VILNIUS - “On this brisk December day towards the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one, the City of Vilnius took another step towards restoring a part of its important Jewish heritage and past,” said Vilnius City Municipality in a statement, reports ELTA.
A ceremony attended by the mayor of the City of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, and the deputy minister of education, Svetlana Kauzoniene, marked the beginning of the reconstruction of the ORT Vilnius Shalom Aleichem Jewish School in Vilnius.
The school, currently located in another part of Vilnius, has 315 students and is growing in numbers.
“Vilnius was known far and wide as the Jerusalem of the North and was a center for Jewish culture and learning. World War II and the ensuing Soviet occupation of Lithuania almost entirely destroyed the Jewish population of Lithuania, as well as its cultural and educational centers. We need to restore that which was lost and destroyed.
“The Jewish community is now increasing in numbers and we hope that it will continue to grow and flourish. The new school will serve this growing community and will invite others from around the world to come to Lithuania to study, learn and take courses here,” said Mayor Zuokas.
The Shalom Aleichem School has its roots in Kaunas, where it was founded and named after the famed Jewish writer Solomas Rabinovicius, who went by the pseudonym of “Shalom Aleichem,” which translates as the traditional Jewish greeting of “Peace be with you.” The school was closed at the start of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941.
During the period of perestroika, the Shalom Aleichem center found its rebirth in Vilnius as a cultural center, and after Lithuanian re-established its independence in 1991, the center became a school and started teaching its first class of twenty children in 1991. This has risen to the current 315 students.
“We are very pleased with the new facilities that are located in such a beautiful part of Vilnius and are truly the gates to the center of the entire city. Our school will concentrate on innovations and incentives. We will be a place of pride for Lithuania and the educational system and all of the people of Vilnius,” stated Misha Jakobas, the director of the ORT Vilnius Shalom Aleicheim Jewish school.
The reconstruction costs for the school will be covered by a combination of funds from the ORT Foundation, the City of Vilnius and funds from the European Union.
Reconstruction work is expected to be completed by the Spring of 2015.