At an event earlier this month, the director of the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in Vilnius presented the concept for a planned new branch of the museum that, if carried out, would create a multifunctional center devoted to the culture and achievements of Lithuanian Jews.
At the December 3 event Director Markas Zingeris described how the concept entailed the restoration of the museum’s building at Pylimo street No. 4, a building now largely empty that once housed the museum’s History Department and Gallery of the Righteous. Before World War II the building, which is connected to the Vilnius Jewish community building, served as the Tarbut Gymnasium, or high school.
According to the Vilnius Jewish Community’s web site:
Zingeris’s plan includes showcasing famous Litvaks who have contributed to culture and science and he presented a number of figures including Nobel Prize winners for inclusion. He emphasized the need to teach the Lithuanian public about Litvak achievements as part of their own history. He also had a map projected onto the overhead screen showing other Jewish cultural museums in Europe and spoke specifically about Vilnius’s place on “the Northern European Jewish route.”
According to the Museum’s web site the project, which has a budget of approximately $5 million, was originally slated for completed as early as 2017. It entails the “establishment of a multifunctional cultural center … preserving the Litvak cultural heritage and employing it creatively for the use of open society in all its rich dimensions.”
The budget includes “design and related services, reconstruction works, acquisition of respective equipment, installations and furniture, insurance of valuables, payroll expenses related to project administration.”
The project description states that the project objectives include:
— reconstruction of the facilities of the former Jewish gymnasium (Pylimo St. 4) without harming the historic context;
— adaptation of the reconstructed facilities for the centre to be able to host exhibitions and conferences, a library with a modern reading room, a bookstore, a cafe serving Jewish delicacies, art repositories and funds;
— expansion of the exhibited heritage to be displayed as museum valuables;
— development of a public relations strategy aimed at publicising CLCA by way of purposive dissemination of information.
Some elements within the Jewish community believe that rather than a new branch of the museum, the entire Vilna Gaon Museum should be overhauled to make it a more unified institution.
According to the report on the Jewish community web site, Jewish community chair Faina Kukliansky said, during discussions at the presentation, that
Vilnius needed a large central Jewish museum which would cover culture, the Holocaust, religion and all aspects of Jewish life in Lithuania. She also noted the proposed new center was in the same building as LJC headquarters and would need the same sort of renovation the LJC currently needs, including fixing the central boiler and radiators, presumably part of a shared central heating system.