THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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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 email@example.com
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