Image 3 January 2022

Vilnius Jewish Public Library becomes part of the National Library

On 1 January 2022, a decision of the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania came into effect whereby the Vilnius Jewish Public Library was handed over to the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania. The Vilnius Jewish Public Library will operate as a separate unit of the National Library.

The library has been founded on the initiative of book collector Wyman Brent who donated a collection of around 5,000 books and documents to Lithuania. It took Brent seven years to build the impressive collection, which mostly included books, videos and audio recordings. The project for the establishment of the Vilnius Jewish Library was included in the Lithuanian Government’s Action Plan 2011 for Commemorating the Year of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Jewish Public Library, located on Gediminas Avenue, originally started its existence as a structural subdivision of the Vilnius County Adomas Mickevičius Library.

The library was officially opened on 16 December 2011 and on 1 February 2012 it began serving the general public. The primary goal of the library is to build a literature and documentary collection on Jewish culture, history, science and art, and to serve as a public space for the implementation of the initiatives aimed at promoting cultural diversity and cultural dialogue. The library holds exhibitions, book launch events, meetings, educational and cultural events. Special attention is paid to new Jewish literature that has links to Litvak culture and tradition.

In 2013, the Vilnius Jewish Public Library established a charity and support foundation to carry out independent cultural activities and implement projects. Its most prominent projects include the Jewish Culture Days in Žagarė, the publishing of the magazine Brasta, and the publishing of Avrom Suckever’s poetry collection Kapo vaikas, among others. In 2015, a Jewish theatre was established in Vilnius. Its first production was the video project titled “Fly Me to the Moon” featuring Arkadijus Vinokuras, Basia Broches and Rimas Morkūnas. On 28 December 2021, a play titled “Buvo buvo Vilnius” based on Abraomas Karpinovičius’s short stories premièred in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Jewish Library.

The library’s book collection is growing steadily and currently includes around 10,000 copies of books. Donations still account for the majority of the collection’s additions. Žilvinas Beliauskas, director of the Jewish Library, said that there are a lot of people, especially in foreign countries, who want to donate, but there are some issues with regard to covering the shipping costs and customs clearance. Book donations come from both book authors and publishing houses. This is how the personal collections of Irena Veisaitė, Fira Abramson, Izraelis Lempertas, and Solomonas Atamukas were collected. A particularly large collection (consisting of more than 800 items) came from San Francisco, U.S. It was donated in 2019 by retired Rabbi Moshe Lewin having Litvak roots. The collection includes works of literature on religion, philosophy, arts, and history, books on Yiddish culture, and Jewish religious texts. The rabbi had collected it over a period of 60 years.

The Jewish Library’s collection of books and other documents and the premises located at 24-9 Gediminas Avenue, Vilnius, have been transferred into the possession of the National Library in accordance with the procedure established by laws. The Jewish Library will continue to operate at this address as a separate unit, and it will continue to host initiatives aimed at promoting cultural diversity and cultural dialogue including exhibitions, book launch events, meetings, and other educational and cultural events.

The National Library also operates the Judaica Research Centre which focuses on the exploration, preservation and active research-based dissemination of Jewish cultural and documentary heritage. The joint activities of the Judaica Research Centre and the Jewish Library will help to popularize Jewish literature and reading culture more effectively both at the national and international level, promote inter-cultural cooperation between Vilnius communities and strengthen the social cohesion of the society. The Jewish library will now gain access to the technological, methodological and administrative infrastructure of the National Library, which will ensure the continuity, cost-efficiency and quality of the library’s services. Becoming part of the National Library will facilitate the continuation of the tradition of the first Jewish library of providing all members of the public with access to Jewish cultural heritage and knowledge.

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The historical traditions of the Jewish Public Library in Vilnius date back to the late 19th century, when Jewish patron Matas Strašunas donated his entire personal library for establishing the first public library of the Jewish community.