Vilnius Congratulates Israel on the Occasion of Its 70th Independence Day

The tradition which was born in the capital city of Lithuania continues: on 18 April, after the sunset, three central bridges of Vilnius will be illuminated in blue – in this way Vilnius city dwellers annually extend their symbolic congratulations to an amiable nation on the occasion of its 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state. The bridges will be illuminated from sunrise to sunset until 19 April.

“Israel is an example of courage and perseverance to all the countries and nations of the world. The relationship between Vilnius and Israel as well as its people is particularly well-defined and deep. Jewish heritage is still living in the capital of Lithuania – traces of the Jewish culture, architecture, art and even gastronomy can be easily found with every step made in the old part of the city; for this reason, I am delighted to congratulate our friend – the State of Israel – on this significant occassion,“ Remigijus Šimašius, Mayor of the capital city of Lithuania, said.

Interestingly, the idea of the national flag of Israel was proposed by the Lithuanian Jewish David Wolffsohn during the first Zionist Congress in 1897.  The flag of Israel was officially approved in 1948.

The day before the celebration of independence, from 17 April to late 18 April, the national mourning is announced to commemorate all the victims of terror and all those who lost their lives for Israel.  On this day, some television stations stop broadcasting programmes,  other channels choose to broadcast films about those who perished, radio stations are turned down, sirens can be heard in cities in memoriam of victims, people visit cemeteries. However, on 18 April, after the sunset, the mourning is turned into the celebration of the Independence Day which lasts until the early morning of 19 April.

Vilnius has long been known as centre of traditional Jewish culture. In the 17th century, as many as 40 prominent rabbis lived in Vilnius, though in total there were only around 2,500 Jews. People say that all 333 wisest men (sages) knew the entire Talmud by heart. There were more than 110 synagogues in Vilnius, and Jews from all over the world would come to Vilnius to study the holy writings. Presently, there is one choral synagogue operating in Vilnius on Pylimo Street and the other one which is on Gėlių Street is being restored.

In the 18th century, one of the most prominent Jewish scientist Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, also called the Vilna Gaon, lived in Vilnius. Activities of this famous scientist made Vilnius known as the spiritual and scientific centre. Vilnius was called the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. To commemorate this prominent scientist, a memorial sculpture designed by the sculptors Kazimieras Valaitis and Mindaugas Šnipas and a memorial board were placed in the backyard of the building at Žydų g. 5, in which the scientist lived, in 1997.

Last year, Vilnius city municipality took action and put effort to make sure that Jewish tombs, which were used for construction in the Soviet period, be shown due respect – monumental stones which were forgotten and abandoned for decades were brought to the territory of the Old Jewish Cemetery on Olandų Street and nearby the former Palace of Sports. The fragments of monuments are now being evaluated and following the completion of corresponding projects, that are now being drafted or run, will be put in the designated places of remembrance in the Old Jewish Cemetery.

Vilnius is also concerned about the Great Synagogue of the city – the Municipality has been working with the local and global Jewish community so as to include it in the list of heritage as a respectable and worthy place of worship. Based on a joint agreement, international creative workshop will be organised for students this autumn and archaeological explorations will be continued.

Vilnius Loves Israel!