For the Love of Jews

lithuaniapic.jpg

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 artistseesred@yahoo.com, for information and to offer support.

Advertisements

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

44.jpg

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.

11.jpg

22.jpg

Wyman made it to Vilnius!

old_vilnius.jpg

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.

Two Important Supporters of the Vilnius Jewish Library: Sonia Pressman Fuentes and Sir Martin John Gilbert

The Vilnius Jewish Library is honored to have received the support of two amazing authors. We want to take time to thank them for their important contribution to the project.

sfuentes.gif

Sonia Pressman Fuentes is serving an essential role in the creation of the Vilnius Jewish Library. Fuentes is a Jewish American, who co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), and was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She was kind enough to donate her own memoir, “Eat First–You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter,” which will certainly occupy a position of prominence in the Vilnius Jewish Library when it opens. Fuentes is also helping to spread the word about the library, and is encouraging others to donate books to the collection.

martin-gilbert-image.jpg

The Vilnius Jewish Library is also indebted to Sir Martin John Gilbert, the British historian and the author of over seventy books, including works on the Holocaust and Jewish history.  Gilbert, who is an extremely well respected Jewish author, has generously pledged to donate copies of all 79 books he has written or edited to the library

With the help of these two authors, the Vilnius Jewish Library will one day become a reality. The Library owes them both a huge THANK YOU!

If you are an author who would like to donate your book(s) to the Vilnius Jewish Library collection, and/or if you are willing to support the library in other ways, please contact:

vilniusjewishlibrary@yahoo.com

If you aren’t an author, but would still like to help by donating books or funds to the library, please contact us as well!

Vilnius Jewish Library informational table at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs conference, October 24-27, 2008

display-info-table-w-displa2.gif

Wyman Brent will be attending the International Association of Yiddish Clubs conference, to be held in La Jolla, California, October 24-27, 2008.  The organizers have been kind enough to let him set up a Vilnius Jewish Library informational table.  If you are in the area, or are planning to attend the conference, come say hello, and learn more about the Vilnius Jewish Library!

Making the Vilnius Jewish Library a reality

19580.jpg

A PASSION FOR BOOKS: Wyman Brent, who has been a voracious reader since a young age, is channeling his love of books, Jewish culture and Lithuania into a project to create a Jewish library in Vilnius.

Making the Vilnius Jewish Library a reality

Jan 09, 2008
By Steve Roman
The Baltic Times

TALLINN – I caught up with Wyman Brent at a hostel in Tallinn’s Old Town just after Christmas. A few days earlier the 45-year-old American had e-mailed the editorial offices of The Baltic Times with a story that was too intriguing to pass up, namely his plan to create something called the Vilnius Jewish Library – not just a small reading room, but a true public library containing over 100,000 Jewish-related books in English, as well as CDs, DVDs and about 20,000 reference books.

For anyone familiar with the history of the Lithuanian capital, the idea will strike a chord. Before World War II, the city was referred to as the “Jerusalem of the North,” a great center of Jewish learning and culture. Like many cities in Europe, however, its Jewish population was wiped out during the war. Today the Jewish people living in Vilnius number just a very few thousand and the pre-war Jewish neighborhood in Old Town is simply gone.

“There were more than 100 synagogues and prayer houses in the city,” Brent pointed out when we met. “Now there’s one.”
What truly hooked me into this story wasn’t the history lesson though, but the grand “Why” behind it all. Why would a book-lover living in San Diego devote so much time and energy on a project like this?

“It’s kind of strange because I’m not Jewish and I’m not of Lithuanian descent,” said Brent.

As Brent describes it, it’s not so much a project as a labor of love.

“I’ve always loved libraries, I’ve been volunteering in them for years. I love reading, that’s something my parents gave me, and I’m fascinated with Jewish culture. I fell in love with Lithuania when I went there the first time in 1994. So it was kind of like, I love libraries, I love Jewish culture and I love Lithuania, so let me put this all together into this Jewish library,” explained Brent.
That said, for Brent there’s a more selfless impetus behind the library project.

“I’ve always hated prejudice and discrimination. I’ve never seen the need for intolerance or prejudice of any kind, but I wanted a library that was focused on one subject. For me Jewish culture is so fascinating, and I thought it would be a good way to reintroduce Jewish culture to Lithuania, but at the same time make it appealing to Lithuanians,” he said.

The library, he points out, will not be aimed at Jewish people, but at a wider Lithuanian audience. The hope is that because the materials here will be in English, and because the atmosphere, the resources and the overall presentation will be of such high quality, the library will attract locals who are looking to improve their English. And if they gain some familiarity with Jewish culture and shed some prejudice along the way, all the better.

“I hope to have 100,000 Jewish-related books in English so that when people walk in, they’ll be coming in to learn English, but they’ll be doing it with books that are Jewish in nature. There will be everything from mysteries to the most scholarly religious books to books on the Holocaust to biographies to books on movies and music… So when someone walks in they can find a book literally on any topic.”

“I don’t want to convert anyone to Judaism, I’m not Jewish. I want people to come in and see with this vast collection of books that Jews are just like everyone else.”

At the moment, the library is still in the development stage, but is gaining momentum. Brent has been working on the project since 2004 and has established relationships with the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. He has also made some headway on the collection, having gathered about 4,000 books so far.

The next key step, Brent says, is securing a location to house the library. It’s his hope that the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture will loan out a premises for the project.

Once that’s secure, he believes, Jewish organizations from around the world will be willing to donate books and other materials.

His goal is to have the library up and running by the Jewish New Year in 2010, which will also be the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Once up and running, the library won’t be so much a place full of dusty shelves and stern, matronly guardians, but an attractive place to spend time.

“I want it to be a place where when you walk in it feels exactly like home,” said Brent. “I want that when people go into the library they can sit on comfortable sofas and have funky tables …they can sit in the window if they want or on the floor, whatever they choose. I want people to feel like they’re in a comfortable cafe or in someone’s flat so they can totally relax.”

The success or impact of the Vilnius Jewish Library project, of course, is going to depend on a lot of factors, including support. But if all goes well, the now-faint echoes of the “Jerusalem of the North” won’t fade forever into silence.

Baptist-raised Lynchburg native seeks to establish Jewish library in Lithuania

satellite.jpg

Baptist-raised Lynchburg native seeks to establish Jewish library in Lithuania

By Liz Barry
The News & Advance; Lynchburg, Virginia
January 11, 2008

Wyman Brent might not be Jewish, but he’s fascinated with the religion. He might not be Lithuanian, but he’s in love with the country. And he might not have a college degree, but he’s a voracious reader.

Now the Lynchburg native is combining his three loves into one mission: to establish a Jewish Library in Vilnius, Lithuania. Brent, who now lives in San Diego, is traveling through Europe to garner support for his project.

Brent’s goal is to build a library for 100,000 books that are either written by Jewish authors, or are about Jewish people, history and culture. The project has received support from the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and Vilnius Yiddish Institute. He is waiting to hear whether the Lithuanian government will provide a rent-free building for the library.

Brent has collected about 4,000 books on his own. If all goes as planned, Brent will open the library on the Jewish New Year of 2010, which coincides with the 65th anniversary to the end of World War II.

“I’m not rich,” Brent said from Estonia in a phone interview. “I think once I get a building, then I believe the books and money will start to flow in from the Jewish community and those who are interested in Jewish culture.”

Born in Lynchburg and raised Baptist, Brent is self-employed. His income comes from selling books, records, CDs and other items on sites like eBay and Amazon.com.

“The first church I remember going to was Jerry Falwell’s church,” said 45-year-old Brent.

Brent is used to people asking why he, an American with a Baptist background, wants to establish a Jewish library in Lithuania.

“It’s a natural question,” he said.

In response, he explains that an interest in WWII led to a fascination with Judaism and later Lithuania. He also notes there hasn’t been a Jewish library in Lithuania since the war.
Before WWII, Lithuania had a substantial Jewish population, Brent said.

“Vilnius was called the Jerusalem of Lithuania,” he said. “There were more than 100 prayer houses and synagogues in the city before the war.”

But during the war, many Jews were killed or fled the country. The Germans seized the Jewish library, although some of the books were saved and eventually shipped to the United States, he said.

People have been receptive to his efforts to create a new Jewish library, he said.

Part of Brent’s goal with the library project is to address anti-Semitism.

“I don’t have a cure-all for everything,” he said. “And I know that by building this library I will not end anti-Semitism. But if I change a few people’s minds, I’m not just talking about a problem, but doing my small part to make a difference.”

For as long as he can remember, Brent has been passionate about social justice.

“I’ve always had a deep-seated hatred of prejudice and intolerance and discrimination of any kind,” he said.

Brent has a vivid memory of watching at TV special about the Ku Klux Klan with his mother as a 10-year-old boy. He remembers seeing an image of Santa Claus wearing a swastika on his arm.

“Even at that early age, it was something that really made me see red,” he said.