Jewish Jewels of the Baltics

Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia

May 2—13, 2021

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Scholar in Residence

Sid Leiman, PhD, is professor emeritus of Jewish history and literature at Brooklyn College, and he teaches at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, as well as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Author of Rabbinic Responses to Modernity (2007) and The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (1991), as well as hundreds of articles and numerous publications, Dr. Leiman has contributed entries to Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopaedia Judaica. He frequently leads Jewish historical tours to Central and Eastern Europe.

Program Overview

Lithuanian Jews, also called Litvaks, were among the most influential scholars, energetic businessmen, and skilled professionals in Europe prior to World War II. 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—the leading academic institution for the study of Yiddish language and literature—was founded in Vilnius, and the Gaon of Vilna was a 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 influenced by German, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian traditions. Over the years, such luminaries as Isaiah Berlin, Rabbi Kook, Mark Rothko, Louis Kahn, Abba Eban, and Amos Oz have come from Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian families.

Vilna, Synagogue |
Join scholar-in-residence and expert on Lithuanian Jewry Professor Sid Leiman and explore the Jewish heritage and culture of these Baltic Jewish gems. 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 will enjoy good company, magnificent countryside, and Professor Leiman’s fascinating lectures, which will provide invaluable context and insights.

Tentative Daily Itinerary*

Sunday, May 2

Evening: Overview by our scholar, Professor Sid Leiman, followed by orientation and an opportunity to get to know one another; opening dinner at our hotel (included).


Monday, May 3

We will begin this morning with a visit to the old Jewish cemetery (where the Gaon of Vilna is buried) and a walk through the medieval Jewish quarter and ghetto and a visit to the Vilnius synagogue.

Following lunch on our own, we will visit the State Jewish Museum. The hub of the city’s tiny Jewish community, this small museum surveys the history of the Jewish community of Vilnius from the 15th through 20th centuries. It displays rare photographs and copies of diaries and handwritten notes relating to the Holocaust.

Evening presentation by Professor Leiman: The Plight of Jewish Women in Nineteenth-Century Lithuania: Haskalah Versus the Rabbis. Dinner on our own.


Tuesday, May 4
Vilnius | Keidan | Kaunus | Vilnius

Trakai Castle | jhtravel.orgEarly-morning departure 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. Now a museum, the synagogue contains collections of historical artifacts related to Soviet and Nazi atrocities. Before returning to Vilnius, we will visit the “Ninth Fort” (the ninth in a series of fortifications dating back to Tsarist Russia), today a museum and memorial to victims of fascism.

Evening: Free, dinner on our own.


Wednesday, May 5
Vilnius | Trakai | Vilnius

Depart our hotel for a day trip to Trakai, ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. En route, we will stop in Paneriai Forest to see a site commemorated by a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. In this forest, more than 100,000 Jewish victims were murdered, most over a period of a few days.

In Trakai, 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 14th century. Lunch in Trakai (included).

Evening presentation by Professor Leiman: The Wisdom of Lithuania’s Maskilim and Rabbis. Dinner on our own.


Thursday, May 6

Morning: Depart our hotel for the Old Town Gothic Corner and Dawn Gate, followed by a tour of the Tolerance Museum, before returning to our hotel. Afternoon free for exploring Vilnius on our own and/or shopping.

Evening: Special guest lecture by, and discussion with, Dr. Dovid Katz. An American-born, Vilnius-based scholar 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) and is intimately familiar with the status and situation of today’s Jewish community in Vilnius. Dinner on our own.


Friday, May 7

Riga, Latvia | jhtravel.orgDepart Vilnius for Riga, with a stop at the Baroque Rundale Palace for a private guided tour. One of the most outstanding monuments of Baroque and Rococo architecture in Latvia, the palace 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.

Evening: Attend services at Peitav Shul (a ten-minute walk from our hotel). The synagogue is an architectural gem and considered a monument of national significance. The only synagogue to be spared during the Nazi occupation, the Peitav Shul is a magnificent edifice, constructed in the manner of Art Nouveau and well worth seeing. Following services, Shabbat dinner (included).


Saturday, May 8

Morning: Free to relax or (optional) attend Shabbat services.
Afternoon: Walking tour of historic Old Riga (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with its many wooden buildings and Art Nouveau architecture. Included is a guided tour of the Art Nouveau Museum.

Evening: Free; dinner on our own.


Sunday, May 9

Our morning will begin with a private guided tour of Riga’s Jewish Community Center and Museum. At the museum, we will hear a presentation about Riga’s Jewish history by Ilya Lensky, a researcher at the museum. Following lunch on our own in Old Town, we will visit the “Moscow District” and Rumbula Forest, where more than 25,000 Jews were massacred over one weekend.

We will end our day at the Žanis Lipke Museum (a modern, interactive museum designed by a prominent local architect that tells the little-known tale of Žanis Lipke and the network of about 25 people who created an “underground railroad” to rescue Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation of Latvia).

Evening: Free; dinner on our own.


Monday, May 10

Tallin, Estonia | jhtravel.orgDepart Riga for Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Along the way, we will view the magnificent countryside with a stop in the seaside town of Pärnu for lunch (included) at Villa Ammende. From Pärnu, we will drive to Tallinn and check in to the Hotel Telegraaf.

Evening: Free; dinner on our own.


Tuesday, May 11
KUMU Art Museum, Tallin

KUMU Art Museum, Tallin

Morning: Private guided tour of the spectacular Kumu Museum, encompassing the building’s award-winning architecture and permanent collection of Estonian art. In 2008, the museum received the European Museum of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious in Europe. Lunch at Kumu (included).

Afternoon: Walking tour of Old Town, including Town Hall Square, Toompea Castle, Dominican Monastery, and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (magnificent example of a Russian Revival cupola cathedral). Along the way, a guided tour of the Niguliste Museum, with its collection of medieval and early modern ecclesiastical art.

Evening presentation by Professor Leiman: Lifeboat Ethics: A Jewish Perspective, followed by a meeting to process the experience of our trip.


Wednesday, May 12

Morning: We will visit Tallinn’s new Jewish Community Center and the adjoining, architecturally fascinating, synagogue and museum for a guided tour. Lunch on our own; afternoon free for last-minute shopping, or exploring Tallinn.

Evening: Closing, festive, closing dinner at our hotel (included).


Thursday, May 13

Depart for U.S.

*Please Note: Daily schedule may be modified subject to weather or unanticipated changes.


The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral SquareThe Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square Facade |

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 RigaGrand Palace Riga |

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 | jhtrave.orgHotel Telegraaf

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 that provides the highest standards of accommodations and cuisine.

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Deluxe Accommodations

Kempinski Guest Room | Grand Palace Riga Lobby |

Travel in comfort. We stay at deluxe hotels with fine amenities. Accommodations for this trip listed below the itinerary.

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Program Details

Program cost: $6,350 (plus $54 Museum of Jewish Heritage fee for nonmembers)


  • Eleven nights accommodations at deluxe hotels*
  • Full breakfast daily; five lunches and three dinners
  • All group transportation via deluxe air-conditioned coach
  • All lectures, presentations, guided tours, and museum and site entrance fees

*Per person, based on double occupancy. single supplement ($1,245) and gratuities ($165) additional.

To reserve your place, please complete the registration form and submit with a nonrefundable deposit of $1,500 per person (payable to the Jewish Heritage Travel Program). Balance is due in full by January 4, 2021.


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Registration Information


Limited to 28 participants, the program will entail considerable walking, including uneven terrain. Participants need to be in active, good health, able to keep up with the group, and ready to travel and experience group and cultural differences with grace. If you have any questions, or need help with your travel plans, please call the Jewish Heritage Travel Office at 845.256.0197.


Participants are strongly urged to purchase travel insurance for losses necessitated by having to cancel participation due to health issues. For your convenience, insurance forms will be sent upon registration, or consult your own insurance agent. Please contact The Jewish Heritage Travel office at 845.256.0197 for more information.


All cancellations must be received by The Jewish Heritage Travel Program in writing. Cancellations received up to 120 days prior to departure: full refund less non-refundable deposits, per person; 119-90 days prior to departure: 50% refund per person after non-refundable deposits. No refunds after this date.


All rights are reserved by the Program Directors to make faculty substitutions and/or to modify the itinerary (including hotels) as needed.

Disclaimer of Responsibility

By registering for this program, participant specifically waives any and all claims of action against the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs for damages, loss, injury, accident, sickness, or death incurred by any person in connection with this tour. The Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs assume no responsibility or liability in connection with the service of any train, vessel, carriage, aircraft or other conveyance which may be used wholly or in part in the performance of their duty to the passengers. Neither will the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Jewish Heritage Travel office or their staffs be responsible for any injury, death, loss, accident, sickness, delay or irregularity through neglect or default of any company or person engaged in carrying out the purposes for which tickets, vouchers, or coupons are issued. No responsibility is accepted for losses or expenses due to sickness, viruses, weather, strikes, hostilities, wars, terrorist acts or acts of nature, local laws, or other causes. Jewish Heritage Travel and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are not responsible for any baggage or personal effects of any individual participating in one of their respective trips. In the event it becomes necessary or advisable for any reason whatsoever to alter the itinerary or arrangements, such alterations, including hotels, guides or scholars, may be made without penalty. All rights are reserved to require any participant to withdraw from the tour at his/her own expense when such an action is determined by the tour staff to be in the best interest of the participant’s health and safety, and that of the group in general.