Last evening I had the privilege of attending the opening of a photo exhibit titled "Sounds of Silence: Traces of Jewish Life in Lithuania". The photos document, or perhaps transfigure, the architectural remnants of Jewish culture in Lithuania.
The event was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the Queens College Program in Jewish Studies. Speakers included William P. Kelly, President of Graduate Center, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis and Queens College Professor of Jewish Studies, Evan Zimroth.
Dr. Zimroth began by describing the toll that the Holocaust had taken on Lithuanian Jews (96% of the population was wiped out). She ended with anecdotes taken from her relationships with Lithuanian officials in the context of educating and sensitizing them to Judaism and the Jewish heritage of their country.After the program I had the opportunity to greet Mr. Ažubalis and speak with him about Our Lady of Vilnius Church, aka Aušros Vartų bažnyčią. He was kind, but not very encouraging. I let him know what the church means to me as a second generation American of Lithuanian ancestry. I told him that there were lots like me, with and without Lithuanian surnames, that hungered to be re-united with a dimly remembered heritage but had resigned themselves to the lack of opportunity.
What I did not get to tell him was that the parish presented an opportunity to live the culture. Culture includes the language, the literature, the arts and the crafts, but it is subtle and much more than the sum of its parts. It is something that we primarily live and only later study and present.
This morning I awoke after a night of processing in my dreams the evocative images I had seen and the complexities of relationship between the Lithuanian Christians and the Litvaks. I thought of how Dr. Zimroth had exactly the perfect background to take on this task of education, building bridges between cultures, between the living and the dead, between the past and the future.