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Help Save the Old Jewish Cemetery in Vilna
An important message from Dr. Shnayer Leiman
 
 
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Jan 10, 2017 -- Dear Friend:

I don't ordinarily get involved in signing petitions, but this is a matter that cries out for protest against the massive desecration that is about to take place.

I'm sure you know that the Lithuanian government has announced plans to build a new convention center over the Old Jewish Cemetery of Vilna. Although the Vilna Gaon's remains were removed from the Old Jewish Cemetery, the remains of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews are still buried in the Old Jewish cemetery. These include the remains of some of the greatest rabbis, Jewish martyrs, and pious women through the centuries, including R. Moshe Rivkes (d. 1671-2), author of the Be'er Ha-Golah on the Shulhan Arukh; R. Zelmele (i.e., R. Shlomo Zalman, d. 1788), brother of R. Hayyim of Volozhin and favorite disciple of the Vilna Gaon; R. Shmuel b. R. Avigdor (d. 1793), last Chief Rabbi of Vilna; R. Avraham b. Ha-Gra (d. 1809) ; the Ger Zedek of Vilna (d. 1749), whose remains were not removed from the Old Jewish cemetery (despite claims otherwise); and Traina (date of death unknown), mother of the Vilna Gaon; Chanah, first wife of the Vilna Gaon (d. 1782); and Gitel, second wife of the Vilna Gaon, who apparently outlived the Gaon (precise date of death unknown). Virtually every Jew who died in Vilna before the year 1831 was, in fact, buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The petition does not call for the Lithuanian government to cancel plans for building a new convention center (funded largely by the EU). It simply asks that it be built at a different location in Vilnius - which can easily be done.

A wonderful Vilna resident, Ruta Bloshtein, a shomer Shabbos woman who bakes challah for members of the Vilna kehillah every erev Shabbos, has taken upon herself the responsibility of spearheading this write-in campaign. She started some three weeks ago and has about 250 signatories so far. She needs at least 1000 signatures; if she doesn't get them it will be a Chillul Ha-Shem even beyond the destruction of the Jewish cemetery itself. It will be a signal to the Lithuanian government that Jews neither care nor count. If she gets 3000 signatures, the political authorities will have little choice but to take the petition into account before making any hasty decision. She needs, and deserves, our help.

The two key Rabbonim in Lithuania today, Rabbi Krelin (Chief Rabbi of Lithuania) and Rabbi Krinsky (head of Chabad) are among the first 250 signatories. It seems to me this is a case of meit mitzvah in more ways than one. Sefer Chasidim, ยง261 (ed. Margulies, p. 225) reads:" You should love mitzvos that have similar status to that of an abandoned corpse that no one attends to (and whose burial is obligatory on whoever finds it). Should you see a mitzvah that is denigrated, or a portion of Torah that is neglected, make a point of [doing the mitzvah and] studying the Torah that is neglected. Should you see the members of your community studying the Order of Mo'ed [the laws of the Festivals] and the order of Nashim [the laws pertaining to women], to the neglect of the other Orders, make sure that you study the Order of Kodoshim [the laws pertaining to sacred matters relating to the Temple sacrifices and service]. Should you see that no one concerns himself with the study of the talmudic tractate Mo'ed Katan, or the talmudic chapter Mi Shemeso [the third chapter of tractate Berakhos], make sure that you study them. Your reward will be great, equal to that of all the others, for all these are samples of an abandoned corpse whose burial is obligatory on the one who finds it."

All one needs to do is to click on https://www.change.org/p/hon-dalia-grybauskaite-please-move-new-vilnius-convention-center-project-away-from-the-old-jewish-cemetery.

Please share with others so that they too can participate in this mitzvah. It is not a time to stand idly by.

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