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Jewish World in Push to Prevent Desecration of Jewish Cemetery

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Tens of Jewish organizations from across the globe have rallied to protest a proposed plan to build a conference center on the 500-year old Shnipishok Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.

The Lithuanian Government, consistent with international opposition to Antisemitism, nixed the 2021 budget allocation for conference center development. The move has been hailed as a win for human rights and a victory for those fighting the battle against rampant Antisemitism. A broad spectrum of international organizations commended the Lithuanian government on their decision.

Several other alternative plans are on the back-burner, including the development of the proposed conference center at another location. Separately, a plan to restore the cemetery to its former glory and to give the Sports Palace edifice an external makeover, is in the works.

Turto bankos, the lead developer in the controversial plan to build the conference conference has dug in its heals in favor of the initiative to desecrate the Jewish cemetery. The bank has argued that the construction will be supervised by a Jewish interest group, (the CPJCE), to ensure that there is no violation of Jewish law. However, in 2020 Chief Rabbi Pinchus Goldschmidt on behalf of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) clarified the International Jewish communities position by ruling that the CPJCE is prohibited from representing any Jewish community. This has effectively invalidated any agreement which a party may have made to sanction the desecration.

Many Seimas members and councilors in the Vilnius City Council are against the conference center development. They are concerned about protecting the cemetery from defilement and preventing any violation of Jewish laws.

However, Chairman of the Save Vilna Coalition, Mr Dov Fried recently expressed concern about those politicians who are acting in small political pockets trying to resuscitate the conference center plan. "Elements within the City Council and Government who are die-hard Antisemites still trying to tout the plan. It's very disturbing," he said.

The controversy is set for a show down later this year in a court battle in a class action law suit by descendants of the over 50,000 Jews who are buried in the cemetery. The court action is being led by plaintiff, Itzik Pines, an attempt to prevent the Turto bankas from desecrating the graves. The court procedure has been indefinitely remanded due to the Covid pandemic and consequential lockdowns.

Recently, the LRT, a main stream Lithuanian media platform broadcasted a documentary on the Shnipishok saga. A summary of the main players in the unfolding story can be viewed and heard in a separate post.

An online poll in which over 7,000 participated showed that 94% disagreed with the conference center proposal, on the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is also the location where the world renowned scholar, the Vilna Gaon was initially buried.

A partial list of the Jewish organizations who have actively expressed their opposition to the conference center development of the Shnipishok cemetery in Vilnius is listed below:

  1. Conference of European Rabbis

  2. Moetzas Gedolei HaTorah of America (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudath Israel of America

  3. Orthodox Union

  4. New York Board of Rabbis

  5. Foreign Minister of Israel Yair Lapid and Israel Knesset Members

  6. Chief Rabbi of Israel - Rabbi David Lau

  7. Former Israel’s Minister of Interior - Rabbi Aryeh Deri

  8. Court Order by Israeli Rabbinical Court

  9. Office of the Chief Rabbi of Israel

  10. Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (together with 45 Human Rights Organizations

  11. Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada

  12. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky

  13. Malcolm Hoenlein (Executive Vice Chair Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations)

  14. National Association of Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society)

  15. Coalition of American-Lithuanian Rabbis

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