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October 17, 2003 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-17

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Ashkenazic Roots

Tour group finds few remnants ofJewish civilization

in firmer Kingdom of Poland.


Staff Writer


y the end of the 19th century,
80 percent of all the Jews in
the world lived in what was
known as the Kingdom of

Rather than identify themselves as cit-
izens of a particular country, most Jews
considered that they belonged to the
nation of Ashkenaz, said Rabbi Sherwin
Wine, rabbi emeritus of the
Birmingham Temple.
In early September, Rabbi Wine went
to Poland, Lithuania, Germany and
Russia to explore what remains of
Ashkenaz civilization. He spoke late last
month about what he found to a joint
meeting of the Jewish Genealogical
Society and Jewish Historical Society,
held at. Congregation B'nai Moshe.
This was Rabbi Wine's second trip to
the area his parents fled early in the 20th
century — his father in 1906, his moth-
er in 1914.
On his first trip, in 1972, he saw a •
region in the grip of an economic reces-
sion. The former shteth (villages) were,
in nearly every respect, the same as they
had been when his parents left for
America. Each town consisted of one-
story huts, some still covered with
thatched roofs, facing a central square.
The only perceptible differences from
the world of Sholom Aleichem were the

television antennae on some of the
homes and the many beauty shops.
"We didn't know what we'd find in
2003," said Rabbi Wine, who led a
group of 22 descendents of immigrants
from the region on the three-week tour.
Since 1972, most of the cities and
towns have been modernized, he said,
and very few of the old buildings
remain. With photos and anecdotes, he
described the tour's ups and downs.
Rabbi Wine's parents came from the
area around Vilna, he said, a place
where, "in 1939, you would find a
nation — Jewish schools, spots clubs,.
"There are no Jews today — maybe
one here, one there. Today, Vilna is a
museum experience."
In recent years, the country of
Lithuania has undergone an economic
transformation. Although his tour group
discovered one woman's ancestral home,
most shtetls today are merely turn-
arounds off the main highway.
At the University of Vilnius, one of
the most popular academic departments
is Jewish Studies, Rabbi Wine said.
"The chair of the department is a
Lithuanian who is an expert in Yiddish,
just as we would have a professor who's
an expert in American Indian dialects."
Large numbers of educated Poles and
Lithuanians, mainly the young, love the
Jews, he said — in the abstract.


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