Lithuanian Jewry


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Conference on the Golden Age of Lithuanian Jewry

Reported by Menashe Horowitz

On June 25, 2001, the Horowitz Families Association held its 15th annual convention, whose central item was a conference on “ The Golden Age of Lithuanian Jewry”. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Israel Genealogical Society and the associations of Lithuanian and Vilna immigrants in Israel ( two separate organizations). The meeting took place at the club of the Association of Lithuanian Immigrants in Tel Aviv.

This meeting followed two previous conferences organized along similar lines: one (in June 1999) was about the “Golden Age” of the Prague Jewish community during the 16th and 17th centuries, and another, in September 2000, about the “Golden Age” of the Polish Jewry between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Historical events related to remarkable Horowitz personalities and important rabbinical families were presented.

The conference about Lithuanian Jewry included three lectures:

1. “Two unusual bright periods of autonomy for Lithuanian Jews” were described by Prof. Dov Levin, from the Institute of Contemporary Judaism in the Hebrew University who is a specialist in Lithuanian Jewish History.

The first period was during “The Lithuania State Council” (1623-1761), a central community institution active together with the “Four Lands Council” in Poland. The second period occurred at the beginning of the independent Lithuanian Republic (1920-1924). In the 17th -18th century, Jews of Lithuania enjoyed a prolonged period of relative freedom. While the second period of autonomy started with great hopes, it didn’t last more than few years due to pressures of anti-Semitic Lithuanian politicians.

2. “The immigration of disciples of the Gaon from Vilna to Eretz-Israel at the beginning of the 19th century, and their contribution to the development of Jewish settlements” was discussed by Mr. Dany Ofir, manager of the Bible Museum and secretary of HFA.

The immigrants first arrived to Zefat and then settled in Jerusalem, taking part in the activities of the Ashkenazi communities there. They initiated the establishment of new neighborhoods outside the walls of Jerusalem (Nahalat Shiva, Me’a She’arim), and participated in founding new settlements, such as Petach Tikva.

3. “Involvement of Lithuanian Jews in the Enlightment and Revival (Haskala ve-Tchiya) Movements", was vividly presented by Mrs. Bilha Halperin, lecturer in Bible and historian of Lithuanian Judaism.

Interest in external cultural values arose during the time of the Gaon from Vilna at the end of the 18th Century. However, many educated Jews who had hoped that culture would build a bridge between people were frustrated by the continuing hostility against Jews. They caused them to turn inwards, towards Jewish consciousness and Zionist activities. The Jewish community developed a remarkable system of education, with many schools teaching in Hebrew. A large number of teachers emigrated to Eretz-Israel, and were among the founders of the Israeli education system.

During the meeting, two veteran and active members of the association - Gabriel Horowitz and Paltiel Horowitz, were granted Certificates of Recognition.

The Vilna-House Singing Group performance contributed greatly to the success of the evening.

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Last updated: 06/11/07.