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 firstname.lastname@example.org, for information and to offer support.