While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (the Bimah).
Apart from discovering the pillars, the researchers have unveiled writings carved into the walls situated next to Bimah, a cellar containing 300 coins, a Mikva (ritual pool), and 16th-century tiles.

Two pillars were discovered during the archaeological research at the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius, Lithuania. Located next to the pulpit (the Bimah), the pillars mark one of the two most sacred parts of the former Jewish cultural and religious center in the region

On July 19, Vilnius, Lithuania. Archaeological research on the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna complex, once one of the most important centers of Jewish religion and culture in the region, delighted the historians with significant findings. While excavating the premises of the Synagogue in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (the Bimah).

 “The discovery of the pillars is a great moment for us because we have found one of the two most sacred parts of the building. These pillars used to be 9 metres tall, and were located at a special place in the Synagogue – exactly where rabbis were standing during the service,” said Dr. Jon Seligman, the head of the research team. “The pillars were recognized by using the photos of the synagogue. Although we were hoping to find them, we experienced great joy when finally stumbling upon them”.

Apart from discovering the pillars, the researchers have unveiled writings carved into the walls situated next to Bimah, a cellar containing 300 coins, a Mikva (ritual pool), and 16th-century tiles. The writings refer to the Old Testament, with one of them being a citation from the Book of Genesis, while others are recounting various lines from religious hymns. The coins, on the other hand, vary in age: some of them date back to the 17th century, while others were made sometime around the Synagogue was destroyed.

The Great Synagogue of Vilna, before it was destroyed, was a centre of Jewish culture and religion on a European scale. Even though there are only remains of the Synagogue left today, it used to be the principal prayer home to the extensive Jewish community Vilnius once boasted. Due to a thriving Jewish community in the city, including Vilna Gaon and other prominent thought leaders, Vilnius, or Vilna in Hebrew, was known as “Jerusalem of the North.”


Volunteers are trying to record the 250-year history of Jews in south Wales before it is too late, they say.

A century ago, there were 6,000 Jewish people in Wales, with the figure now in the hundreds and many aged 80 or over.

The Jewish History Association of South Wales (JHASW) has crowdfunded £3,000 towards an archive.

"Of the 72 people we've interviewed since August 2017, seven of them have already died and the average age of the others is 85," said Klavdija Erzen.

"So it's vital we create a permanent record of their lives in Wales."

Ms Erzen, who is JHASW's project manager on the scheme, explained "time is of the essence".

A mobile exhibition of 72 oral histories and 6,000 images is currently touring Wales.

But volunteers want to create a more lasting legacy, which could cost £60,000 to place online and at museums.

It is hoped Heritage Lottery Fund money could help cover this and "train and coordinate volunteers to comb museums and libraries across Wales", according to Ms Erzen.

He explained that finding records and accounts of Jewish people could be difficult because they generally "aren't filed as such".

South Wales' first Jewish community was established in Swansea in the 18th Century, with a plot of land allocated for a Jewish cemetery in 1768.

The Industrial Revolution attracted workers from Russia and other areas of eastern Europe.

By the late 19th Century there were also thriving communities in Merthyr Tydfil, Brynmawr, Aberdare and Pontypridd.

In the 1940s, so many Jewish workers had flocked to support the war effort that the predominant languages heard on Treforest Industrial Estate, Rhondda Cynon Taff, were Polish, German and Czech.

Jewish businesses in Pontypridd became so successful that the town's high street was colloquially known as "Jewish Street".

Yet by 1999, Merthyr Tydfil's once 400-strong community had disappeared altogether when George Black, known as "The Last Jew in Merthyr", died aged 82.

Ms Erzen said the reasons for the decline are complicated.

"Partly it's a success story," she said. "The first-generation immigrants worked as labourers and hawkers, but they wanted their children to move into the professions, for which they had to move away.

"Also, in common with many other groups, the decline of heavy industry in south Wales forced Jewish people to look elsewhere for work."

This created a "snowball effect", where more and more people moved away, leading to the closure of synagogues and community services.

Ms Erzen added: "Today there are no Jewish schools or kosher facilities like butchers and delicatessens in Wales.

"Food has to be delivered from London every fortnight."

f the grant is successful, it is hoped Bangor University researchers will help create a walking trail around Cardiff - similar to one in north Wales.

There are also plans to research names of Holocaust victims listed on a tablet at the Cardiff Reform Synagogue.

"We have managed to collect memories from non-Jewish people too, telling us what the communities and businesses meant to them," Ms Erzen added.

"It would be easy to dwell on the stories of anti-Semitism, but I think that would overlook the many hundreds of positive experiences, and the immense Jewish contribution to Welsh culture, sport, enterprise and life in general."

The JHASW mobile exhibition is touring Wales until the end of September. --BBCi


h. --BBCi

Israel has begun demolishing a cluster of Palestinian homes it says were built illegally too close to the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank.

Security forces moved in to Sur Baher, on the edge of East Jerusalem, to tear down buildings said to house 17 people.

Residents said they had been given permits to build by the Palestinian Authority, and accused Israel of an attempt to grab West Bank land.  But Israel's Supreme Court ruled that they had violated a construction ban.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and later effectively annexed East Jerusalem. Under international law, both areas are considered to be occupied territory, though Israel disputes this.

Some 700 Israeli police officers and 200 soldiers were involved in Monday's operation in the village of Wadi Hummus, on the edge of Sur Baher.  They moved in at about 04:00 (01:00 GMT) along with excavators, which began tearing down the 10 buildings the UN says were earmarked for demolition.

Nine of the Palestinians who have been displaced are refugees, including five children, according to the UN. Another 350 people who owned homes in buildings that were unoccupied or under construction are also affected.

One of the residents, Ismail Abadiyeh, told AFP news agency his family would be left "on the street".  Another man who owned an unfinished house said he was "losing everything".

"I had a permit to build from the Palestinian Authority. I thought I was doing the right thing," Fadi al-Wahash told Reuters news agency.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinians would complain to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about the "grave aggression".

"This is a continuation of the forced displacement of the people of Jerusalem from their homes and lands - a war crime and a crime against humanity," he added.  But Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel's Supreme Court had ruled that "the illegal construction constitutes a severe security threat".

"The court also ruled unequivocally that those who built houses in the area of the security fence, knew that building in that area was prohibited, and took the law into their own hands," he added.

UN officials warned that Israel's actions were "not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law".

"Among other things, the destruction of private property in occupied territory is only permissible where rendered absolutely necessary for military operations, which is not applicable. Furthermore, it results in forced evictions, and contributes to the risk of forcible transfer facing many Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," they said.

The European Union urged Israel to immediately halt the demolitions, saying they were the continuation of a policy that undermined the prospect for lasting peace.

The demolitions in Wadi Hummus are particularly controversial because the buildings are situated in part of the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority's (PA) jurisdiction but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier.

The barrier was built in and around the West Bank in the wake of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000. Israel says the barrier's purpose is to prevent infiltrations from the West Bank by Palestinian attackers, but Palestinians say it is a tool to take over occupied land.

In 2004, when the barrier was under construction, residents of Wadi Hummus asked the Israeli military to change its planned route so that the village was on the Israeli side of the fence.

They wanted to maintain the geographical integrity of Sur Bahir, most of which lies within the East Jerusalem municipal area, and preserve access to an area where additional residential construction could be carried out.

The barrier route was subsequently changed, but the PA continued to have authority over civil affairs in Wadi Hummus, including planning and zoning.

Permits for the buildings in the village were reportedly issued by the PA's planning ministry about 10 years ago. But in 2012, the Israeli military ordered a halt to the construction work because they were within 250m (820ft) of the barrier.

Lawyers for the residents argued at the Supreme Court that the Israeli military had no jurisdiction over the area, but the judges said in June that the buildings would "limit [military] operational freedom near the barrier and increase tensions with the local population".

"Such construction may also shelter terrorists or illegal residents among the civilian population, and allow terrorist operatives to smuggle weapons or sneak inside Israeli territory," they added. --BBCi


A wave of calls has flooded the office of Yad L'Achim in recent weeks in response to an Arabic-language film released by its "Shorashim" department on the eve of Shavuos. The video starred singer-poet Ziv Yechezkel, very well known in the Arab world, who turned to his viewers with the message: "One whose mother or grandmother is Jewish is himself a Jew… The Jewish people want to welcome you back with open arms."

Yad L'Achim established Shorashim in the wake of appeals from families whose children married Arabs many years ago and who now have descendants assimilated into Arab society, some even unaware that they are Jews. The unit reaches out to these lost Jews and helps connect them with their roots. Activities are conducted in Arabic, their most fluent language.

The department is headed by “Emir” who responds to requests for help, verifies the subject’s status as Jew with government agencies, and sets up partners to teach lost Jews about their heritage.

Today, the department is working with no less than 150 Jews who have discovered their Judaism.

The extraordinary film was distributed by Yad L'Achim via the Arab social media and spread like wildfire, garnering tens of thousands of views. It generated dozens of calls from individuals whose forebearers assimilated into the Muslim world who wanted to know if they were Jewish. Most of the queries came from Israeli Arabs or those living in Palestinian-controlled areas of Yehudah and Shomron, but some came from Arab countries, including Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon and from Yemen.

The caller from Yemen said: "We are a Jewish family that assimilated among Muslim Yemenites many years ago. Our family name is… we don't know anything about Judaism, but we are Jews. Help us."

The call from Jordan, on the other hand, was more forthright. "Is it possible for us to learn Torah? I want to learn about the holiday of Shavuos!" wrote “Salim”. When asked if his mother or grandmother was Jewish, he answered, "Yes! My mother’s mother…"

These days, the department is continuing to sift through full details of all those calling for help, to determine that they are Jews. Those whose Judaism has been verified join a virtual group where they learn more about their Jewish tradition and heritage.

Some of the 150 who have already made great strides are being sent sacred items and Jewish books.

Yad L'Achim reported that a sequel is being produced in response to the remarkable success of the first film.

Yossi Eliav, Director of Special Projects said, “We’re currently planning additional projects to reach lost Jews. We’re actively looking for partners who can share in this mission.”

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