|A scene from "Der Dybbuk". The Vilna Troupe|
Six dailies, twelve weeklies and other periodicals were published in Vilnius. Several theater troupes and a puppet theater "Maidim", several choirs, a symphony orchestra, a Musical Institute, writers' organization "Yung Vilne", the center of the world Jewish writers' PEN club, a historical ethnographical union and a wealth of other cultural institutions worked in Vilnius.
During WWI a theater called "Vilner Troupe" was created in Vilnius. It became famous all over the world. The play "The Dibbuk" brought huge fame to the theater. It was an example to the many theaters all around the world. Play's author was a prominent scientist of ethnography S. An-ski (literary name of Shloime Rapoport), who is closely related to Vilnius. A historical ethnographical museum in Vilnius was named after him. It should be mentioned that when in 1925 the theater left Vilnius it was still called "Vilner Troupe" - it was the best proof of quality.
The educational system of Jews in Vilnius was highly developed. There were kindergartens, so called folk (primary) schools, colleges, teachers' colleges (Yiddish and Hebrew), handicrafts' schools, a technical school, various courses etc. Differently from so called Kaunas Lithuania, where prevailing schools were Hebrew (the Past), the majority of children in Vilnius studied in Yiddish. Vilnius was the only city in Eastern Europe where Yiddish schools were the most influential and well attended.
|In the home for the elderly on Uosto (Portovaja) street 17|
The Jewish Community in Vilnius was well organized and active. In 1935, 165 organizations were registered here, 72 of them were charity funds. A large part of community members lived in poverty, therefore charity was vitally important. However, there were also a lot of other different organizations - educational, cultural, professional, sport etc. The "Maccabi" sport union was very popular.
|A house next to Lukishkiu square in whose attick the statutory meeting of the Bund took place. The house did not survive|
As everywhere, various Jewish political parties were also active in Vilnius. But Vilnius was unique in this sense - it became the birth place of the two influential Jewish parties. The religious Zionist party "Mizrachi", which later spread to many countries, was established in Vilnius in 1901. However, Vilnius was especially renowned for the first Jewish Socialist Labor party "The Bund" (Bund - in Yiddish union), whose full title was The Union of Jewish workers of Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Party's statutory meeting was held in Vilnius in 1897. The place for the first meeting was not chosen by chance. One of the founders of the Bund and its most active organizer was a student of Vilnius teachers' college (The Past) Arkadij (Aron) Kremer. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. The Bund advocated social and national equality. It was an anti-Zionist party which declared that instead of emigrating to Palestine, Jews should fight for equal rights and national tolerance in the states which they inhabit. The Bund was a Yiddishist organization and its influence to a large extent determined, that Yiddish culture was predominant in Vilnius. The Bund had huge impact on Jewish workers not only in Poland and Russia, but also in other states, most significantly in the USA.
Jews in Vilnius were also very interested in general affairs of their home town. Eighteen Jews were very active in town's magistrate.
For many years the Jewish Community in Vilnius was headed by a doctor Jakov Vygodskij, one of the most respected litvaks - public figures. When in 1918 the Lithuanian Government established the office of the Minister of Jewish Affairs, J. Vygodskij was the first to be appointed to it. When the Government moved to Kaunas, J. Vygodskij decided to remain with his community, and dr. M. Soloveitchik replaced him in the Government. In August 1941 the Nazi imprisoned and murdered 86 year old Dr. J. Vygodski.
The most active participant in all fields of society's life was doctor Tsemach Shabad, probably the most popular man in the city. Both his professional life and his public activities brought him huge fame. One can judge about him as a doctor from the fact that a prototype of "Doctor Oh-it-hurts" by Korniej Tchukovskij was Ts. Shabad. It can be asserted with certainty, that dr. Shabad left significant marks in virtually all spheres of social life. He was well known not only among Jews. Dr. Shabad was acquainted with many Lithuanian, Polish, Belorussian public figures, among others with the future President Antanas Smetona. Dr. Shabad's obituary in 1935 was signed by 45 organizations. His bust is exhibited at the State Jewish museum. It originally stood in the Health union's sanatorium in Valakupiai, was saved by people during the war and handed over to the Jewish Museum.
|Here is an example of M. Chabad's humour: M. Chabad walked into an inn and told an inn-keeper to treat him to dinner, since otherwise he would do what his father did. Well, the inn-keeper gave Motke food and when he was through with eating, the keeper asked: "Tell me, Motke, what did your father do?" - "He went to sleep hungry,"- answered Motke.|
A lot of world famous personalities were born, lived, and created in Vilnius - the violin genius Jasha Cheifets, the great artist Chajim Soutine, the renowned sculptor Mark Antokolski, the famous cantor Vilner Balabesl (J. D. Strashunski) and many others.
A legendary humorist Motke Chabad is world famous. His jokes became folklore. It's enough to mention his name among Jews and everyone starts smiling.
© Jews in Lithuania, Vilnius, 1999-2000