Excavating Vilnius’s Great Synagogue

Over the past six years, a joint Israeli and Lithuanian archaeological team has made strides in uncovering the main synagogue in the city Jews called Vilna, along with the courtyard or shulhoyf that surrounded it, which, in typical East European fashion, included numerous smaller houses of prayer and study, along with other communal buildings. Livia Gershon report on their findings:

Vilnius was once known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.” Built in the 17th century, the great synagogue was part of a large Jewish center that included schools, ritual baths, prayer halls, and a community council. The building itself was constructed with its first floor well below street level in deference to a rule that synagogues couldn’t be built higher than churches. This allowed the structure to appear only three stories tall when, in fact, its inside “soared to over five stories,” notes the Vilna Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf Research Project on its website.

Though Poland had seized control of Vilnius, [which from 1793 to 1915 had been part of Russia], during the interwar period, it ceded the city and surrounding area back to Lithuania in October 1939, shortly after the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland began. Per the United States Holocaust Museum, the city was then home to about 55,000 Jews, who represented more than a quarter of the total population.

Germany’s occupation of Vilnius began on June 24, 1941. Nazi forces pushed the city’s Jews into two ghettos and began mass killing operations shortly thereafter. By the end of the year, the Germans had massacred about 40,000 Jews at a killing site established in Ponary forest, outside Vilnius.

The Soviet Union liberated the city in 1944. After the war ended, Soviet authorities leveled the partially destroyed synagogue and built a school atop its ruins.

Read more at Smithsonian

More about: East European Jewry, Lithuania, Synagogue, Synagogues

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University