The newly created map guides users across the footsteps of Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania. It includes the most exciting and historically significant Jewish streets, synagogues, memorials, and other lesser-explored places ‒ more than 200 objects in total. Every object on the website has a detailed description with photos, while a virtual map will help users plan their Jewish heritage-themed trips around the country.
The website also features five thematic routes focusing on Famous Litvaks, Shtetls and Their Stories, Lithuania’s Wooden Synagogues, Litvak Industrial Heritage and Two Capitals ‒ a path guiding through Litvak personalities in Vilnius and Kaunas.
Arturas Taicas, the chairman of Jewish Cultural Heritage Road Association, an organization behind the online map project, says that the past few years saw a significant increase in interest in Lithuania’s Jewish heritage in and beyond the country.
For instance, the Lithuanian parliament designated 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of Jews of Lithuania, resulting in dozens of events, conferences, cultural, educational and commemoration activities last year, actualizing the Jewish history in Lithuania and fostering both local and international travel despite the Covid pandemic.
“Jewish history in Lithuania is both rich and interesting, and at the same time difficult and tragic. Recently, there has been a lot of progress in restoring numerous Jewish heritage sites across the country. A renovated wooden synagogue in Pakruojis in Northern Lithuania received more than 25,000 visitors over the past few years. Such a number considered unprecedented a decade ago. The interest in Lithuania’s Jewish heritage and legacy has been on a strong upwards trend,”A. Taicas said.
“However, we realized that information about Lithuania’s Jewish sites of interest was fragmented, and there was no internet gateway to have it systemized and conveyed in a user-friendly way. And so we hope that the Jewish Heritage Lithuania map will facilitate one’s meaningful and rewarding itinerary both from behind the computer screen and physically once the Covid restrictions are off.”
The digital Jewish Heritage project was warmly welcomed by Yossef Levy, Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania.
“Walking in today’s Vilnius and Lithuania is an exciting journey to the wonderful Jewish world which flourished all over Lithuania. But, unfortunately, it was almost destroyed. When we walk into this open history book, we see the endless shtetls and the urban Jewish life, Talmudic studies and modern art, Yiddish poetry and lost market voices. It is our duty to the past, which can be a great adventure. I warmly recommend it,”Y. Levy said.
Indre Slyziute, a Senior Markets Expert at Lithuania Travel, a tourism development agency, under the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, says that Jewish heritage has always been a crucial Lithuanian tourism product for Israeli travellers. Particularly those with Lithuanian roots and an interest in their grandparents’ homeland, cultural and historical legacy.
“Tourist flows from Israel have nearly doubled for the past four years before the pandemic, and Lithuania received more than 30,000 visitors from Israel in 2019. We see Israel as an already important market with solid further growth potential. So Jewish Heritage Lithuania project should both help spread the knowledge about Lithuania’s Jewish legacy and facilitate planning one’s rich and rewarding travel itineraries,”I. Slyziute said.