by Jacob Piliansky
On Friday, October 28th 2016, at 5 PM, I approached the gates of our Choral Synagogue, at Pylimo Street 39, for the weekly Eve of Sabbath service. I saw that the gates were locked shut. Finally I noticed Kalman Krinsky, son of Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, the city’s Chabad rabbi for the past twenty-two years. Kalman told me in Yiddish (we speak Yiddish to each other) that the shul was closed and that the prayer service had been moved to the Jewish community’s building at Pylimo 4.
By the time Kalman and I made it to the room where the service was taking place, it was already in progress. There were many American visitors as well as the official members of the synagogue prayer group. But there was nobody from the part of our unified congregation hailing from the Chabad group (everyone had been praying together happily for a long time). They were missing. Very politely, Rabbi Shimshon Daniel Izakson, one of the community’s two official rabbis, a polite and pleasant person, brought us two chairs, one for me and the other for Kalman. (I didn’t know then that all the others from that part of the congregation, who came to Jewish prayers and holidays precisely through Rabbi Krinsky, and Rabbi Krinsky himself, had been denied entry by security guards right at the front door and that the police had been called when they asked to be able to stay for prayers!)
The service was almost finished when the nominal chief rabbi, Rabbi Kalev Krelin of Riga, who was in town this weekend, started his narration about Noah and the Great Flood in two languages: Russian and English. However, he was interrupted by the Jewish community’s chairperson Faina Kukliansky who entered the hall. She was very nervous and she called him up for a short whispered conversation. Then Rabbi Krelin finished telling his story about Noah and the Great Flood.
Right after that, young Kalman tried to say something in English about the Torah portion discussed, which I didn’t catch because Rabbi Krelen grabbed him and physically dragged him out through the door. When the service was over, while I was walking through the lobby, I was shocked to see a group of police officers in the lobby and around the front desk.
I walked out through the community building’s front door. I was utterly confused and unhappy.
Jacob Piliansky is on his mother’s side a descendant of a number of Misnagdic rabbis in the town of Zhézhmer (Žiežmariai). His mother, Dobke Jonis (Dora Piliansky) was one of the stalwarts of Litvak culture in Vilnius until her death in 2014 at the age of 101 (or 102).
Zecharya Olickij’s eyewitness account; Dovid Katz’s article; Faina Kukliansky’s article; Leon Kaplan’s first and second comments; Former Chief Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s comment.