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Jewish Cultural Activists to Gather Next Week in USSR

May 16, 1989
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Jewish cultural activists from throughout the Soviet Union will meet in Riga, Latvia, next Sunday and Monday. It will be the first time in memory that such a national Jewish gathering has taken place in the Soviet Union.

The meeting was announced in off-hand fashion by Emmanuel Zinger, director of the Jewish Cultural Society of Lithuania, at a news conference convened jointly last week by the Workmen’s Circle and The Forward Association, publisher of the Yiddish newspaper.

Zinger, a 32-year-old Jewish cultural activist who sports a three-piece suit and speaks fluent Yiddish, was invited to New York by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which began in Vilna in 1925 and is now based here.

He was invited to YIVO by its executive director, Samuel Norich, who attended another landmark conference, the inaugural conference of the Jewish Cultural Society of Lithuania that took place March 5 in Vilna, now known as Vilnius.

Norich invited Zinger expressly so that the Vilnius scholar could study Yiddish literary manuscripts in the YIVO collections, many of which come from the Lithuanian capital.

A number of Jewish leaders from the United States and Israel will also attend the meeting in Riga. Among them will be Norich, who compared his visit to the Soviet Union in March with his last trip there in 1977.

“It’s another world” now, he said, shaking his head in disbelief.


Zinger, who gave a lecture at the Workmen’s Circle immediately following his news conference, spoke of the support the Vilnius Jewish community has received from non-Jewish Lithuanians, whose budding nationalism has allowed a revival of Jewish culture in a city once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The Jewish community of Vilnius received help in setting up its Jewish cultural center from the Lithuanian government and representatives from the Lithuanian Communist Party, who greeted its opening from a podium bearing a Star of David.

The Lithuanian Jewish cultural society, said Zinger, is a wide-ranging group drawing its membership from different political streams. “I myself am not a Communist,” he said, but there are Communists in the group, too, and there are even “those who feel insecure about extending themselves,” he said.

Zinger reported that Jewish cultural societies are registered and functioning in Riga and the Estonian capital of Tallinn, with the full cooperation of the local Communist parties.

The Latvian government is officially backing the Riga conference, he said.

Zinger, who spoke in Yiddish and was aided by an interpreter, told the group of journalists, including reporters from Tass and Moscow News, that before he left, Jews told him to urge American Jews to support both those who wish to continue Jewish culture in Vilnius and those who want to emigrate.

Zinger said the community needs support “for all cultural exhibits, high schools, kindergartens and theaters, which have begun to thrive.”

Zinger said that Jewish cemeteries were desperately in need of funds for restoration because of damage and decay wrought over the years.

He also said the Jewish Cultural Society of Lithuania would like to set up a Jewish printing press to begin publishing in Lithuania.

The Workmen’s Circle and The Jewish Forward Association also want to help this renaissance of Jewish culture, said William Stern, president of the association.

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