Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
There are few physical traces of Jewish Vilnius anymore -- tour guides arm themselves with old photographs when they lead groups, to show them what was there, and where today are found plaques, information panels, a monument or two, traces of Yiddish signage, or simply empty space. Moreover, as I wrote on this blog in December, after I served as an expert during a seminar on the future of Jewish heritage in Vilnius, what to do regarding Jewish heritage -- and how to do it -- has been a controversial issue.
The Jerusalem Post runs a travel piece on Jewish Vilnius/Vilna/Vilne by Norma Davidoff Shulman.
There are fascinating traces beyond the faint Yiddish letters on ghetto buildings. Starting with the Middle Ages, Jews arrived here. By the 1700s, their numbers and influence became significant. Before World War II, Jews made up more than a third of the city.
Then the whole country seemed to disappear for 50 years behind the Iron Curtain; it was the first to break away from the USSR, in 1990. By that time most of its Jews were already gone.
Some had made Aliya, like the Litvak families of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. Shimon Peres lived 100 kilometers from Vilnius.
Before the war, there were a hundred synagogues and study houses.
Fifteen years ago Chabad opened its doors in an apartment house. The city has but one synagogue building: the Choral Synagogue in the heart of the ghetto. This Moorish-style edifice, with its blue letters in Hebrew, had a congregation with a progressive outlook when it was built in 1894. It allowed music, thus the name “choral.”