The Jewish Community of Lithuania temporarily closed the only functioning synagogue of the capital Vilnius, citing security issues that may be connected to a debate about the honouring of Nazi collaborators.
“The Lithuanian Jewish Community has received threatening telephone calls and letters in recent days,” Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the community, wrote in a statement Tuesday. It was a “painful but unavoidable decision” to close Choral Synagogue in Vilnius along with the headquarters of the Jewish community, which is also a Jewish community centre.
The shutdowns are without precedent in Lithuania since its independence from Russia in 1990.
Last month Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius ordered the removal of a controversial plaque in central Vilnius that honoured Jonas Noreika, a collaborator with Nazi authorities, allegedly also in the murder of local Jews, who is celebrated posthumously in Lithuania as a hero for fighting communism.
The municipality last month also voted to rename a street that had been named for another collaborator, Kazys Škirpa, who called for Jews to be driven out of Lithuania. The decisions provoked protests and outrage in nationalist circles.
Antisemitic attacks are very rare in Lithuania.
The Choral Synagogue has been at the centre of several controversies and fights between Kukliansky’s community and the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to the country, Rabbi Sholem Ber Krinsky, and his congregants.
Following the closure the European Jewish Congress (EJC) called on Lithuania to take stronger measures to protect the community.
“It is inconceivable that the Jewish community feels increasingly threatened and is not receiving the requisite security measures to allow it to go about its regular existence,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the EJC said.
“We call on the authorities to take all necessary measures to protect the Jewish community, including taking a tougher line against those that threaten it like neo-Nazis.”
“There should be no tolerance for hate and antisemitism, and we welcome the decision by the Vilnius authorities,” Dr. Kantor continued.
“However, the fact that it has ended in the Jewish community shuttering its institutions, including a synagogue, for the first time since the Second World War, should be an extremely ominous sign and should be added motivation for the government and law enforcement agencies to act strongly and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards antisemitism.”
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