Remembering Litvaks, Inc., (“RLI”) is a 501(c)(3) entity that undertakes projects dedicated to remembering the Jewish communities that existed in Lithuania, including programs to teach and research the history of Jewish life in Lithuania and to preserve and improve locations of historical significance to Lithuanian Jewry – “Litvaks.” The term “Litvaks” refers to the Jews who lived in the core territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Litva). Today, that area is largely in Belarus and the central and eastern parts of Lithuania.
The group was first established in 2008 by descendants of Jews from the Rakisik / Rokiškis region who sought to improve the condition of the old Jewish cemetery that is situated on the border of Rokiškis and Serapiniškis. Funds raised by RLI’s subsidiary, Remembering Rakisik Area Jewry, LLC, (“RRAJ”), were used to get legal protection for the cemetery’s boundaries; design, manufacture, and install a distinctive gate and fence along the cemetery’s eastern boundary; plant appropriate shrubbery along the remainder of the cemetery’s boundary; design, commission, and install a memorial stone outside of the gate; and take other actions to improve the condition of the cemetery.
As it became more apparent that the people in the Rokiškis area had little knowledge of the Jewish communities that once flourished there, it was decided that the group should consider other activities to preserve the memory of those communities and their role in local life. To help finance such projects, a Virginia non-stock corporation was established for the purpose of receiving contributions that would be tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers. That entity, RLI, was created in 2012 and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service subsequently determined that the corporation qualified as a tax-exempt entity. RLI and its subsidiary RRAJ are duly registered with and regulated by the Virginia Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs.
We have worked closely with the Rokiškis Regional Museum on a number of projects. In 2014, the museum published a short booklet about two remarkable local Jewish women, Sana Meler, whose family was arrested by the Soviets on June 14, 1941, and deported to Siberia, and the poetess Matilda Olkinaitė, whose family was murdered on the road between Panemunėlis and Rokiškis. We also joined with the museum and others in the creation and installation of an informational sign on Rokiškis’s Synagogue Street (Sinagogų gatvė) which describes in Lithuanian, English, and Yiddish the architecture and uses of the three Jewish houses of worship and study that once stood on that street. The sign was dedicated in September 2015, and we hope work on the design of other signs to be installed in the market squares of Rokiškis, Kamajai, Pandėlys, and Kupiškis, each of which had significant, centuries-old Jewish populations prior to 1941.
In May 2016, we entered into an agreement with the museum under which a committee created by the museum grants an annual prize in recognition of an individual or group who substantially increases the awareness in Lithuania of the contribution of its Jewish citizens to the country’s establishment and growth. The prize is named of Private Ruvin Bun, a Jew from the Rokiškis region who volunteered to fight in Lithuania’s wars of independence (1919-1920) and died in the battle of Giedraičiai on the last day of fighting. The first award recipient was Viktorija Kazlienė, the director of the Molėtai Regional Museum, who played a leading role in the August 29, 2016, “Malat March” to remember the Jews of the region who perished there in August 1941. She subsequently wrote a book about the memorial march and has worked with local officials to place bi-lingual Lithuanian-Yiddish signs at in Molėtai at places of significance to the town’s Jewish history.
Contributions to support the projects of Remembering Litvaks, Inc., may be made on-line or may be sent to 15105 Wetherburn Drive, Centreville, VA 20120. Since RLI has been recognized by GuideStar, www.guidestar.org, as a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, contributions may also be made through payroll deductions. RLI also has separate fund to accept contributions made for the benefit of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library (“VJPL”). For more information RLI’s projects or contributions to RLI or the VJPL, please contact Phil Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.