VILNIUS—Ruta Bloshtein, author of the Change.org petition that garnered over 50,000 signatures and played a major role in the internationally praised 2021 cancellation by Lithuania’s prime minister of the project to turn the Soviet-era “Sports Palace” (Sporto rumai) ruin into a national congress center, today released for publication her 25 October letter to the Jewish Orthodox members appointed — in an apparent effort to confer legitimacy — to the current “working group” (commission) established, many believe, to rubber stamp a state (and Turto Bankas) project to renovate (rather than demolish) the Soviet eyesore that sits in the middle of the cemetery. Without even mentioning the view that hated Soviet ruin should be removed, official commission minutes include an array of future conference-center, museum, memorial and other public space aspirations, including business (and builders’) interests’ visuals, but not including a hint of the extant visuals in support of cemetery preservation and restoration.
Ruta (Reyzke) Bloshtein
Ruta Bloshtein, Author of Successful Petition, Calls on Jewish Orthodox Members of ‘Cemetery Commission’ to Stand Up for Preservation and Restoration of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery
What Website in Vilnius would Defame Leading Jewish Woman Activist to Deter Jewish People from Voicing Views?
[LAST UPDATE: 12 JAN. 2020]
OPINION | MEDIA WATCH | CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION | JEWISH COMMUNITY ISSUES
VILNIUS—Yet again, an operative has allegedly been mobilized as fodder to personally attack a member of Lithuania’s small Jewish community as part of a campaign by some state-sponsored “official Jewish community leadership” to intimidate today’s Lithuanian Jews. If they stand up for a Jewish cemetery, and dare disagree with it becoming a national convention center, they will be smeared on the official website as liars, misleaders and secretly paid agents of some mysterious source of riches. This is a tragedy. It is part of a saga that will go down in Jewish history as possibly the worst case of state restitution for prewar Jewish property leading to disastrous results for the present and future of Jewish life on site, while providing glories and power for a tiny local elite and its “boards” of foreign fellow-travelers who relish coming to Vilnius for banquets and photo-ops with the high and mighty.
OPINION | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY |OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | INTERNATIONAL PETITION
by Ruta Bloshtein (Vilnius)
This article appeared in Lithuanian on the website of the official Jewish Community of Lithuania. After the site’s editor refused to publish an English version on the site’s extensive English-language section, the author released this text for publication here. See also Ms. Bloshtein’s recent article in New York’s Algemeiner Journal. She is the author of the international petition concerning the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery.
In his article “On the Reconstruction of the Palace of Sports on the Old Vilnius Šnipiškės (Piramont) Jewish Cemetery into the New Congress Center” (“Dėl Sporto rūmų rekonstrukcijos ant esančių senųjų Vilniaus žydų Šnipiškių (Piramonto) kapinių į naują Kongresų centrą”), published on the Lithuanian Jewish Community website on December 12, 2019, the author expresses his concern over the possibility of the cemetery being desecrated for the third time if the decision to demolish the building of the Palace of Sports was made.
The author calls the suggestion to restore the cemetery a “delirious fantasy”—in effect a slur against the suggestion by highly esteemed Professor Sid Leiman, who has spent many years researching the history, plans, and epitaphs of the Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Cemetery in great detail.
The author is a native of Vilnius hailing from centuries of Litvaks, who has worked for years in the Judaica department of Lithuania’s Martynas Mažvydas National Library. She is a prominent member of Vilnius’s small Orthodox Jewish community. She is the author of the international petition to save the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery. English translations of some of her writings are available online. For more on the 10 euro “Gaon coin” referred to, see its DH section. The views reflected in this article are strictly Ms. Bloshtein’s. The Lithuanian original of this article appeared in 7md (PDF of print version).
How does one hurt and humiliate a person (or a people)?
2020 has been declared “The Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Jewish Heritage.” Sounds solemn? It only sounds so. Empty pots make the most noise. What are these words based on? On plans to build a convention center on Jewish graves? On the remains of the Vilna Gaon’s family members and tens of thousands of other Jews. How does that sound? Like a mockery of the close to 50,000 Jews and Non-Jews from around the world who signed the protest petition. How does that sound? Like laughing at the sorrow of the venerable rabbis, of the great leaders of Lithuanian-tradition yeshivas. How does that sound? Like a rape of the very spirit, of the religious and moral norms of the entire nation.
CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | HUMAN RIGHTS | CEMETERIES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION
The following is the text of the petition update posted by Ms. Bloshtein on 4 January 2019 at the Change.org site of her petition to save the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, which has exceeded the 45,000 signature mark.
My Dear Friends,
Thanks to all of you who signed our petition, there have been various delays in the onset of works to erect a national convention center and large new annex on the site of a Soviet ruin that is right in the middle of our sacred Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, where the B’er Hagola Reb Moshe Rivkes; the Chayei Adam Reb Avrom Dantsig; Reb Menachem-Manes Chayes; Reb Boruch Romm, Reb Avrom the son of the Gaon of Vilna; Reb Yitzchok the father of Chaim of Volozhin lie buried, alongside many other thousands of Jewish citizens of Vilna (today’s Vilnius, capital of Lithuania) whose families duly paid for their plots in perpetuity. This would never happen if it were a Christian or Lithuanian national cemetery where nationally beloved figures found what was meant to be their place of rest.
Now, unfortunately, imminent danger lurks again, as the government’s own bank has just announced that building is again soon scheduled to start.
We must therefore redouble our polite and civil protests to ensure that this does not happen, that the government finds ANOTHER place for its new national convention center (that will be a pride, not a “shande” for our country), and that the cemetery can be lovingly restored as has been done in other European cities. I am sorry to report that in recent times one of the main obstacles has been the (US taxpayer funded!) “United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad” (known as “USCPAHA” for short) that exists to preserve endangered cemeteries, not to collude with foreign governments and their agents to help with excuses and cover-ups to destroy them!
Prime Minister’s Office Gloats Over “Convention Center in the Jewish Cemetery” Project in Reply to Plea from Vilnius Native Ruta Bloshtein
HUMAN RIGHTS | LITHUANIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | CEMETERIES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION
VILNIUS—In March of 2017, Vilnius native and resident Ruta Bloshtein, author of the international petition on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery that has achieved 44,000 signatures to date, presented a copy of the petition with a full list of signatures to the office of the prime minister. In June of 2017, she received a reply from the government restating the supposed justification for desecrating the five hundred year old Jewish cemetery on the basis of “permissions” obtained from the (allegedly corrupt) “grave-trading CPJCE rabbis” of London, who are currently under investigation in London.
Ruta Bloshtein Calls on Vilna Jewish Cemetery Petition Signers to File Complaints Against the “CPJCE” with the UK Charities Commission
UK | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | CPJCE
VILNIUS—Ruta Bloshtein, a native of this city and stalwart of its small Orthodox Jewish community, this week published an update to her international petition calling on the Lithuanian government to move its national convention center project away from the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in today’s Snipiskes district of Vilnius. Over 43,000 people from several dozen countries have signed her petition to date.
In the update, Ms. Bloshtein calls on people of good will to contact the United Kingdom’s Charities Commission to file complaints against a rogue group of allegedly “cemetery selling rabbis” who allegedly issue permissions for building projects on old Jewish cemeteries on ground zero of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe in return for secret cash payments. They have been exposed by Wikileaks, and in reports in the Jerusalem Post, JTA, and Times of Israel. They are known as the “CPJCE” which stands for “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.” See Defending History’s section on the group, and DH’s 2015 open letter (to which a reply was never received). Ms. Bloshtein asks in her update, that when reporting the “CPJCE” to the Charities Commission, its official charity-status number, 1073225, be mentioned.
OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | CEMETERIES | VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE
VILNIUS—The following statement by Vilnius native and resident Ruta Bloshtein, an active member of the city’s religious Jewish community, appeared today as an update to her international petition, which has just approached the 40,000 signature mark. Her update was issued as a reaction to the comments by Lithuania’s top leaders, made after receiving a letter of protest from twelve United States congressmen concerning plans to site a projected new national convention center in the heart of the territory of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in the Šnipiškės district of modern Vilnius). International opposition to “the convention center in the old Jewish cemetery” continues to mount.
Ruta Bloshtein (Bernardinai.lt)
Peticija perkelti Vilniaus koncertų ir sporto rūmų projektą iš senųjų žydų kapinių
Naujuosius Vilniaus koncertų ir sporto rūmus planuojama įrengti perstatant nebenaudojamus ir jau kelinti metai kaip uždarytus Sporto rūmus, kurie dar 1971 m. buvo pastatyti istorinių Vilniaus žydų kapinių, žinomų kaip Šnipiškių kapinės, vidury, tarp tūkstančių palaidojimų. Pernai gruodžio viduryje vilnietė Rūta Bloštein inicijavo peticiją “Prašome perkelkite naujojo Vilniaus koncertų ir sporto rūmų projektą iš senųjų žydų kapinių į kitą vietą”. Peticija sulaukė didelio atgarsio ir ją pasirašė jau per 38 tūkstančius žmonių visame pasaulyje. Peticija bus įteikta Lietuvos Respublikos Prezidentei, Ministrui Pirmininkui, Europos Komisijos Pirmininkui.
Peticiją galima perskaityti internete adresu https://www.change.org/p/hon-dalia-grybauskaite-please-move-new-vilnius-convention-center-project-away-from-the-old-jewish-cemetery.
VILNIUS—The prestigious Weekly of Vilnius, which provides a digest and interpretation in English of news concerning Lithuania, especially for the diplomatic, governmental, business, academic, arts, cultural and international affairs communities, became the first publication, in its 5 February issue, to break the ostensible wall of silence in the Lithuanian media on the international petition by Vilnius native and resident Ruta Bloshtein. Her petition, concerning the fate of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district of Vilnius, the nation’s capital, has to date garnered close to 38,000 signatures, making it the largest Litvak effort since the Holocaust. The petition calls on Lithuania’s president, prime minister, chancellor, the mayor of Vilnius and the European Commission’s president to move the project of a new national convention center away from the old cemetery. It comes after years of local and international opposition to the project. The Weekly of Vilnius, edited by the widely admired Nehro Khalil, has been known on more than one occasion to breach walls of silence concerning “the second opinion” on an array of issues and topics.
Iam very concerned about the situation for the last several years at our Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC). More specifically, about the LJC’s chairperson, whose policies have brought about instability and disunity in the Jewish community. It is a sad paradox, that a non-religious person is responsible for the most acutely religious questions in our community. It is even more unacceptable that a secular person, drawn to mundane and material things, would deign to push around the rabbis in town as if they are pawns on the chess table. Such behavior is totally opposite to Jewish religious standards. Yet for external consumption it is called “a renaissance of religious Judaism.”
Noriu išreikšti susirūpinimą dėl padėties, kuri jau keletą metų klostosi Lietuvos žydų bendruomenėje. O būtent, dėl LŽB pirmininkės veiksmų, keliančių pavojų Lietuvos žydų gyvenimo vienovei ir darnai. Paradoksas ir liūdna ironija tame, kad žydų religinius klausimus sprendžia nereliginga moteris. Ir dar labiau nepriimtina, kad pasaulietė, siekdama savanaudiškų žemiškų tikslų, stumdo rabinus kaip šachmatų figūras. Tokia elgsena prieštarauja religinėms tradicijoms. Ir tai vadinama „judaizmo atgimimu“?
Ruta Bloshtein Discovers 1935 Vilna Rabbis’ Condemnation of Plans to Desecrate Old Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt
VILNIUS—In a strictly private capacity, Ruta (Reyzke) Bloshtein, a Vilnius born member of Lithuania’s small Jewish community, whose maternal ancestors hail from the shtetl Tríshik (Tryškiai), has released to the media a remarkable Yiddish public poster issued by the Vilna Board of Rabbis on 30 Nissan 5695 — the Jewish calendar date corresponding with 3 May 1935 — that she discovered in Lithuania’s central state archive. It is an impassioned plea by the Board of Rabbis asking the then Polish authorities in the city to abandon their plans for a sports stadium on the site of Piramónt (in the Šnipiškės district), the old Vilna Jewish cemetery that goes back to the late fifteenth century, and where thousands of luminous Litvak scholars lie buried.
“Absolute Barbarism”: An Orthodox Jewish Resident of Vilnius Speaks Out on Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Cemetery
This week we Jews observed the saddest day in our people’s tradition — Tisha B’Av (Yiddish: Tíshebov), the annual fast day which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem. On this day of mourning and lamentation we fast. While sitting on the floor and reading the Book of Lamentations and the Kinoys (sacred poems of mourning), I thought about the Tíshebov tradition of visiting graves of our great sages and of departed family members.
In Vílne (Vilnius), this tradition was observed for ages by visiting the Piramónt cemetery, where throughout a period of more than five hundred years hundreds of thousands have been buried there — the Jews of Vílne, our ancestors among them — and so many illustrious rabbis and sages, who passed on the infinite treasures of their wisdom to us, to help us find the most honest and ethical way of life. It is, in our belief, on account of their merits that the rebuilding of the third temple will come sooner.