litvak Rabbis Internationally




OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY  |  OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT  |  PAPER TRAIL   |  CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS  |  CEMETERIES  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE

VILNIUS—Ms. Milda Dargužaitė, since December 2016 the highly respected Chancellor of the Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, on 2 June 2017 issued a written reply to Ruta Bloshtein, the Vilnius-born Orthodox Jew who last December initiated a petition on the old Vilna Jewish cemetery at Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės (Yiddish: Shnípishek). The petition asks the Lithuanian government to move the national convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, and to restore the historic burial ground which dates to the fifteenth century and contains the remains of many of the greatest Lithuanian Jewish scholars. There has been a massive international outcry against plans to cite a convention center in the heart of the old cemetery where revelers would cheer, clap, do politics, sing, drink at bars and use toilets surrounded by thousands of Jewish graves. Ms. Bloshtein’s petition has been signed by 40,000 people, and has been the subject of coverage in Algemeiner.comAmi, the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish JournalTablet, and numerous other publications.

An English translation of Ms. Dargužaitė’s letter follows along with its accompanying formal data sheet. The PDF of the original Lithuanian document follows below the translation (please use arrows in the upper left-hand-corner to turn the page). These documents are provided in full with the exception of Ms. Bloshtein’s address and email which are blocked out for privacy and security.

UPDATE: The prime minister of Lithuania and the mayor of Vilnius confirmed on 14 June 2017 that plans will go ahead for the convention center. They announced cancellation of plans (widely regarded as a PR diversion to start with) for a “Jewish museum on the cemetery site” too.

Ms. Dargužaitė’s letter refers to the supposed legitimization of construction plans by agreement of the “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” (CPJCE). In fact, the CPJCE is mentioned five times in the letter as a kind of mantra. Perhaps she is not aware of the international scandal that has erupted concerning alleged payments received by the CPJCE back in 2009 concerning the same Vilnius cemetery, exposed by Wikileaks, and reported in 2015 by Defending HistoryJerusalem Post, JTA, and numerous other publications. Indeed, virtually all the great Litvak tradition rabbis of the world have weighed in condemning the defiling of the cemetery by a national convention center, as have a number of Jewish residents of Lithuania. In fact, Lithuania’s long serving chief rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Burshtein (in office 2004 to 2015), was dismissed (by the government’s de facto puppet “official Jewish community head”) in 2015 for having dared to speak out in agreement with all the other Litvak rabbis, including a missive signed by twelve of the greatest, in opposing the project. Then, his replacement, Rabbi Kalev Krelin, was apparently demoted after signing Ms. Bloshtein’s petition last December. In a singular act of courage, even one of the CPJCE’s own committee members, London’s Rabbi Abraham Pinter, signed Ms. Bloshtein’s petition. The letter’s repeated mentions of the official “Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community” seem to indicate the author is unaware of the widespread opposition of actual members of that community, not to mention the lack of legitimacy of its current leadership following the allegedly rigged recent elections that are being challenged in Lithuania’s courts. The long and short of it is that Lithuania’s leaders would be wise to pause and reflect, and perhaps come to see that the petition by Ms. Bloshtein, the largest Litvak initiative since the Holocaust, along with the voices of the country’s actual Jews and rabbis, represents a source of pride in Lithuania’s heritage to be cherished. It is the CPJCE in London and their commercially and politically interested Vilnius partners (comprising a tiny group of persons) who have caused so much needless pain. Surely it is time, with a bit of wisdom, to turn the 40,000 signatories into enthusiastic supporters of today’s democratic and free Lithuania.

More on the fate of Piramónt, Vilnius’s Old Jewish Cemetery, by: Mauše Beirakas, Didier BertinRuta Bloshtein, Yonah BooksteinChaim Burshtein, Milan Chersonski, Pini DunnerShmuel Jacob Feffer, Pinchos Fridberg, Bernard FryshmanDovid Katz, Juris Kaža, Serge KlarsfeldAndrius Kulikauskas, Shnayer Leiman, Beata Nemcová, Julius NorwillaJosifas Parasonis. Statements by leading rabbis and various institutions and individuals and members of Lithuania’s Jewish community.

Ruta Bloshtein’s petition

Ms. Dargužaitė’s letter will come as a bitter disappointment following a JTA report last February titled “Report: Lithuania Reconsiders Plans to Build Atop Former Jewish Cemetery”. The article reported on a meeting with Lithuania’s ambassador to the United States in Washington DC with a group of eminent rabbis led by Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, who is quoted as saying that “The reception was certainly different than at prior meetings, and we were encouraged to hear that the government is currently reviewing its options.” The question remains whether there was and is a reevaluation or whether the Niederman meeting was yet more spin mirage designed to “satisfy the rabbis on the day” only to be corrected by this month’s statement by Lithuania’s government chancellor. Just several weeks ago, the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel graciously received a delegation led by Rabbi L. Kahaneman, dean of Pónevezh Yeshiva (named for the Lithuanian town now known as Panevėžys) which was joined, in a bold demonstration of Lithuanian-Jewish partnership, by Lithuanian intellectual Julius Norvila (Norwilla), whose speech at the gathering is available in Defending History. Another Lithuanian intellectual, Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, professor at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, has eloquently spoken out on the fate of the capital’s old Jewish cemetery in addition to studying the current dispute academically in a recent paper on moral imagination.

There will also be disappointment at the Chancellor’s repeat of what has widely been called a “ridiculous” contention for some years now. She writes that “no activities that would contain entertainment” would be held at this convention center. Critics have been asking whether that means that the convention center will only rent out its space to conventions that guarantee there will be no “entertainment” as part of their programs? Various of the many international critics of the project have respectfully pointed out that the citizens of Lithuania deserve a sparkling new convention center that is not built atop the oldest cemetery of its annihilated Jewish minority, one that all the world’s peoples can be proud of, and indeed, one where events including an entertainment component would be as welcome as at any other convention center on the planet. If, that is, there is anyone who takes seriously the “no entertainment” claims beyond the deeply compromised CPJCE, a widely condemned group of London rabbis who are linked to a group of Satmar Hasidim that have nothing to do with Lithuania or its Jewish heritage. Most recently, their lead spokesman “explained” that the Soviet eyesore that was the Sports Palace is for the people of Lithuania the equivalent of the Tower of London and the Statue of Liberty combined….

In addition to the 40,000 signatures achieved by Ms. Bloshtein’s petition, a recent short film featuring the world’s leading scholar on the old Vilna cemetery, Professor Shnayer Leiman of New York City, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, has achieved 10,000 views since its launch on 19 April.

The Chancellor’s letter indicates in its accompanying data that it was processed by Lina Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė, who will forever go down in the cemetery’s history as the April 2015 prime minister’s assistant responsible for managing glorification of the visiting CPJCE’s delegation that came to Vilnius to bless the new convention center project via a meeting with the prime minister himself. The three rabbis resident in Vilnius at the time were not even informed of the meeting. Ms. Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė’s husband was until recently director of the state-sponsored “Jewish” restitution foundation, the “Good Will Foundation.” It is one of the many conflicts of interest swirling about the tiny group of individuals, Lithuanian and Jewish alike, whose manipulation of democracy and justice recently led to some dramatic scenes.

Showing-the-rabbis-around

Then prime minister Algirdas Butkevičius (3rd from left) is joined by Jewish affairs expert Lina Saulėnaitė in honoring the (not very Litvak-looking) London Hasidic CPJCE delegation that came to approve and bless the development of a thirty-six million dollar convention center in the heart of the ruined old Jewish cemetery of Vilnius. By contrast, the rabbis in Lithuania, and Litvak tradition rabbis internationally, have unanimously condemned the planned desecration of thousands of graves in a historic cemetery dating to the fifteenth century. If this were a Christian cemetery, would the highest government officials in the land be seeking out a fancy-dress  clerical unit from London to bless what all others condemn? Still from: LRytas.lt TV video (at: http://media.lrytas.lt/2015/4/19/102855.mp4).

Moreover, the Chancellor’s letter refers to the recent corruption scandal concerning the proposed builders of the new center, a project now estimated at around 34 million euros, and she offers guarantees of transparency. But are the state’s corruption units going to insist on public disclosure of each and every penny paid, directly and indirectly, to the London “grave-selling” rabbis of the CPJCE for their “blessing” and “supervising” the convention center works in blatant disregard of the views of each major Litvak-tradition rabbi on the planet? The CPJCE’s position, linked to the “Aaronite” branch of Satmar, is also in opposition to the rival Asra Kadisha organization for Jewish cemetery preservation, and indeed, to the rival “Zalmanite” branch of Satmar Hasidism, whose grandrabbi himself has appealed for international action to halt the convention center desecration of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery.

Last but not least, would the Chancellor and Ms. Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė be explaining that the policy is to both erect a national convention center in the heart of the old cemetery and to “eternalize” the cemetery (that’s one for you, George Orwell) if it were an old Christian cemetery dating to the fifteenth century, one where thousands of nationally revered scholars were buried in plots duly paid for in perpetuity by their families? Would governments and prime ministers be looking for a unit of fancy-dress clergy from London who will bless an accursed endeavor, while ignoring the unanimous voices of all the clergy in the world with roots in Lithuania? Or does the Orwell unit hop into action only when it’s the Jewish minority’s cemetery?

It may well be the future historians of Lithuania will find that it is Ruta Bloshtein — not Milda Dargužaitė or Lina Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė — whose penned document survives into the proud annals of the nation’s history, verily in the spirit of Gediminas’s and Vytautas’s magnificent legacy. As the Lithuanian philosopher Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas has put it, do today’s leaders of Lithuania want their grandchildren to look down from Gediminas’s Hill and see the restored Jewish cemetery, the scene that the Grand Dukes of Lithuania saw from the hill, or the Soviet eyesore that brought cheer to the Communist party chiefs looking down from that hill?

Vision for Piramont in Snipiskes

 


Translation of Ms. Dargužaitė’s letter:

OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA

Budgetary entity, Gedimino ave. 11, LT-01103, Vilnius, tel. 8 706 63846, fax 8 706 63895
e-mail LRVkanceliarija@lrv.lt , http://www.lrv.lt
Data is gathered and stored in the Register of Legal Entities, code 188604574

To: Ruta Bloshtein, author of the petition ‘On the Preservation of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Šnipiškės, Vilnius’; to June 16, 2017

[Ms. Bloshtein’s address, here deleted for privacy and security]
Vilnius
[Ms. Bloshtein’s email, here deleted for privacy and security]
Re: On the Petition ‘On the Preservation of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Šnipiškės, Vilnius’

We would like to begin this response to your appeal with our gratitude for the attention you show to a place that is extremely important to Vilnius and Lithuania in general. We assure you that the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter: the Government), as well as people of Lithuania, regard the history and monuments of Lithuanian Jews as very important, for Lithuanian Jews have graced and glorified our land by their activities for hundreds of years.

The Government bought the Vilnius Palace of Sports and Concerts back in 2015 in order to tidy up the territory that contains the old Jewish cemetery of Šnipiškės. We are sure that you would agree with the obvious fact that, while in private hands, this territory became another abandoned space of Vilnius.

We would like to inform you that the Government has been cooperating with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, led by the venerable rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, for many years now. The supervision carried out by this institution serves as a guarantee that the Šnipiškės Cemetery will be treated with utmost respect. We would also like to inform you that we cooperate with the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community and constantly inform them about the Government’s plans.

We want to direct Your attention to the fact that the state company ‘Turto Bankas’, after finding out about a possible lack of transparency in the former process of public procurement of the Vilnius Palace of Sports and Concerts renovation contracts, canceled the contract bidding on February 2, 2017. We emphasize the fact that no construction work is carried out at the moment either in the Palace of Sports or in the territory of the old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery.

According to the trilateral agreement signed in 2009 by the Department of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture, the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community, and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, all decisions so far have been and in the future will be negotiated with both the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.

We also want to direct your attention to the fact that the actions of the Government aimed at tidying up the abandoned territory in the center of Vilnius are considered positive by all sides of the aforementioned agreement.

We emphasize the intense attention the seventeenth Government directs towards the transparency of the public procurement processes; therefore, the Government will assure that the new bidding will meet the highest standards of transparency. The new project of Vilnius Palace of Sports and Concerts must be carried out with the proper eternalization of the old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery.

We want to assure you that both projects — reconstruction of the building of Vilnius Palace of Sports and Concerts and eternalization of the old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery—will be carried out in accordance with the highest standards of transparency, as well as Jewish traditions, with participation of the representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community and supervision of the rabbis of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe. The Government pledges to develop both projects with no breaches of the peace of the cemetery and no activities that would contain entertainment.

We want to assure you once again, that the Government deems the old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery to be of high importance and value, and, according to the criteria set by the 2009 agreement, with participation of representatives of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community, plans to properly eternalize the old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery and the commemoration of the Lithuanian Jews buried there.

Chancellor of the Government                                                                 

Milda Dargužaitė

Lina Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė, tel. 870663869, e-mail

 

DETAILED METADATA
Compiler(s) of the document Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania 188604574,
Vilnius city municipality Vilnius city Gedimino ave. 11
Name (headline) of the document ON THE PETITION ‘ON THE PRESERVATION OF THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY IN ŠNIPIŠKĖS, VILNIUS’
Document registration date and number 2017-06-06 No. S-71-1492
Date of the reception of the document and number of registration of the reception of the document
Identification mark of the document’s specification ADOC-V1.0
Purpose of signature Signing
Name, surname, and position of the signature’s creator Milda Dargužaitė, Chancellor of the Government, Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania
Certificate given to MILDA DARGUŽAITĖ, Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania LT
Date and time of the signature’s creation 2017-06-02 16:28:21 (GMTZ)
Format of the signature XAdES-X-L
Time provided at the time mark 2017-06-02 19:28:50 (GMT+03:00)
Information of the provider of certification ADIC CA-B, Identity Documents Personalization Centre under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania
LT
Certificate valid in 2016-12-14 09:55:14 – 2019-12-14 09:55:14
Purpose of signature Alignment
Name, surname, and position of the signature’s creator Alminas Mačiulis, Deputy Chancellor of the Government, Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania
Certificate given to ALMINAS MAČIULIS, Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania LT
Date and time of the signature’s creation 2017-06-02 05:36:22 (GMTZ)
Format of the signature XAdES-T
Time provided at the time mark 2017-06-02 08:36:55 (GMT+03:00)
Information of the provider of certification ADIC CA-B, Identity Documents Personalization Centre under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania
LT
Certificate valid in 2016-11-21 11:06:58 – 2019-11-21 11:06:58
Purpose of signature Alignment
Name, surname, and position of the signature’s creator Lina Saulėnaitė-Višinskienė, Adviser, Department of Foreign and European Union Affairs
Certificate given to LINA SAULĖNAITĖ-VIŠINSKIENĖ, Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania LT
Date and time of the signature’s creation 2017-06-02 07:21:36 (GMT+03:00)
Format of the signature XAdES-EPES
Time provided at the time mark
Information of the provider of certification ADIC CA-B, Identity Documents Personalization Centre under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania
LT
Certificate valid in 2016-03-25 09:10:48 – 2019-03-25 09:10:48
Information on means taken to ensure the integrity of metadata “Registration” purpose of metadata integrity ensured by using certificate “Dokumentų
informacijos ir veiklos procesų valdymo IS (DIVIS) , Lietuvos
Respublikos Vyriausybės kanceliarija LT”, provided by “SE Registru Centras RCSC (IssuingCA-A), SE Registru
Centras – I.k. 124110246 LT”; the certificate is valid from
2017-01-16 13:14:50 to 2018-01-16 13:14:50
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Additional metadata Transcript compiled on 2017-06-06 16:05:16 Information System of Document Information and Supervising Active Processes DIVIS

PDF of Ms. Dargužaitė’s original letter in Lithuanian (please use the arrows to turn pages backward or forward).

Chancellor Darguzaite Belittles 40,000 (address blocked)
This entry was posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Christian-Jewish Issues, CPJCE (London), Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok), Politics of Memory and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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