30 September 2016

Had a nice run before class. We learned that the early interwar period was a golden age for Jews in Lithuania, who were given an unprecedented amount of autonomy, including the right to tax for the upkeep of their institutions. Eighty percent of Jewish pupils studied in Jewish schools during this era, while the statistic was the reverse in Poland.

After class I had a quick lunch before heading to the National Museum of Lithuania. In front stands a statue of King Mindaugas, the first ruler of a united Lithuania.

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The Museum is located in the New Arsenal, part of the Lower Castle. It was as much a museum about the museum, which played an instrumental role in the preservation of Lithuanian national identity during the Czarist era, as it was about the history of Lithuania.

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My favorite exhibit was of traditional wooden crafts.

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I finally made it up to the Upper Castle situated on Gediminas Hill. The only remaining tower reigns over the city and has become a de facto symbol of Lithuania. The ruins date to the early 15th century, when Grand Duke Vytautas rebuilt the castle complex.

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At the rear can be found remains of the keep, the largest hall of the entire complex.

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A magnificent view of Bleak Hill, where the Crooked Castle once stood, can be enjoyed from the top of the tower. The Crooked Castle was destroyed by the Teutonic Knights in the late 14th century.

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All portions of Vilnius were visible from the tower.

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Of particular beauty was the Neris river where I run.

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I had a terrific view of the Royal Palace.

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After trying desperately to FaceTime my family I went to a coffee shop to blog.

At 7:00 I walked to the Bagel Shop at the Jewish Cultural and Information Center, per invitation from Amit. She organized a pre-Rosh HaShanah/Shabbes dinner for young Jews. I was asked to make some remarks regarding the meaning of Shabbes and Rosh HaShanah. I also said Kiddush. There is something to be said about an American teaching Jewish tradition to folks in the land of Jewish tradition.

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We observed a moment of silence for Israeli President Shimon Peres.

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For the remainder of the evening I schmoozed with Jews from various countries: Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Germany. Met some remarkable people. As I was leaving Amit handed me a bag full of food, definitely feeling at home in my homeland.

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