Lithuanian Jews, also called Litvaks, were among the most influential scholars, energetic businessmen, and skilled professionals in Europe prior to WWII. In Lithuania, Jewish secular and religious institutions flourished. With more than 100 synagogues, and some of the leading rabbinical schools of Europe, Vilnius was affectionately known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded in Vilnius and the Gaon of Vilna was an acknowledged and world-renowned Talmudist and scholar.
In nearby Latvia and Estonia, Jews also played important roles in the economic and intellectual life of their countries. Their Jewish communities flourished – with customs and culture impacted by German, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian influence and traditions. Over the years, such luminaries as Isaiah Berlin, Rav Kook, Mark Rothko, Louis Kahn, Abba Eban, and Amos Oz, emerged from Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian families.
Join scholar-in-residence and expert on Lithuanian Jewry, Professor Sid Leiman, on this first of many meaningful and fascinating trips we have planned. Our trip will begin in the picturesque city of Vilnius and continue through the countryside of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Among other places, we will visit Trakai, ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the charming city of Riga, a World Heritage Site; and Tallinn, an architectural wonder. Throughout the journey travelers enjoy good company, magnificent countryside and Dr. Leiman’s fascinating lectures which will provide invaluable context and insights.
Arrive in Vilnius, check in to the 5-star, deluxe Hotel Kempinski – superbly located in the City city center. Rest and relax. Late afternoon: (optional) walking tour of Cathedral Square and surrounding area.
Evening: Overview and Introduction by our scholar, Professor Sid Leiman, followed by an opportunity to get to know one another, Orientation, and Opening Dinner at our hotel (included).
City tour of Vilnius, including Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage site) with its main historical attributes: the Cathedrals, the Gothic Corner and Dawn Gate – one of the most important religious, historical and cultural monuments of the city.
Following lunch on our own, we will visit the State Jewish Museum. This small museum displays copies of diaries and handwritten notes about life in the ghetto as well as several special objects from the Great Synagogue that miraculously survived World War II.
Evening presentation by Professor Leiman: “Spiritual Resistance in the Vilna Ghetto: The Rabbis Daughter.” Dinner on our own.
Depart our hotel for Keidan (also known as Kedainiai), once an important Jewish Shtetl. Here, we will visit the Town synagogue and Museum, tour Old Town and have lunch (included).
Following lunch in Keidan, we will drive to Kaunus (also known as Kovno) and visit a Synagogue that was founded in 1871. Before the Holocaust, this radically designed, neo-Baroque, Synagogue was one of more than 35 synagogues and Jewish prayer houses in Kaunus. Though few Jews remain in Kaunus, the synagogue houses a stunning Torah ark and encapsulates the rich and famous history of Jewish Kovno. Before returning to Vilnius, stop at the “Ninth Fort.” Now a museum, it contains collections of historical artifacts related to both Soviet and Nazi atrocities.
This morning, we will board our coach and travel to Trakai – ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Here, we will tour historic Trakai Castle and visit the Karaite Ethnographic Museum- situated on a street dotted with picturesque wooden cottages. Many of these cottages were built by the Karaites, an ancient sect and offshoot of Judaism, whose descendants arrived in Trakai from the Crimea in the 15th century. Lunch in Trakai (included) before visiting Paneriai Forest (the site commemorated by a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust where over 100,000 victims were executed) before returning to Vilnius.
Evening presentation by Professor Leiman: “The Righteous Convert (Ger Tzedek) of Vilna: Real or Imaginary?” Dinner on our own.
This morning we will visit the Medieval Jewish quarter and ghetto and tour the Tolerance Museum before returning to our hotel in time for lunch on our own.
Afternoon free for exploring Vilnius on our own and/or shopping.
Evening: Special guest lecture by Dovid Katz, PhD. An American-born, Vilnius-based scholar, author and cultural historian of Lithuanian Jewry, Dr. Katz is the author of many articles on Yiddish that have been published in encyclopedias (including YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe).
Morning departure for Riga, with a stop en-route at the Baroque Rundale Palace for a private guided tour. One of the most outstanding monuments of Baroque and Rococo architecture in Latvia, it was built as a summer residence for Ernst Johann Biron, Duke of Courland and a favorite of the Russian Empress Anna Ioannovna. Lunch at Rundale Palace (included).
Upon arrival in Riga, check in to the deluxe Grand Palace Hotel with time to rest and relax before a festive Shabbat dinner (included) at our hotel.
Morning free to relax or attend Services at Peitav Shul. The only Synagogue to be spared during the Nazi occupation, this unique gem is one of a few ceremonial buildings constructed in the manner of Art Nouveau. Ancient Egyptian motifs – stylized palm-branches and lotus flowers – decorate the building. A must see.
Afternoon: (Optional) walking tour of historic Old Riga- an area designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site- with its many wooden buildings and art nouveau architecture.
Evening free: dinner on our own.
Depart hotel for visit to Riga’s Jewish Jewish Community Center and Museum for a private guided tour. Following lunch on our own in Old Town, we will visit the Zanis Lipke Museum and the Rumbula Forest. Dinner on our own.
Depart Riga for Tallinn, Capital of and largest city in Estonia. Along the way, we will stop in the sunny, seaside town of Pärnu for lunch (included) at Villa Ammende before arrival in Tallinn and check in to the deluxe, boutique Hotel Telegraaf with ample time to rest.
Evening: presentation by Professor Leiman, “Lifeboat Ethics: A Jewish Perspective,” followed by dinner on our own.
We will begin today with a visit to Tallinn’s new Jewish Community Center and architecturally fascinating Synagogue. Lunch (included) followed by a private guided tour of the spectacular Kumu Museum, with a tour encompassing the building’s architecture and its permanent collection of Estonian art. In 2008, the museum received the European Museum of the Year Award – considered one of the most prestigious in Europe.
Evening free: Dinner on our own.
Morning walking tour of Old Town, including Town Hall Square; Toompea Castle; Dominican Monastery, and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – a magnificent example of a Russian Revival cupola cathedral. Along the way, a guided tour of the Nigliste Museum, with its collection of medieval and early modern ecclesiastical art. (The best-known work in the museum is the painting “Danse Macabre” from the workshop of Bernt Notke, a master from Lübeck). Break for lunch on our own.
Afternoon: Free for last minute shopping or exploring Tallin on our own. Closing meeting, followed by farewell closing dinner (included).
Depart for U.S.
The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square is a truly distinctive hotel located on Cathedral Square, featuring breathtaking views over the UNESCO-listed Old Town. Major tourist attractions, such as the Presidential Palace and the main shopping street, Gedimino Boulevard (home to many designer boutiques), in addition to galleries, are all within walking distance.
The Grand Palace Riga was originally built in 1877 as the Central Bank of Latvia and was converted into a boutique 5-star hotel in 2000. It now offers a setting that encompasses luxury, warmth, and comfort. Voted as Latvia’s Leading Hotel, the Grand Palace Hotel is located in the heart of the sightseeing district of Riga Old Town.
Hotel Telegraaf is an elegant 19th-century building with a stunning façade perfectly placed in the heart of Tallinn’s historical Old Town. Formerly a telephone exchange, it has been masterfully converted to a boutique hotel provide the highest standards of accommodations and cuisine.