OPINION | DOCUMENTS | 2023 “WORKING GROUP” ON VILNA CEMETERY | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER | CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY AFFAIRS | HUMAN RIGHTS | CHABAD IN VILNIUS
VILNIUS—In a 1 Nov. 2023 statement circulating widely among Lithuanian officials as well as local and international Jewish leaders, Rabbi Elchonon Baron, head of the Lithuanian-tradition Yeshiva Ahavas Torah Baranovich, based in Jerusalem, writing in the capacity of rabbinical emissary to Lithuania representing the Council of Torah Sages of the US and Canada, challenges the extended closure of Vilnius’s Choral Synagogue at 69 Pylimo Street as point of departure for his critique of some of the government’s Jewish policies (including its supply of tens of millions of euros in “restitution” to the alleged control of a tiny number of government-indebted individuals, one of them representing the American Jewish Committee or AJC). The new statement is a follow-up to his publicly released letter to the prime minister and speaker of the Seimas (parliament) of 24 Sept. 2023. Rabbi Baron’s late father was the legendary Litvak head-of-yeshiva Rabbi Aryeh Leib Baron.
The issue of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery is the focus of one passage in the just-released statement.
“[…] (like the morally despicable plan to turn the Shnipishok cemetery into a museum)? I will not remain silent, no matter how many groups and people the Lithuanian government manages to pay off and silence through their well-paid proxies.”
In a recent letter to the Working Group’s members, Vilnius’s Ruta Bloshtein, a central personality in the city’s small Lithuanian-tradition religious community elaborated on the view that this is a new “bag of tricks” to in effect turn the cemetery into some kind of conference center albeit a Jewish-themed one. Ms. Bloshtein is the author of the Change.org petition that garnered over 50,000 signatures and played a key role in inspiring abandonment of the original convention center project in 2021, a cancellation for which Lithuania’s prime minister received considerable international praise. While the previous “convention center” phase of the project to effectively destroy the cemetery instead of restoring it attracted international condemnation from leading rabbis and others, the new phase, promising a (partly) Jewish-themed museum and cultural center, has gone largely under the radar in the wake of blanket silence by rabbis focused on Lithuania and its Jewish heritage.
Coming as it does in the wake of that silence, and of advanced-stage deliberations by a blue-ribbon international commission known as the “Working Group” (whose members were announced by the prime minister’s office last June), Rabbi Baron’s internationally disseminated comment represents the first public statement by any rabbi denouncing the project to obliterate the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery via refurbishment of a hated huge Soviet ruin in its center. It is sure to remain in the historical record.
The full text of Rabbi Elchonon Baron’s newly circulated statement:Rabbi Baron (1 Nov. 2023)