Excavating the Great Synagogue of Vilnius

Aug. 13 2015

The once-magnificent Great Synagogue of Vilna (Vilnius) was partially destroyed by the Germans during World War II; the Soviet demolished the rest of it in 1957. Now a group of archaeologists is trying to recover what remains. Toby Tabachnick writes:

Now mostly Catholic, Vilnius was once called the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and was home to about 60,000 Jews, constituting about 30 percent of the city’s total population. The Nazis invaded Vilnius on June 24, 1941, and transported its Jews to the nearby forest of Ponary, where they were all murdered by firing squad. . . .

The team [of archaeologists] is creating plans of sub-surface locations of the remains of the Great Synagogue. . . . While housing and a school now sit on the site, some of the synagogue’s original structure remains below the surface. . . .

After as much information as possible can be obtained about the Great Synagogue, [the archaeologists’] goal is to have local authorities, including its current small Jewish community, erect either a memorial or a museum. It is unlikely the Great Synagogue will be rebuilt for use as a synagogue.

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More about: Archaeology, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Lithuania, Soviet Union, Vilna

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics