web analytics
January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Tears For Shavel

Rabbi Safran listens to Dr. Leiman depict the destruction by the Soviets of the Vilna cemetery.

Rabbi Safran listens to Dr. Leiman depict the destruction by the Soviets of the Vilna cemetery.

Recently, my wife Clary and I traveled to Lithuania to experience what remains of one of Judaism’s most magnificent centers of learning. My journey, organized by Zvi Lapian of Israel and led by the eminent historian and distinguished scholar Dr. Shnayer Leiman, took me to what was once the world’s center of Torah learning.

Had it not been for these pre-Holocaust citadels of Jewish learning in Lithuania – magnificent yeshivas inspired by the likes of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Chaim of Volozhin that included Telz, Ponoviez, Radun, Mir, Kletzk, Grodno, Slabodka, and Baranovich – today’s Torah learning, methodology and yeshiva approach would simply not exist.

Indeed, but for the brilliance of Lithuanian Jewry, modern observant Judaism would look very different.

Vilna’s history was as noble as its downfall was horrific. Dubbed the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” Vilna boasted a pre-Holocaust Jewish population of nearly a quarter million. More than a hundred shuls, both stately and modest, served the prayer and study needs of this wonderful community.

Choral Synagogue in Vilna

And now? There is but a single shul remaining, the Choral Synagogue. In a place where once hundreds of thousands raised their souls to God, it struggles to gather a minyan of paid “worshippers” even on Shabbos. The ghost of a magnificent community remains, with fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Lithuania.

The cold math is enough to make one shudder in grief. Of a quarter million souls, 220,000 were murdered. Wherever one travels in Lithuania, he is forever reminded of the death and destruction, of the wickedness of man that brought down one of history’s great Jewish communities.

During my visit, I found myself gazing upon the beautiful forests of Lithuania. Such natural beauty! How the air was perfumed with the scent of spruce, fir, pine and alder trees! How strong the trees rose into the sky!

In the face of such natural splendor I could not help but recall that these same trees stood silent witness to the blood spilled and horrors perpetrated in their midst. A mere ten miles from Vilna, the Panerari forest rises like an emerald from the fertile earth. A place of growing things. Of soaring trees and fragrant blossoms. It is also a place where 70,000 Jews were shot as they stood at eleven oil storage pits dug by the Russians.

A small group of Jews was “spared” so they could burn the bodies. The murderers wanted to ensure that no physical evidence of the massacre would remain. As if the crying out of murdered souls would not be evidence enough! Panerari, magnificent forest, its name forever cursed as the site of the first phase of the mass extermination of the Jews. Ten miles from Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Tens of thousands of Jews hauled away and murdered.

In Kovno, seventy miles from Vilna, the Ninth Fort rises on a hill just outside the city. This ancient fortress was used by the Nazis and their local collaborators as a prison with cells and torture chambers. On October 28, 1941 9,000 Jews were brutally murdered here. On May 18, 1944, 900 French Jews were slaughtered.

As we passed, I could fairly hear their cries for mercy in my ears, calling out from the forbidding, cold earth. I heard those voices as I led Minchah, davening at the one remaining Kovno shul. I sensed those souls hovering nearby, crying out “Amen,” begging never to be forgotten.

I was awed by the evidence of Torah knowledge, scholarship and spirituality that still emanated from the stops on our visit; at the same time, of course, there was overwhelming sadness at the horrors and destruction that befell these communities and their Jews.

In most of the towns where Jews were exterminated, a lone monument recalls the number with grim objectivity – 1,742 Jews murdered in one place, 2,734 Jews slaughtered in another, 3,265 wiped out in yet another – all transported from this world into mass graves by the cruelty of the Nazis and their local collaborators.

Mere numbers on the monuments but living, breathing souls in our hearts and memories, stolen from their modest homes and taken to their horrific deaths, in most cases together with their rabbanim, geonim and tzaddikim as exemplified by Rav Avrohom Komai, the last rav of the Mir, or Rav Elchanan Wasserman of Baranovich. It was all too much to bear. How could such a thing occur? One word comes to mind: Eichah. Tragedy.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Tears For Shavel”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
You are looking at an "armed insurgent" and not a terrorist, according to the White House.
Obama Wins War on Terror By Saying It Doesn’t Exist [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
IRAN-US-POLITICS-MILITARY

An Israeli strike could theoretically damage Iran’s nuclear program; only US can terminate program

Israeli-flag

At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel

Rabbi Berel Wein

“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”

Rabbi Sholom Klass

Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning

Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.

He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.

Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.

Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.

Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed

Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.

Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?

To defeat parasites-the hosts of terrorists-we need to deny them new people, potential terrorists

Combating Amalek doesn’t mean all who disagree with you is evil-rather whom to follow and to oppose

Desperate people take what they can, seizing opportunity to advance their main goal; the Arabs don’t

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

It’s easier to take Jews out of galus than to take galus out of Jews – Chassidic master

Two dreidels from the author’s extensive collection.

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

It is difficult to remain faithful in galut, the ultimate Rorschach test for all Jewish generations

Racheli Frankel: “I didn’t think they were thrown just anywhere. The tears of Hebron embraced them”

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

What defines kana’ut these days? Throwing rocks at passing cars on Shabbos? Burning an Israeli flag on Yom Ha’Atzmaut?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tears-for-shavel/2012/08/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: