As previously reported here, Baltimore native Chaya Fried (nee Kronglas) and her husband, Dov, have been actively advocating to protect the Snipiskes Cemetery of Vilna, where 50,000 orthodox Jews were buried between the 1400s and 1831, including the Vilna Gaon. Their battle was against efforts to turn the cemetery into a source of business revenue for the local non-Jewish community, which would desecrate the graves and violate Jewish law.

The efforts against the cemetery were contrary to myriad of American legislation and agreements, including a signed agreement between the U.S. and Lithuanian governments in 2002 that would provide protection for the cemetery, and the 2014 U.S. Protection of Cemeteries Act that mandates the protection of cemeteries abroad, like the Jewish cemetery in Vilna, under the banner of religious freedom.

The U.S. government undertook the responsibility of protection of such cemeteries because the Holocaust decimated the community in whose care the preservation of the cemetery would have been entrusted; 97% of Lithuanian Jewry was murdered or forced to flee their homes.  

For several years, there has not been a united approach by the local Jewish community in Lithuania and the international Orthodox Jewish community to protect and preserve the cemetery. However, just this week, the Chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Faina Kukliansky, sent a letter to Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, stating her interest to “restore Lithuania’s religious heritage for the sake of the international Jewish community.”

In that letter, she specifically notes that with regards to the challenges of maintaining historical burial grounds, she welcomes sharing the responsibility of decisions “by granting an effective partnership role in decision-making on these matters to a rabbinic representative of the Conference of European Rabbis [CER]…It is my intention to consistently include the CER and its rabbinic representative in decisions on all such matters.”

This is tremendous news for those working to protect and preserve the cemetery in accordance with Jewish law.