Excavating Vilnius’s Great Synagogue

Sept. 3 2021

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

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada