In contrast to events that barred 400 Jews from entering the only synagogue in Lithuania’s capital, forcing them to conduct Rosh Hashana services out in the cold, even communism’s stranglehold on Jewish expression, it seems, respected certain limits.
Under communist rule, Luda Gaerman’s parents prayed every Rosh Hashana in the synagogue. This year, however, it was a Jew, Mr. Simonas Alperovitch, who had the doors locked for the first time in 60 years when Jews arrived for prayers on Rosh Hashana.
At a time when Jewish expression is unhampered here, Luda is straining to understand the surreal situation. “We stood out in the cold for hours, and conducted all the services there while the synagogue remained empty. It is a heartbreak to me,” she says. “It’s a nightmare. And it is a joy for the anti-semites.”
For the past 10 years, Luda, 57, has been attending services at the synagogue, conducted by Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky. “Ever since Rabbi Krinsky came here, we began to learn about Judaism and reclaim a Jewish way of life,” she says.
Rabbi Krinsky and his wife, both Americans, came to Lithuania back in 1994 on the invitation of Mr. Alperovitch, who turned to Lubavitch World Headquarters with a formal request for “a rabbi for Lithuania, most importantly for the city of Vilna.”
“Until Krinsky came,” says Luda, “there was no rabbi who was willing to live here permanently.”
Since then Rabbi Krinsky and his wife, Nechama Dina, have developed a wide variety of educational, religious and social services for the Jewish population of Vilnius and beyond, creating a religious infrastructure that is deeply appreciated by the local community. Miriam Levina, 16, a native of Vilnius who just graduated a Chabad yeshiva high school in England, credits the Krinskys for her return to Judaism. “I knew nothing about what it meant to be Jewish until I attended the Chabad summer camp that Rabbi and Mrs Krinsky opened here,” she says. Today, Miriam and some 10 of her friends have embraced an observant, Jewish lifestyle. Miriam attended Vilnius’s Camp Gan Israel for seven summers where, she says, she absorbed a deep pride and love for Judaism.
“I don’t understand how this is allowed to happen here,” she says, maintaining that Krinsky has the city’s popular Jewish support. “It’s only because there are people here who are financially dependent on Mr. Alperovitch, because he controls the funds from the Joint Distribution Committee, that he has been able to continue like this,” she says. “But the hearts of the people are definitely with Rabbi Krinsky.”
According to Rabbi Krinsky, it was when Mr. Alperovitch became aware of restitution funds that would be allocated to Vilnius’s Jewish community, that he began a campaign against Krinsky. “It is all about his desire to control the funds that is motivating him to wreak havoc on Jewish life here, and even to deny Jewish people the right to pray on the holiest days of the Jewish year.”
Miriam Levina says that Alperovitch was unknown until he turned on Rabbi Krinsky. “I never heard of Mr. Alperovitch before this ugliness broke out. For me, and for most of Vilnius’s Jews, Jewish life here today is directly associated with the Krinskys and the outstanding work they have done for us, 24/7, for the past 10 years. We are indebted to them.”
For more on Rabbi Krinsky’s activities in Vilna, click on the links below.