American Christian building Jewish library in Lithuania

American Christian building Jewish library in Lithuania

From The Canadian Jewish News
Thursday, 12 June 2008

An American Christian of British and Irish descent has embarked on an ambitious project to create a Jewish library in Vilnius (Vilna), whose legendary Jewish community was virtually wiped out by the Nazis in Lithuania.

Wyman Brent, LEFT, a 45-year-old Baptist originally from Lynchburg, Va., is using his own funds to build the library, but his project is backed by a corps of supporters ranging from British historian Sir Martin Gilbert to the co-founder of the National Organization for Women, Sonia Pressman Fuentes.

“I’ve always loved libraries and I’m fascinated with Jewish culture,” said Brent, who hopes to have the library up and running by 2010, the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

If all goes according to plan, it will have a collection of 100,000 books, CDs and DVDs, and will serve as a venue for concerts, art exhibitions, poetry readings and lectures.

The proposed library will be nothing if not eclectic.

“If the book is by a Jewish author, it can be on any topic, whether it has a Jewish theme or not,” Brent said in an interview from San Diego, Calif., where he currently lives. “If the book is by a non-Jewish author, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, the topic must have some Jewish connection as long as it is not anti-Semitic.”

All books will be in English so as to draw in the greatest possible number of users, he explained.

“It will attract locals who are looking to improve their English. The idea is to make the library the largest source of English language material in Vilnius. The study of English is very popular in Lithuania now that it a member of the European Union.

“And if they gain some familiarity with Jewish culture and shed some prejudice along the way, all the better,” he added. “What better legacy to leave than a place of learning and education dedicated to fighting prejudice and intolerance?”

Brent, who has been working on the project since 2004, has collected 4,000 books so far, mainly at his own expense.

“While I am like Tevye in that I am not a rich man,” he said in a reference to the fabled dairy farmer in Fiddler on the Roof, “it has been a pleasure spending what little money I have in buying books for the library.”

Still other books have come from the Vilnius Jewish community and Hillel, the North American Jewish student organization.

As well, the musician Janis Ian has donated CDs and the painter Judy Chicago has promised artwork once the library opens.

“Sir Martin has agreed to donate a signed copy of each of the 79 books he has written or edited,” Brent noted.

Brent, an online merchant, chose Vilnius as the site of the library after falling in love with the city on his first visit in 1994. He went to Lithuania in the first place because of his fascination with the republics of the former Soviet Union.

“I returned in 1995 and lived there for a full year, both in 1996 and 1997 and 2001 and 2002. This year, I lived in Vilnius for over two months.

“Another reason for choosing Vilna is that it was a centre of Jewish culture and learning [in the first three decades of the 20th century]. There is a good reason it was known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania. With more than 100 synagogues and prayer houses, and with so many Jewish newspapers, it was a city which spread Jewish thought around the world.”

Brent intends to launch the project by opening a small version of the library next year. “Vilna will be the cultural capital of the European Union in 2009 and thus will be the focus of media attention. It will be a perfect time to open up something Jewish. Then I hope to open up a permanent location in 2010.”

He is being assisted by a Lithuanian Christian, the proprietor of a chain of hostels who believes in his project and is currently looking for a proper site, probably on Pylimo Street, where a synagogue and three Jewish museums are located. “Non-Jewish Lithuanians have voiced interest in and support for the library,” Brent said.

Nevertheless, he pointed out, there is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Lithuania today.

Jewish institutions in Vilnius have also rallied behind the project.

“The staff of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum, the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, the Jewish Culture and Information Center and the principal of the Jewish school have expressed support. And so has the Israeli Embassy.”

Brent conceived the project after one of his friends wrote an article on Jews in Tijuana, Mexico.

His immersion in Jewish culture per se, however, began when he started reading books about World War II and the Holocaust.

A high school graduate who has been a voracious reader all his life, Brent is an agnostic who respects all faiths and has a special admiration for and affinity with Jewish culture.

“I am not the king of the world and I can never end anti-Semitism, but if I can open a few minds to the beauty of Jewish culture, I will have done my part to make the world a better place.”


The Jewish Lady in the Green House

Sugihara monument outside Green House

Sugihara monument outside Green House

The Jewish Lady in the Green House

Featured in The Gantseh Megillah
By: Wyman Brent

How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice is the answer. How does one get to Vilna? Bus, bus, bus if you are on a budget. Riding a Eurolines bus from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilna in Lithuania took nine and half hours, which was spent staring out the window and reading books and trying to rest. Not much good at napping on buses so fortunately had reading material available. Anyway, what is a librarian without a book close at hand?

An adventure in the U.K. and Estonia had gone even better than could have been expected. The big challenge was almost ten hours down the road in the city remembered by so many as the Jerusalem of Lithuania. One does not try to build a Jewish library in Vilna without going to Vilna. It is said that all roads lead to Rome but my path lay along the road less traveled.

The easy part was arriving in Vilna at 7:30 pm or 1930 as they would write it in Europe. The Vilnius Old Town Hostel was a short walk from the bus station and to be home for the next two months and a week. Finding the place even in the dark was no problem even without having been in Lithuania since December 2002. No doubt it had something to do with having lived in Vilna for so long. Due to the courtesy and philo-Semitism of the owner, a librarian had a free place to rest his head.

I had already spent almost three months living in hostels between the time in London and Tallinn. Now it was time to stay another two in Vilnius. While I appreciated the free bed, a hostel is not a place for quiet contemplation. There are too many people around but it was free and there was work to be done. The hostel was only a short walk from Pylimo Street or Pylimo Gatve as Lithuanians write it.

Why was it nice to be so close to Pylimo Gatve? Pylimo is the street around which much of Jewish life is now centered in Vilna. Pylimo 4 is the home of the Jewish Community Center and of the Righteous Gentiles exhibition hosted by the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum. A few meters off of Pylimo is the museum’s Tolerance Center, and the museum’s Green House is just past where Pylimo begins. Pylimo is also home to the Choral Synagogue, the one remaining synagogue in the city.

It turns out that a Shoah survivor would be my entry to all things Jewish in the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Rachel Kostanian is a miracle and not only because she survived the fate of the majority of the Jews. She is one person but does the work of many and this at the age when most people are busy enjoying their retirement. She is the deputy director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and has her office in the Green House, which has a display, dedicated to the history of Jews in Lithuania and what happened during the war.

As Kermit the frog says, it is not easy being green. The Green House is on a prominent street but difficult to find if you don’t know it is there. Tucked away as it is, you still need to go if you want to experience one of the most dynamic people (Jewish or not) in Vilna today. Ms. Kostanian is both survivor and savior. She is a driving force in the work of the museum and keeping Jewish culture alive.

Keeping anything Jewish going is not the easy task it was in the day of shul and shtetl. Like Rabbi Kot in Tallinn, you have to be in it for the long haul if you are working to revive things Jewish in Lithuania. Rachel Kostanian helped create the beautiful book Vilna Ghetto Posters of which I am privileged to have a signed copy. She also wrote “Spiritual Resistance in the Vilna Ghetto”. She writes, she gives tours of the museum; she lectures in various countries (I first met her in London), and does many of the administrative tasks needed to keep the Green House going.

This remarkable lady was my introduction to the small but vibrant world of the Jew in the Jerusalem of Lithuania. In the over two months I was in Vilna, a stop at the Green House to speak with Ms. Kostanian was both a necessity and a pleasure. She and the other staff plied me with tea and cookies every time I walked through the door. They were all so friendly and inviting that one could be excused for inventing reasons to go visit them. What better way to spend time than after a walk in the snow to stop and share tea with people you truly admire and respect?

As I said, our first meeting took place in London in November 2007 while she was there to give talks relating to the Holocaust and the ghetto posters of Vilna. Imagine a people living under such circumstances as the Jews during the German occupation still trying to live a life filled with cultural activities. They knew the reality beyond the ghetto barriers and yet it did not stop them from doing everything from running a library to holding concerts and giving plays. They even celebrated the loaning out of the one hundred thousandth book from the ghetto library.

Imagine celebrating someone having borrowed a book during those dark days and nights. Perhaps that is why I am so driven to build a new Jewish library in Vilna. Yes, there are few Jews left in Lithuania. Does that mean forgetting about them? They have dedicated their lives to keeping Jewish culture alive no matter what may face them, just as did the people of the ghetto. Can I do any less than dedicate my life to helping not only keeping the torch alive but also fanning the flame?

Wyman Brent is a non-Jewish man who, out of his love for the Jewish people, has begun a project to build a Jewish library in Vilnius, Lithuania. You may contact Wyman at, for information and to offer support.

Pictures From Vilnius

Photo of Wyman Brent with Joseph Levinson, a Holocaust survivor who turned 91 three days after the meeting. He lives in Vilna and is the author of “The Book of Sorrow” and “Holocaust in Lithuania“. Wyman visited Mr. Levinson’s home, where he was kind enough to sign both books for the library. The books are in Vilnius at the Green House stored until the library opens. Joseph is a truly remarkable man.

Bust of Vilna Gaon next to the site of the Great Synagogue, which was damaged by Germans and destroyed by Russians after WWII.

Broken headstone from one of the old Jewish cemeteries in Vilnius.

Wyman with Algis Gurevicius, director of the Jewish Culture and Information Center pictured inside the center.

Wyman with Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum Director Markas Zingeris inside the Tolerance Center.

Professor Dovid Katz of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute sharing a meal with Wyman at Double Coffee, which is a Baltic coffee house chain.

Wyman Brent with Rachel Kostanian, deputy director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum pictured inside the Vilnius Jewish Culture and Information Center.

Wyman with Israeli Ambassador Chen Ivri, inside the Uzupis School after the March 12 ceremony honoring righteous Gentiles.

San Diego Jewish Journal: Books for Breakfast

Wyman Brent


San Diego Jewish Journal

By Jessica Durham

Wyman Brent may not be Jewish, but he has made a Jewish library in Vilnius, Lithuania his life passion

Instead of dishes and cereal boxes, Wyman Brent fills his kitchen shelves with stacks of books. He’s run out of room on his bookshelves, which are groaning with the weight of so many words, and stacks of books cover the floor of the Normal Heights apartment he shares with his roommate. He’s built his collection to about 4,000, 3,000 of which he’s purchased himself, the other 1,000 donated. He says he files them all in memory and rarely buys a duplicate.

His insatiable hunger for books — his goal is to someday have 100,000 — isn’t a case of compulsive hoarding or obsession, however. He’s working toward his life’s goal to open Lithuania’s largest English-as-a-second-language resource library in Vilnius, the nation’s capital. More importantly, though, the Vilnius Jewish Library will be a step in re-establishing the pre-World War II Jewish center of culture and learning that Vilnius once represented, but which was destroyed during the war along with its vast Jewish population, Brent said. Now, Vilnius is home to only 5,000 Jews, down from 100,000 pre-war, one synagogue, down from 105, one daily Jewish newspaper, down from six. In fact, Vilnius was once known as Yerushalayim de Lita — The Jerusalem of Lithuania.

His library, he said, will contain books, DVDs and compact discs written or created only in English by Jews or about Jewish history and culture, though they will be on topics as broad as sports, travel, history, music and biography.

Brent does not hesitate to express his love for Vilnius or the Jewish culture and people, nor is he shy about describing his love of reading and books. He knew Vilnius was special when he visited for the first time in the early 90s during his years-long trip to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to satisfy his lifelong fascination with World War II.

“There’s something magical about Vilnius with the Jewish culture that used to be there,” Brent said. “And for me, that’s the thing. People, Jewish or not, think of Vilnius as a place that was this wonderful center of Jewish culture, a wonderful center of Jewish education and learning Jewish thought. And now they always think of Vilnius as a place that was. The idea with the library is to once again make Vilnius a place that is.”

Brent had the idea to combine his love of books (which had begun during his childhood with his enormous collection of World War II books) with his love of Jewish people and culture (which had branched from the World War II interest) by building the library.

The most surprising part of his endeavor, however, is that he is not Jewish.

Born into a Baptist family in Lynchburg, Va., Brent had never really been exposed to Jewish culture or taken an interest in it before his time in Europe. And before a particular incident in Prague in 1993, he hadn’t felt inspired to somehow help the Jews pick themselves back up after they were pushed down during the war Brent hadn’t even been alive to witness.

“I saw an exhibition of art from children from the concentration camps, and of course the children didn’t survive, but the art did,” he said. “It was quite depressing of course, but when I walked out of the building, I walked around the corner and there was an old Jewish cemetery there, and there was this Orthodox rabbi leading a group of his followers, his students, and they’re walking through the cemetery and they’re placing stones, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s still life.’

Jewish resurgence in Vilnius’s Jewish Old Town has been slow-going, Brent said, and the government has yet to return formerly Jewish buildings and property to the community since the city had been caught in the grasp of World War II and the former Soviet Union. Anti-Semitism also exists, though it is not extreme, nor has Brent personally experienced it himself (though he said there was a demonstration in the city while he was there most recently, during his five-month trip from November to April). But despite the fact that the majority of Vilnius’ residents don’t want a Jewish library, Brent has gone around the fact by keeping only books written in English, making it a win-win situation for Jews and Gentiles alike.

Despite the somewhat anti-Semitic nature of the city, Brent said, he’s received nothing but praise and approval for his project. He’s received letters of support from every Jewish museum, organization and institution in Vilnius, and even the Israeli embassy in the region.

“There was no negativity there whatsoever, and even from the Gentiles, there was incredible support,” Brent said. “I was staying for free in Vilnius at a hostile, and it was thanks to the owner, who is a Gentile, liking so much the idea of the library.”

It is this dual support and coming together for a common purpose that is the beginning of what Brent hopes to accomplish in the longer run through his library.

“Lithuania was not built by Catholics,” he said. “It was not built by Jews. Lithuania was built by all Lithuanians working together. With the library, the idea is to show the beauty of Jewish culture, but at the same time not to beat anyone over the head with it. The more your learn about Jewish culture, the more you want to learn, anyway.”

The more support Brent can get, the better, because, he said, he’s not wealthy. He makes his living selling items on eBay and, but he also puts everything he has toward stocking his library, which he hopes to have temporarily opened in 2009 with 10,000 or 15,000 books in time for Vilnius’s year-long status as cultural capital of the European Union, which goes to a different city each year. He hopes to have a permanent location opened on the Jewish New Year in 2010, the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, and he is looking at a particular old building on Pilies Street, which also borders the former Jewish ghetto and contains the city’s sole synagogue and three other Jewish buildings.

Building his collection of books to 100,000 someday may seem a daunting task, but Brent relishes the search and said he looks forward to filling the shelves of the library, of which he plans to be the permanent caretaker.

“It’s hard financially,” Brent said, “but I love the work. If I considered it hard, I wouldn’t do it.” Shipping all his books to the other side of the world, as well as acquiring the building and having the finances to open the library, is the most difficult part, he said. News of Brent’s endeavors has spread, and the number of books being shipped to him by friends worldwide who have pledged to help him reach his goal has grown exponentially, but he still needs financial help.

He has returned to San Diego, where he’s lived for 21 years, to remain in the United States through October, during which time he’ll travel to several U.S. cities to meet with friends who have volunteered their support and have been gathering books. He’ll also attend the 12th annual International Association of Yiddish Clubs conference in San Diego, Oct. 24-27, alongside Sonia Pressman Fuentes, one of the founders of the National Organization for Women and one of the many Jewish authors Brent has befriended who has donated a copy of her book and has capitalized on her extensive networks to get others to donate as well. After the conference, he will return to Lithuania.

Though his grassroots effort has begun to take off and he’s got dedicated book-collectors sending him books from across the United States, Brent needs support on a larger, more established scale. He hopes he can find that in his hometown of San Diego.

“I need the support of the Jewish community here,” he said. “I want to work with a non-profit organization so money isn’t given directly to me. But I always need donations of lots of books, DVDs and CDs. The level of support so far is incredible, but I do need money for shipping and getting the building.”

Brent said he’s always been a sort of wanderer, never the type to stay in one place and, before the idea of the library, he never had what some might consider an average American life with a career and family of his own. With the library, however, he’s found his purpose.

“This library will be my legacy to the world,” he said. “It will live on long after I am gone.”

• To learn more about Wyman Brent and the Vilnius Jewish Library, visit his blog at or e-mail him at

Wyman Brent’s adventures in travel

Wyman Brent’s adventures in travel

by: Wyman Brent

You never know exactly what is going to happen when you set out to travel the world. There are times when even heading down the street to your local grocery store can be an adventure. Will you meet someone you know and end up spending more time talking than shopping? Perhaps you will make a new friend while trying to decide which flavor ice cream to purchase.

My big adventure started off by boarding a plane in San Diego to fly to San Francisco where another flight would carry me off across eight time zones to London. Loaded up with books for the long flight and for any downtime in the UK, I was ready to head over to an eventual meeting with a person I truly admire.

Sir Martin Gilbert is the author or editor of seventy-nine books. He is also a professor and lecturer and an all around amazing person. He invited me to visit his home to discuss the Vilnius Jewish Library over a cup of tea. His invitation was extended even before Rebecca Spence wrote an article about the library for the Forward, which is the oldest, and largest U.S. Jewish newspaper based in New York. This was to be an adventure filled with honors. Meeting Sir Martin was the first of many and certainly not the least of them. Imagine being invited by someone to his or her home, someone you truly respect to talk about a project, which until that time seemed a bit quixotic.

Just a couple of days before my birthday, I found myself drinking tea with Sir Martin and his wonderful wife. While there I met the son who was rushing out the door to somewhere. Later I met the daughter who was working in the library building just behind the home. Imagine having a beautiful study loaded with books and your own library as well. That is what I would call heaven on earth. Knowing that Sir Martin is donating one copy each of all his books makes life just that much more heavenly.

Shortly after the meeting in London, it was time to head on over to Tallinn, Estonia. The idea was simply to spend a week there before heading down to Riga, Latvia for another week and then on to Vilnius in Lithuania. Things never quite work out the way you plan…kind of like when you are in the grocery store and end up somehow walking out with something you never knew existed but you just couldn’t resist.

Life at times seems to be made up of signs guiding us in new directions. The sign in this case was posted on the wall of the hostel in Tallinn where I was staying. It said not to leave Tallinn, as the hostel needed volunteers. A sign is a sign and sometimes it is an omen as well. I applied to stay as a volunteer and ending up meeting a true hero.

The hero in this case is Rabbi Shmuel Kot who moved from Israel to Estonia to become the Chief Rabbi of the country. He chose to move to a place with frigid winters and a tiny Jewish population. Tallinn is a lovely city but also one where you can’t go out and expect to meet Orthodox Jews in the shops and walking the streets. It is not a place where you have your choice of which kosher shop to pick up supplies in.

Tallinn is not the place where one raises six Jewish children. However, if Rabbi Kot did not lead the few Jews of Tallinn then who would do it? I ended up meeting with the Rabbi thanks to another person staying at the hostel. He was a young French Jew moving to Tallinn to start a business. He told me about going over to the synagogue to attend Friday night services and asked if I would like to go along. Considering I was in Europe to build the first Jewish library in Lithuania since the war, you can well guess what my answer was to the invite.

First I met one of my heroes in London and now in Tallinn. I already knew about the former before starting the journey and discovered the second along the way. Imagine the honor of sitting and talking with the Rabbi and breaking bread and drinking wine after the services. Imagine being there when the Rabbi shows up a few minutes late for the service with the announcement that he just came from the hospital where a son was born. For some reason, I had brought with me that night two calendars I had bought during the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center annual book fair. The calendars were a gift for the Rabbi. Since I had no way of knowing the date of the birth, the Rabbi said that G-d must have whispered in my ear. The next week I brought a card in which I wrote, “May your children grow up to make a mighty noise which will change the world in a wonderful way.” There is no doubt that this wish or prophecy or what have you will come true.

Finally I will say that it was a pleasure and pleasant surprise to find in Europe such an interest in the idea of the library. The weekly newspaper Baltic Times did a story on the Vilnius Jewish Library, which led to the Israeli Embassy based in Riga, Latvia to contact me. The Baltic Times is sold in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The contact led to new adventures in Vilnius which I will discuss with the next article for the Gantseh Megillah.

Wyman Brent is a non-Jewish man who, out of his love for the Jewish people, has begun a project to build a Jewish library in Vilnius, Lithuania. You may contact Wyman at, for information and to offer support.

So, how will a nice Gentile boy help to restore Jewish learning in Lithuania?


So, how will a nice Gentile boy help to restore Jewish learning in Lithuania?

By Wyman Brent

VILNIUS, Lithuania—How does one get from L in V to V in L?  The L and V happen to be Lynchburg, Virginia.  The V and L refer to Vilnius, Lithuania.  1962 was the year of Camelot and limit less possibilities.  Not that I remember anything about that time as I was in my crib probably sucking my thumb the day Camelot crumbled.  There are days when one can long for being back in the safety of a crib without a care in the world other than when feeding time is.   These days I settle for some quality time with a good book and some relaxing music.

Lynchburg was a good place to be a kid.  It was a real city though not so large that one felt anonymous.  Funny how I can think these things now because of course that is not what goes through a child’s mind at the time.  At the time I would think about being with the other kids and going over to grandma’s house for milk and cookies.  There was summer to look forward to and winter as well.  There was either fun in the sun or throwing snowballs, either way a good time was guaranteed.

Now I live in San Diego, California and far from my family and birthplace.  I was going to say hometown but after having lived in sunny San Diego for twenty years it has become my hometown.  Living in California does not explain how one ends up working to create a Jewish library in the Jerusalem of Lithuania.  Neither does it explain how I ended up being the final speaker at a ceremony in Vilnius held May 12, 2008 to honor those who rescued Jews during the war.  Actually, it does but requires some explanation.

The year 1994 saw me heading off to Lithuania for the first time after having previously visited Scandinavia and Russia and Yugoslavia.  The thing about visiting Russia was that it was the Soviet Union at the time and I was staying far from Moscow.  Making a trip north to Moscow and finding books in English required a 24 hour train journey each way.  I was reading good commie and socialist literature along with classics translated into English.  One book I read, though who is to say if it will ever be a classic, was titled, The Hills of Vilnius.  It described Vilnius in such a way that I knew I would have to visit one day.  1994 was that year.

August, 1994 was the month and year I first met a person who not only became my best friend ever and my roommate but also the inspiration for the Vilnius Jewish Library.  The thing is that a Gentile from Italy inspired a Gentile from San Diego to move to Lithuania to create the first real Jewish library in the Baltic countries since the war.  It was the first day ever in Lithuania for both of us.  Three years later and we end up roommates in San Diego.  2004 was the year Carla decided to write an article on Jews in Tijuana, Mexico.

It is funny how things can change your life.  After going with Carla to meet with the rabbi and the members of the synagogue, it just seemed as if something came together in my life.  I have always enjoyed reading thanks to my mother and father.  I fell in love with Vilnius the first time there.  Then the fascination with Jewish culture seemed to grow exponentially after those meetings.  So why not have a non-Jew with an English and Irish background create the first Jewish library in Lithuania since before the war?  It all makes sense when you think about it.  Doesn’t it?

There have been so many meetings and so much warmth from the Jewish community in Vilnius that it overwhelms at time.  How can I express the feeling that knowing my dream (which seemed far out in the beginning) has made so many newfound friends?  To know that the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and the Jewish Cultural and Information Center not only like the idea but have also written letters expressing their support.  To know that young and old here are taking an interest.  To know that the local media has taken notice with various interviews has been amazing.

Vilnius will be the cultural capital of the European Union for 2009.  That means the city where I now sit shall have a spotlight shined on it for an entire year by every country in the union.  I am asking everyone to work with me to bring the world of Jewish culture back to reality in the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

So many of us have either seen or read about what was done during the Shoah.  How many of us have wished something could have been done to avert the worst tragedy ever to befall not only Jews but the world?  How many wish that the life of the shul and shtetl were unchanged?  I wish the same after walking the streets of Vilna and seeing only a few street names and statues to memorialize what was.  Vilna is remembered as a city which was.  I want it to once again be a city which is.

Will you help me to return Jewish education and learning to this once great center?  By all working together, we can open a new place of Jewish learning in 2009 even if it is only a temporary facility.  Then in 2010 on the Jewish New Year, we can open the permanent Vilnius Jewish Library.  The choice is yours.  Will you let those who sought to demolish Jewish culture over 60 years ago win?  I am asking all of us working side by side to rebuild what it took so many to destroy.  I am dedicating the rest of my life to this project.  What are you willing to do?

If you care to help change the world for the better, the library needs books in new or like new condition.  As long as the books are by Jewish authors, it does not matter if the books have a Jewish theme or not.  There is a list of the books the library already has on my website.  The library also needs DVDs and CDs.  Please visit my website and feel free to contact me with any questions.  The other thing you can do is to let everyone know about this project and also to let them know about the wonderful website where you read this story.  I have added it to my favorites and hope you will do the same.

Here are the urls for my websites: and

Wyman Speaks at Vilnius Ceremony Honoring Righteous Gentiles


On March 12, 2008, Wyman Brent attended the annual ceremony in Vilnius, Lithuania to honor those amazing people who saved Jews during WWII. The speakers included the Israeli Ambassador, the director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and other dignitaries.

The final speaker surprisingly turned out to be Wyman Brent! Yes, he spoke at this ceremony even though he had no idea he would be asked to say anything. Wyman wasn’t even asked to speak until a few minutes before the ceremony was to begin. Needless to say he was nervous and had nothing prepared. However, he gave it his best shot and afterwards people said they enjoyed what he had to say.

Wyman was both honored and humbled to have the opportunity to participate. This experience was something he surely will remember for the rest of his life.

For the Love of Jews


For the Love of Jews
By: Wyman Brent
Originally published at The Gantseh Megillah

1994, age of 31, first time in Vilna.
2004, age 41, the time when the idea of the Vilnius Jewish Library crystallized.
2008, age 45, first visit to Vilna since end of 2002….
Perhaps an expert in Kabbalah can take these words and numbers, and clearly explain the meaning behind it all. I wish I could do the same.

“What makes a non-Jew so passionate about Jewish culture?” is something I am often asked. Why would anyone give up perpetual summer in southern California for the volatile seasons of Lithuania? The San Diego Chamber of Commerce calls San Diego America’s Finest City. Perhaps they are right. The TV forecasters say “It is all about the weather.” when explaining why San Diego attracts so many as a place to live, and as a tourist destination. San Diego has sun, and more sun, while Vilnius has rain, followed by snow, followed by more rain.

Yes, I have a fondness for Jewish history, and Jewish culture, and the dynamic people which have passed through the pages of time, and who are still making an impact today. Look at people such as Stephen Spielberg, or Sonia Pressman Fuentes, or Richard Feynman, or Sir Martin Gilbert, or Barbra Streisand, or Jacob Neusner (and I could go on) who make a difference in so many lives, in so many ways.

Yet there is so much more to this library than simply celebrating Jews. Vilna was a light from which all the world benefited before the war. Everything turned very dark when the Nazis invaded. Sixty years later, and even though the light is back on, it remains oh so dim. There is the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum, and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and there are monuments to the dead.

Where are the Jewish libraries? Vilna was above all else a center of learning. There is a museum dedicated to the past. There are memorials to those who are no longer with us. The thing I wonder is where is the living and breathing Jewish culture which made Vilna a city which, even today, Jews remember as a beautiful place.

Will it be another sixty years before Jewish culture flourishes again in Lithuania? Will you wait for the rising up of another Vilna Gaon before the rebuilding begins? Or will you help this humble goy to follow his passion and make Vilna not just a glorious name from the past, but once again, a shining example to the world? The choice is yours.

Wyman Brent is a non-Jewish man who, out of his love for the Jewish people, has begun a project to build a Jewish library in Vilnius, Lithuania. You may contact Wyman at, for information and to offer support.

Video of Wyman interviewed at the Vilnius Tolerance Center, and pictures from around Vilnius!


Wyman was recently interviewed by the website Delfi at the Vilnius Tolerance Center. Check it out here! Scroll down once you get there to see the video.

The picture above and the ones below were recently taken by Wyman in Vilnius.

To see more of Wyman’s pictures click here.



Wyman made it to Vilnius!


Wyman Brent, the creator and visionary behind the Vilnius Jewish Library project is now in Vilnius, Lithuania. Besides enjoying the sights, Wyman will be laying important groundwork for the Vilnius Jewish Library. The VJL Blog hopes to post pictures, and stories of his time there as they become available.

Wyman will be back in the U.S. in time to attend the International Association of Yiddish Clubs conference in La Jolla, California, from October 24-27, 2008. When Wyman returns to the U.S., he will be making a big push to collect books, and secure funding for the project. The hope is that he will be able to get back to Vilnius, with enough books to open the Vilnius Jewish Library in 2010!

Most of us are not lucky enough to be in Vilnius, but don’t fret. Click here to view lots of pictures of Lithuania’s capital city.