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.