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Jewish Lithuanian Heritage ‘cultivating sunflowers’ in the U.S.


Minister Plenipotentiary Rolandas Kacinskas, Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionis and Harley Felstein, Project Chairperson.

On the evening of Thursday November 3rd, 2011, the Jewish Lithuanian Heritage Project hosted a roundtable “Think Tank” at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington D.C. The concept of the think tank originated from a white paper prepared by Harley Felstein, Project Chairperson, and Adrienne Oleck, a Board member.

The meeting drew together concerned intellectuals from the Washington D.C. area and from the Lithuanian Embassy, the Honorable Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionis and Minister Plenipotentiary Rolandas Kacinskas. The theme of the discussion was, "A comprehensive Five Year plan to improve Lithuanian-Jewish relations: Cultivating Sunflowers."

The Sunflower project will create three core programs focusing on:

1) Communication and Dialogue;
2) Youth engagement and education; and
3) Jewish heritage projects including cemetery restoration.

Ambassador Pavilionis spoke of the harmony that existed for centuries among Lithuanians, Jews and other ethnic group. The Ambassador emphasized the need for a people-to-people dialogue in order to build bridges. The Ambassador stated that only through constructive interchange can the lost connections that existed in the Old World be rediscovered. To demonstrate the Lithuanian eagerness to initiate goodwill, the restitution plan was underway and just two days prior to the think tank meeting, Lithuania was the only Baltic state that supported Israel in voting against Palestinian membership in UNESCO.

For the chairperson, Harley Felstein, the youth are the future - the youth of Lithuania and the youth worldwide. At the meeting, Harley Felstein’s sixteen year old son and student at McClean High School in Virginia, Benjamin Felstein, stated that people are basically all alike and youth from different cultures can bond easily. Benjamin emphasized the youth need to have contact and dialogue. Mark Zaicik, a fourteen year old student at the Sholom Alechim School in Vilnius, Lithuania, stated that the use of social media can improve the interaction between youth but that he hopes to see more personal interaction between Jewish and non-Jewish youth in Lithuanian.

The Sunflower Project is planning a youth exchange and leadership program run by Initiatives in Education. The exchange program will invite Jewish and non-Jewish youth based in Lithuania, Israel, South Africa and America to travel and then continue interaction with each other upon return.

In addition, Ina Navazelskis of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. spoke of her upcoming trip to Lithuania for the third such conference for Lithuanian teachers to learn how to teach about the Holocaust in Lithuania

Minister Kacinskas noted the need for interaction between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of Lithuania. He emphasized that the needed dialogue should be at the grassroots level of people, not between governments. Diana Dvidutis, President of the Lithuanian American Committee of Washington DC agreed that the focus should be on the commonalities we share and the future.

The issues facing Lithuania are similar to the challenges facing Estonia and Latvia. Two individuals from the Baltic States are members of the think-tank and brought a regional perspective to the group. Adir Aronovich, an attorney, gave a brief history of the evolution of the Jewish community within Estonia. Karl Altau, managing director of the Baltic American National Committee, reported that the need to education and improve accurate information to the people living in the Baltic region.

The think tank concept will be replicated in Vilnius, Tel Aviv and Cape Town, South Africa.
The Sunflower Project is planning monthly meetings, dialogues in various communities, cultural events, and the restoration of cemetery sites in Lithuania and most importantly, the exchange of ideas. People to People!

For more information or to participate, please contact Harley Felstein at harleyfelstein@yahoo.com

Category : Litvak forum

  • You had me at Lithuanian. I suppose I am one-quarter Lithuanian if I think about it, aghtoulh I never think of myself that way or identify with the culture. My maternal grandfather was 100 percent Lithuanian; his parents fled to Canada in the early 1900s. He was born in Montreal but moved around frequently between Michigan and Ohio. Until he was too old to do so, he made annual treks to Montreal to spend time with his Canadian-Lithuanian family. In his final years at the nursing home, he’d often forget where he was and begin talking in Lithuanian. I’m glad I stumbled onto your site via The Smartly. I like your style.

    November 28 2014
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    • […] comprehensive Five Year plan to improve Lithuanian-Jewish relations: Cultivating Sunflowers." (ref. http://vilnews.com/?p=9949). In a response, one of our readers wrote: “Is this about the establishment of a new Judenrat to […]

      March 05 2012
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      • Dorn

        Is this about the establishment of a new Judenrat to apologize for Lithuanian anti-Semitism? How can the authors describe the brutal massacre of Lithuania’s Jewish populations by their fellow citizens as a ‘blemish’? Have they also forgotten the Lithuanian death squads that slaughtered Belarusian Jews and partisans or is that just another cosmetic imperfection on the shining face of Lithuanian society.

        “If truth be told” having a holiday party at Lithuania’s D.C. Embassy is not revolutionary. What would be revolutionary would have been, and would be, is the prosecution of Lithuanian collaborators and SS members, the prosecution of todays neo-Nazi youth groups, reinstatement of the ban against the display of the swastika and ending the noxious practice of the Uzgavenes holiday when people dress as Jews and beg on the street. These would be a start.

        Who is behind the Jewish Lithuanian Heritage Project and why are they minimising the real scars, not blemishes, of Lithuanian anti-Semitism, “if truth be told.”

        December 05 2011
        CommentsLike
        • G. Kaminskas

          The Sunflower project sounds like a great idea. I have a suggestion for the "Communication and Dialogue" segment. I have noticed that most American Jews, when writing in English about the events of World War II and the history of Jews in Lithuania in general, use distorted forms of geographical names (e.g. Yarborg for Jurbarkas, Ayshishok for Eišiškės, Shavli for Šiauliai, etc.) Well, just stop and think for a minute how an American would react to a foreigner discussing American history with him who insisted on saying/writing all the place names in a way that made them barely recognisable. I'm sure the American would say "Sorry, I don't want to discuss this with you any more until you learn the proper way of saying/writing American names." The Jewish community are constantly demanding demonstrations of "good will" from the Lithuanian community. I think it works both ways. While they continue to distort our place names, they are not showing much good will toward us. Maybe the Sunflower Project is a good opportunity to give young Jews (especially Americans) a chance to learn the correct, official forms of Lithuanian place names.

          November 24 2011
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          • […] Read more… Category : Front page […]

            November 10 2011
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