Travel to the Past and Present
The History Eastern European Jewry
We are pleased to introduce Jewish travel in Eastern Europe, comprising of journeys back into the highs and lows of Jewish history combined with general sightseeing and interaction with the present-day vibrant Jewish communities. The tours seek to portray the Jewish history of each particular city or shtetl in the context of the history of the region. The tours cover vast areas that were inhabited by numerous Jews before the Holocaust. Most of the land once belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, known as Litvakland (Litvak – a Lithuanian Jew). Today on the territory of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania its successors are situated – the modern states of Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia and north-eastern Poland.
The first Jews arrived to this region between the 13th and 14th century. At that time the largest Jewish communities were in Brest, Trakai and Grodno. Later Vilnius (Vilna) evolved into the country’s greatest Jewish community, especially after the lifetime of the Gaon of Vilna, when the city was reputed to be Yerushalaim d’Lita, the Lithuanian Jerusalem, one of the most important centres of the Jewish culture, education and scholarship. Active Jewish communities existed not only in the cities, but also in the small settlements, shtetls, throughout Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus. In the early 20th century Jews constituted a remarkable part of the population of all these countries. The Great Vilna Synagogue, the world famous Yeshivas of Volozhin, Mir, Novardok, and Radin in Belarus, Slobodka, Telz, Ponevezh in Lithuania, the great rabbis of Lithuania and Latvia, the Romm family Press, the Jewish Academic Institute (YIVO), outstanding historians, philosophers, writers and poets, numerous newspapers and magazines in Hebrew and Yiddish, brought honour to Lithuanian Jewry all over the world. Despite all the tragic losses of WWII, today the Jewish communities of the new independent states have great vitality and active cultural and educational institutions. The last outstanding example of a revived Jewish community was the construction of the newest Synagogue in Tallinn in 2007.
Tailor-Made Tours to Lithuania
We handle tours to Lithuania and Latvia, as well as Belarus, Estonia, Poland and Russia offering tailored itineraries for groups and study missions as well as personalised tours for individuals. The aim is to turn heritage tours into a real traveller’s seminar by including lectures on remarkable events, outstanding personalities and other issues concerned with the history of East European Jewry. We can also assist people with their genealogical research.
Jewish Roots Tour of Lithuania
Vilnius – Ukmerge – Panevezys
Arrival in Vilnius. Visit Ponar, a small settlement close to Vilnius, the massacre place of thousands of Jews during World War II. After paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust return to Vilnius. Visit the Jewish State Museum and see its exhibitions of Jewish life throughout the ages. Visit the old campus of Vilnius University founded in 1579. Afternoon departure to Ukmerge and Panevezys. A short tour of Ukmerge, once an active center of Jewish life in Lithuania. Late afternoon arrival in Panevezys.
Panevezys – Siauliai – Telsiai – Plunge – Palanga – Klaipeda
Morning tour of Paneveys (Ponevezh), including the building of the former world famous Ponevezh Yeshiva, Synagogue, the Jewish ghetto, common grave of the Holocaust victims in the outskirts of the city. Sightseeing tour of Siauliai (Shavli) and a meeting with the members of the Jewish community. Drive to Telsiai (Telz) through the Hill of Crosses, a unique site of the Catholic pilgrimage. In Telsiai visit the former renowned Telz Yeshiva and other sites of the town. Visit Plunge – to meet Yaacov Bunka, the only Jew left in Plunge, a folk-crafts sculptor carving wooden pieces for the Jewish sites of the area. Afternoon departure to Palanga – a popular resort on the Baltic Sea, famous for its mile-long beaches and its beautiful Botanical Park surrounding an interesting Amber Museum. Sightseeing of the Old Town of Klaipeda (Memel), with its distinctive German-influenced medieval architecture.
Klaipeda – Nida – Kaunas
Morning drive to Nida on the Curonian Spit. En route stop at Juodkrante for a walk on the Hill of Witches, a vivid example of Lithuanian wooden folk sculptures. Visit Nida, a lovely place with its 60 meter-high sand dunes, Thomas Mann summerhouse and another Amber Gallery. Departure for Kaunas (Kovna), the interim capital of pre-war Lithuania. Walking in the Old Town with its art galleries and cosy cafes. A.Mapu and L. Zamenhoff streets. The pre-war Jewish Real and Schvabe gymnasiums. At night people of Kaunas meet on Laisves aleja, the boulevard for pedestrians, Kaunas’ main street.
Morning tour of Slobodka (Vilijampole), a Jewish suburb of pre-war Kaunas and the site of the ghetto during WWII. The Great Action at Demokratu street. The old Jewish cemetery. The Seventh and the Ninth Forts – the murder sites of thousands of Jews from Lithuania, France and Germany. The Holocaust museum and the Memorial of the Ninth Fort. The Synagogue and the Children’s Memorial in its courtyard. Afternoon visit to the Gallery of M.K. Ciurlionis, the outstanding Lithuanian artist and composer, Devil’s Museum with a great collection of devils statuettes. In the evening meeting with the members of the Jewish community.
Kaunas – Rumsiskes – Alytus – Druskininkai – Vilnius
Morning departure to Rumsiskes Open Air Ethnographic Museum, where the visitors find themselves in the various villages of the Lithuanian regions of the XIX c. Visit Alytus, a town on the river of Nemunas to see the Vidzgiris forest with an impressive memorial in honour of the victims of Nazism. Tour to Druskininkai, a health resort on the river of Nemunas and native town of the famous sculptor Jacques Lipshitz. On the way to Vilnius visit the former partisan base in the Rudnicki forest, where Aba Kovner and other Vilna ghetto prisoners fought against the Nazis. Tonight attend Friday services at Vilna Synagogue followed by Kabalat Shabbat and the Jewish community Center.
City tour of Vilnius, including Gediminas castle with a wonderful panoramic view of the city, the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace and the jewels of 16-17 century Gothic and Baroque architecture. A walking tour in the medieval Jewish quarter, its lanes and courtyards, the history and sad fate of the Great Vilna Synagogue, the personality of the Gaon of Vilna, the greatest spiritual figure in Jewish history, the site of the famous Strashun library. Building of the world renowned Jewish printing houses ”Widow and Brothers Romm”. The Small and the Large ghettos of the period of WWII, where more than forty thousand of Vilna Jews were concentrated, the building of the Judenrat on Rudninku street, the activities of the F.P.O. – the United Partisan Organisation under the leadership of Itzik Vitenberg and Aba Kovner.
Vilnius – Trakai – Vilnius
Visit to the Jewish cemetery of Vilnius. The Graves of the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Hayim-Oyzer Grodzenski, a spiritual leader of Vilna Jewry before the war, Shmuel Yosef Finn – famous historian, author of ”Kiryah Neemanah”, the first book of the history of Vilna Jews and many others. Visit to the ”Cheap Houses” built in 1898 by Baron Hirsch for the poor Jewish families who lost their dwelling after the great flood. Tour of Trakai, the ancient capital and the residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, located 28 km from Vilnius, famous for its 14th century insular castle with a museum of Lithuanian history. The Karaite museum and the story of this small ethnic group (confessing Judaism) brought by Vytautas the Great from Crimea 600 years ago. (Transfer to the airport for the return flight).