VILNIUS—In a new Facebook post today, Lithuania’s official chief rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, mentioned a Wikileaks-published cable sent by the United Stated ambassador to Lithuania to Washington in 2009. The cable references the need to supply a $100,000 payment to the London-based CPJCE (Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) for “supervision” of “beautification” and “exploratory digging” at the old cemetery. It notes the rabbis’ request for secrecy about their doings. In the chronology, the cable postdates the unknown arrangements by which the two buildings started in 2005 were allowed to stand, and it predates public mention of future plans for a congress and convention center. Observers have been struck, however, by the disparity between one of the secret agreements reached and the impression given in 2009 to the outside world by press releases that in effect, in return for no further “fuss” over the two buildings on the old cemetery’s land, no more would ever be built on the remainder. It was a “compromise” many could “live with.”
The congress and convention center project has been widely opposed by rabbinic, secular and Christian leaders. The rabbinic condemnation has come from the major Lithuanian-tradition (Litvak) rabbis in the world, including 12 heads of yeshivas in North America, four rabbinical institutional heads in Israel, as well as the synagogue that bears the Gaon of Vilna’s name and is led by his descendants. Some have seen irony that while all Litvak rabbis oppose desecration of the Vilna cemetery, a group of “Galitsyaner” hasidim from London were welcomed by the prime minister of Lithuania to provide their blessings for a $25,000,000 new convention center where revelers will clap, cheer, sing and use bars and washrooms surrounded by thousands of Jewish graves from the city that was once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania. This journal’s editor last month published an open letter to the London-based CPJCE.
Observers in the Jewish community expressed hope today that the personal polemics between the head of the community and the chief rabbi would immediately cease, leaving discussions to focus on the serious issues in play, whether or not there will now be a separate new religious community, as implied by the new website Yachad, and reported by JTA and the Jerusalem Post.