Regina Kopilevich, Genealogist and Historical Tour Guide for Jewish Lithuania, Speaks Out on Yiddish in Vilnius

VILNIUS—Regina Kopilevich, whose extensive contributions to Jewish genealogy and tourism have been covered by the New York Times, today released a statement about the new Yiddish language teaching positions planned in Vilnius. Ms. Kopilevich is one of the leading tour guides in the Baltic region for both Jewish history and family roots voyagers.

The statement follows in short order those released by Milan Chersonski, longtime editor (1999-2011) of Jerusalem of Lithuania, the Jewish community’s former newspaper; Daniel Galay, director of Leivick House and the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Israel; and Professor Olegas Poliakovas, a philology professor at Vilnius University and longtime member of the university’s senate. The positions are being arranged by high officials of the World Jewish Congress.

The text of Ms. Kopilevich’s statement follows.

Open Letter from Regina Kopilevich

Vilnius, 28 July 2014

Professor Dovid Katz first came to Lithuania when it was part of the Soviet Union, and set out on 25 years of interviewing and recording (and always helping) aged Holocaust survivors in Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, and northeastern Poland.

From the very start he began to contribute to the building of Yiddish as a serious subject of study for people of every background, students and non-students, Jews and non-Jews. He was professor at our university from 1999 to 2010. Since then he has voluntarily (without pay) taught Yiddish literature each week during term-time in the Yiddish reading circle that he has led since 1999 at our Jewish community.

This past spring of 2014 I attended his series of twelve weekly sessions that he did as always, gratis, to continue teaching Yiddish and Yiddish literature to people from every background.

Most of the 2014 class was Jewish but there were also Lithuanians, Russians, Poles, and even one member of our country’s Karaim community. He is delivering wonderful classes of Yiddish language and literature and brings us back our forgotten culture.

In the early years of his professorship he also volunteered to teach my son Michoel’s bar mitzvah over a period of months. This was part of his constant spirit of giving and volunteering to help the community.

In those years, I introduced to Professor Katz one of the American clients I was guiding, Ms. Zane Buzby of Los Angeles, California. He inspired her to start the Survivor Mitzvah Project which has by now helped thousands of elderly Jews in Eastern Europe. Early this year, she was honored as a CNN hero in the United States.

I appeal to the organizations running the new project to re-introduce Yiddish studies in Vilnius to ensure that Professor Dovid Katz too has the chance to apply alongside any others, and is able to stay on in a professional Yiddish teaching capacity.

I know I speak for many of my friends here in asking this. We, his students, represent many different backgrounds, education and ages whom he brings together for the study of Yiddish, and that is something for which we love him dearly.

Regina Kopilevich  
Guide, Translator, Researcher
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