web analytics
December 27, 2014 / 5 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



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
Ayala Shapira, 11, is fighting for her life after suffering burn wounds when an Arab terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail at the car in which she was riding.
‘Slight Improvement’ in Life-threatening Condition of Firebomb Victim
Latest Indepth Stories
Bill Cosby

It shakes our sense of justice when allegations against a famed role model are covered up or ignored

MK Moshe-Feiglin

Feiglin: Only true liberty will allow us to genuinely connect to our Jewish identity.

Knesset Logo

The silver lining with early elections is the chance to change the current dysfunctional government.

Cohen-122614

The Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland informed the host he could not say “Israel or Jewish state”

It’s fascinating how sources attain the status “traditional,” or its equivalent level of kashrus.

The West needs to ensure Russia understands that aggression comes at a significant cost.

What benefit is a learning experience that leaves kids confused,disillusioned&harms self confidence?

Girlfriend and double cop-killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley apparently was influenced by Islamic extremism.

We see pictures of mosques, monuments for terrorists, illegal schools, and hundreds of apartments being built on Jewish land without repercussions. We are losing Jewish property, so it is up to us to protect it.

Thus, despite the increasingly serious problems for the mayor arising out of the current anti-police protests, Mr. de Blasio apparently will be cut no slack by those who seem to be aiming for a significant role in running the city from the streets and who will do whatever they can to prevent their momentum from ebbing.

Also left unsaid was the fact that the menorah and its oil were in the Beit HaMikdash, which of course was located on Har HaBayit – the Temple Mount that present-day Muslims claim as their own.

Despite strong pressure to throw the book at the accused, Mr. Thompson allowed him to plead guilty to assault.

A revolution is taking place between good and evil; light and darkness. Make the light activism!

Obama’s comments calling Israeli settlements “unhelpful”are harsher than prior US administrations’

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
Two dreidels from the author’s extensive collection.

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

Jacob Talking with Laban

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?

One who may leave his wife an agunah is not included in the general rule that we may not imprison on Shabbos.

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

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: