Q&A: Lithuania's Jewish community alive and kicking

Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky says the World Litvak Congress serves as a poignant reminder of the Holocaust.

Faina Kukliansky 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Faina Kukliansky 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Recently awarded with The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania, Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky has clearly made her mark. Following the recent IV World Litvak Congress commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, Kuliansky tells The Jerusalem Post that the congress proved that the Jewish community of Lithuania is still alive.
What were the goals of this year's conference and do you feel it was a success?
Yes, it was a success. People's memory is very strange. There are things people - both Lithuanian and Jewish - would rather forget. Somebody has to remind them. The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto was a good opportunity to remind us of what happened 70 years ago. The Jewish community was at that time divided into “lucky” - those who were moved to concentration camps, and “unlucky" - those who were killed in Ponariai. We do not have the right to forget this.
At the same time, we have to remind the world that the Jewish community of Lithuania (LJC), which was reestablished after the independence of Lithuania, is 25-years-old (the Cultural Society of the Jews of Lithuania was established in 1988). Isn’t it a big achievement? The Jews are not only in Vilnius; we have regional communities in Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevezys, Ukmerge – all under the roof of the LJC. I think that we have achieved our goal: to announce to all our “sonim” (haters) that we, the Jewish community of Lithuania, is still alive. We gain more and more experience each year. This is the fourth congress that we have arranged; it is a challenge to do it better each year. This year we have received great attention from our officials, including President Dalia Grybauskaitė and the government. This is very important. The embassy of Israel also helped us a lot.
How many people attended the congress? Where were the guests from?
We had 300 participants from 26 countries.
One of the topics discussed during the congress was the role of art in helping people comprehend the Holocaust. Do you think art is an important tool in Holocaust education?
We had an art session in our Vilnius Jewish information center. During this session Holocaust movies were screened. I think the arts are much more effective than simply using words. There are different forms of art which have to be used in order to remind us of the Holocaust through the senses - soul is much more than just words.
Do you feel that there is enough education about the Holocaust in Lithuania in general?
Not really. We are disappointed with the school curriculum with regard to the Holocaust. Even the president pointed this out during her speech. Much more attention should be paid to Holocaust education and it should be learned to a higher level.
In what ways is the Jewish community ensuring that Jewish children in Lithuania remain connected and aware of their history, culture, heritage and identity?
That is the biggest challenge – we are trying to consolidate the efforts of the Jewish gymnasium, kindergarten and community to raise Litvaks with love for both their native country and Israel.
Do you think there are strong enough ties between Jews in Lithuania and Litvaks around the world?
The ties are strong enough, but they can be stronger. We have to work at this from both sides.
What was the highlight of the congress for you?
The highlight of our congress for me is that the Jewish community of Lithuania is not only the remains of the pre-war Jewish community, but also the successors of the great works and achievements in all fields (music, business, industry, literature etc.) of the pre-war community. We try to continue that what our ancestors started here in Lithuania – to build together with other citizens a strong, independent Lithuania with wealthy and happy residents.
I consider the Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania award to be a result of the big efforts of all our community and a big credit for me personally.