IS THIS AN APPROPRIATE USE OF RESTITUTION FUNDS DERIVING FROM THE RELIGIOUS JEWISH PROPERTIES OF LITHUANIA’S ANNIHILATED JEWRY?
When Rabbi Krinsky arrived on Sunday morning, 8 January 2017, for services, his entry was again blocked by a team of burly security guards. Photo is a still from the video taken by Kaunas religious community head Moyshe Beirak whose voice is heard, pleading with the guard, at the start of the video, which Mr. Beirak posted on his Facebook page. He was visiting in Vilnius for the weekend and also witnessed the initial barring of the rabbi at the Sabbath morning service on 7 January. See also additional video posted by Elchanan Prus.
This past week’s Vilnius Sabbath, 7 January 2017, was “shamelessly disrupted,” as one worshipper put it, by security guards, supported by two vehicles, who prevented the entry to Shabbos morning services by Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, for over twenty-two years Chabad rabbi in Vilnius who has provided the vast majority of religious services to Lithuanian Jews over this period. Rabbi Krinsky, who stood outside in the -20 degrees celsius frost for over half an hour asking to be admitted, was last week named one of Defending History’s three People of the Year for 2017.
When a similar charade was launched in late October, attracting much international attention, including JTA and MZ, it ended with the simple reopening of the synagogue on 5 December. Defending History provides a guide to those events with links to opinions from every corner. Since 5 December, services have been peaceful and successful with no incidents of any kind recorded by worshippers. Thanks to the “two groups” (the official community’s and Rabbi Krinsky’s) becoming again a single prayer group in harmony, there has been an acceptable attendance at all services despite the community’s precarious demographic status. There were two complementary Chanukah events on 28 December, attended by many of the same happy people.
Then, on the morning of Saturday 7 January, security guards lay in wait to deny admission to Rabbi Krinsky again, for no known reason (and again on Sunday 8 January: video; video 2). Witnesses at the previous evening’s Friday evening sources reported that the community’s junior rabbi seemed palpably upset by Rabbi Krinsky’s “existence” but that nothing untoward happened. On the Saturday morning, there was no sign of the official religious community’s two widely admired leaders, Simas Levinas (official head of the religious community) and the universally beloved and widely acclaimed cantor Shmuel Yusem. Worshippers contacted said they suspected that the pair stayed away when told that there would be another eviction of Rabbi Krinsky and his worshippers from the synagogue. Worshippers contacted said they could not imagine either Mr. Levin or Cantor Yusem supporting the ouster of one of the congregation’s stalwarts, with whom they have worked so well for many years.
RESULT OF THE ACTION? THERE WAS NO MINYAN (QUORUM) AND THE TORAH COULD NOT BE READ AT THE CHORAL SYNAGOGUE
In the event, many worshippers (not including the members of the stipended official community minyan) decided to join Rabbi Krinsky and they carried out successfully the Sabbath morning service at Chabad House on Bokšto Street (where they were later cheerfully joined by some official minyan members). Those who were admitted at the Choral Synagogue did not constitute the necessary minimum of ten Jewish men over age 13 needed for an Orthodox service, and in the absence of the quorum, the Torah portion for the week, from the book of Genesis, could not be read. Nor could the weekly Haftorah from the prophets, from Ezekiel 37.
By effectively dismissing those who pray voluntarily, the young rabbi on duty and the community lay leader calling the shots have again sabotaged their own community’s synagogue services. The Sabbath Bible readings had to be abandoned in the city once known as Jerusalem of Lithuania.
Some observers believe the latest “militarization of the synagogue” to be a case of untoward personal revenge following the rapid success of Chabad Lithuania’s international petition, addressed to the board of the “Good Will Foundation” to stop boycotting the one religious Jewish school in the country. In the course of building his new blog, Rabbi Krinsky also drew attention to the list of recent allocations by the Foundation and a list of its “statistics,” revealing many thousands of euros for the Israeli Philharmonic, a statue of Gandhi and Kallenberg, a multimillion dollar New York academic institute, and other causes far removed from the life of Lithuania’s Jewish community who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the funds, which derive from the prewar religious properties of the annihilated Jewish community of Lithuania. To make matters worse the Good Will Foundation (italics added) hastened to flaunt Schadenfreude on its website with respect to the financial difficulties of the religious school, Bais Menachem of Vilna (using an old trope of the local antisemitic establishment), a Schadenfreude that quickly appeared on the community’s official website, edited by Ilona Rūkienė, which has published repeated attacks on Rabbi Krinsky, one that was signed by the community’s lay-leader chairperson, attorney Faina Kukliansky, even hinting at Chabad Lithuania altogether being some nefarious foreign plot. The website’s editor has reportedly never invited a reply from those personally demeaned, in the spirit of respect for the country’s Jewish community or for free and dignified discourse in the spirit of democratic and representative institutions.
All eyes are now turned toward the international members of the restitution board, who are addressed by name in the new petition. It is of course restitution funds, deriving from the annihilated Jewish population’s religious buildings, that are now being used lavishly in the campaigns against Rabbi Krinsky and others, down to state-of-the-art security guards and vehicles. In the run-up to Chanukah, the online attacks on the annual beloved Grand Menorah on Gedimino Boulevard were started on the community’s web page by a local academic and followed up by an unsigned article there before being picked up by the antisemitic media (more here).
This is separate from the petition by Vilnius native Ruta Bloshtein concerning the fate of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery which was rapidly signed by both senior rabbis in Vilnius, Rabbi Krinsky and the official community’s Rabbi Kalev Krelin. But the junior rabbi, officiating solo last Saturday during the latest “security operations to remove Rabbi Krinsky” has yet to sign. There have been concerns that in addition to possibly being used as a prop in the campaign against Rabbi Krinsky, he may have been been impacted by the lone group of Satmar-affiliated rabbis from London who have supported the rise of a national convention center in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The overwhelming majority of rabbis internationally, who have spoken out, including the greatest Litvak rabbis of the day, have condemned the convention center’s siting in the cemetery, and pleaded with the government to move it elsewhere. See Yair Rosenberg’s article in today’s Tablet.