Baltics: Jewish Heritage—Vilna Gaon—Lithuania & Belarus
This amazing International Experiences tour celebrates Jewish heritage in an unprecedented way. 2020 will mark 300 years since the birth of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, an outstanding Lithuanian Rabbi, and the Litvak Misnagdim religious leader known as the Vilna Gaon. The Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) has designated 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania. Lithuania is a tiny country with a big heart. Free from Soviet occupation since 1990, it’s the southernmost of Europe’s Baltic states bordering Poland, Latvia and Belarus. Its capital, Vilnius, near Belarus’ border, is known for its medieval Old Town. It also has Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture, and 18th-century cathedral built on a pagan temple site. Hilltop Gediminas’ Tower, a symbol of the city and the nation, offers sweeping views. The amazing architecture that defines the Baltics is complimented by the hard-working and friendly locals who welcome their new way of Western living — as well as you!
You’ll also enjoy a visit to Belarus (not a Baltic state, also once part of the Soviet Union), a landlocked country in Eastern Europe known for its Stalinist architecture, grand fortifications and primeval forests. In the modern capital, Minsk, the monumental KGB Headquarters loom over Independence Square, while the Museum of the Great Patriotic War commemorates the country’s role in WWII. The capital is also home to many churches, including the neo-Romanesque Church of Saints Simon and Helena. What a bonus!
- Visit Syalets, the village where The Gaon of Vilna was born on April 23, 1720
- Mir, home to the world-renowned yeshiva of Mir, established in 1815 and drew 500 students from around the world
- Jewish cemetery where the tombstone (matzevah) of Chafetz Chayim was restored by the followers
- Volozhyn’s renowned yeshiva — Rav Hayim Volozhiner, a disciple of Vilna Gaon, was established in 1803
- Tour of the historical center of Vilnius
- Jewish State Museum
- Free time for the Shabbat
- Ziezmariai, a little Stetle that restored its only wooden synagogue
- Shtetls of Lita to see how the Jews lived, especially via the renowned Frankel family house
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- Arrival to Minsk airport where you'll be met and transferred to your hotel.
MINSK / SYALETS / MIR / MINSK
- Today, our adventure starts in Syalets (near Biaroza), a village where The Gaon of Vilna was born on April 23, 1720.
- We'll continue to drive around the country with a stop at Novogrudok, once the center of the Great Duchy of Lithuania. Here, Rabbi Yosef Yoizel Horowitz served as a Rosh Yeshiva of Novogrudok. You'll hear the miraculous story of the escape of 233 ghetto prisoners to the partisans during WWII.
- In the afternoon, you'll visit Mir, home to the world-renowned yeshiva of Mir that was established in 1815 that drew 500 students from all around the world and existed for more than a century. You'll still be able to see the remains of the former yeshiva, three synagogues and the old Jewish cemetery of Mir.
- We'll finish this day with a visit to the medieval Dukes’ Radziwiłł Castle of Mir. Since its recent renovation the number of visitors has increased dramatically -- the Belarus cultural authorities declared that its now the most visited museum in Belarus.
- Today you'll hear the history of Jewish life and culture in this region known as Lithuanian Yeshivot.
- Our first stop today is Grodno, home to the Old Grodno Castle dating back to 1390-1400 and built by Vytautas Magnus, a Lithuanian Grand Duke who issued “Permit of Residence” for Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. We'll walk in the old part of Grodno along the streets of the former Jewish quarter, the territory of the ghetto, an old Jewish cemetery, and finally, the fascinating Great Choral Synagogue of Grodno.
- In the afternoon we’ll go to a small town of Radin (Radun) where Rabbi Chafetz Chayim opened the religious seminary Yeshiva which attracted students from all over Europe.
- We’ll visit Jewish cemetery where the tombstone (matzevah) of Chafetz Chayim was restored by the followers of his teachings. The journey will continue to Lida where Rabbi Reines established his first modern yeshiva in Lida. Ps, there's a street in Israel named after Rabbi Reines.
MINSK / VOLOZHYN / VILNIUS
- We start our tour today with a visit to “Yama”. Minsk Jews perished in this location in Minsk during the Nazi occupation. The local community constructed the obelisk on the exact spot in honor of five-thousand Jews. We’ll also visit Minsk Synagogue, the only one that survived the war, and walk through the Old Town and the area known as Minsk Ghetto.
- In the afternoon we depart to Vilnius. On the way, we'll visit Volozhyn with its renowned yeshiva. Rav Hayim Volozhiner, a disciple of Vilna Gaon, was established in 1803. In the middle of the 19th century, a devastating fire swept through Volozhyn, but miraculously it did not touch the “mother of yeshivas.”
- Arrive Vilnius.
- Jews have been living in Lithuania since the fourteenth century and have left a great cultural heritage.
- This morning you'll tour of the historical center of Vilnius (Vilna) starting from Gediminas Castle and then proceeding to Cathedral Square, President's Palace, and Vilnius University. Later, you'll visit the old Jewish quarter's narrow streets and the courtyards of the middle-age ghetto, Great Vilna Synagogue, and shulhoyf. Vilna Gaon, the great Jewish scholar who was born 1720 in Belarus, spent an important part of his life in Vilnius. This city is a center of the struggle between Mitnagdim and Hasidim. You'll also behold the street of famous Jewish sculptor Mordekhai Antokolski and the world-renowned Strashun library that had more than 6000 volumes at the end of the 19th century. Next, the territory of the Large Ghetto, the courtyard of the Judenrat, the fight of the Ghetto prisoners against the Nazis and finally, a visit to the Jewish State Museum.
- In the afternoon we'll travel by bus and visit a Jewish cemetery and the grave of the Vilna Gaon. You'll also experience the "Cheap Houses," big dwelling houses built by baron Hirsch for poor Jews after the great flood, and the world-famous printing-house "Widow and Brothers Romm." Lucky you!
VILNIUS / KAUNAS
- Today starts with a tour of Kaunas (Kovna), the interim capital of pre-war Lithuania. En route you'll visit Ziezmariai, a little shtetl that restored its only wooden synagogue, and the charming old city of Kaunas. Also: L. Zamenhof and A. Mapu streets, Slobodka, a Jewish suburb of Kaunas and the ghetto during WWII, and the Old Jewish cemetery. We'll see the building of the famous Slobodka Yeshiva founded by Rabbi Nathan Zvi Finkel and discuss the Musar movement and the influence of R’ Israel Salanter on Slobodka Yeshiva. Also, we'll talk about the personality of Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector, after whom was named RIETS, which is part of Yeshiva University in New York. Later, we'll visit Kovna Choral Synagogue, the Children’s Memorial courtyard, the Golda Mayer school, and the Chiune Sugihara house/museum -- a Japanese consul in Kaunas in 1940 who issued several thousand lifesaving visas for the Jewish refugees from Poland.
KAUNAS / SIAULIAI / SEDUVA / PANEVEZYS / VILNIUS
- Today we'll visit the Shtetls of Lita, starting from Siauliai (Shavli) to see how the Jews lived, especially via the renowned Frankel family house. We'll then travel to the new Shtetl Museum in Seduva and Panevezys (Ponevezh), where the building that housed the famous yeshiva in the city will be seen and remembered.
VILNIUS / TRAKAI / PONAR / VILNIUS
- Morning visit to the site where the Jews of Vilnius were murdered en masse in the Ponary Forest.
- We'll then continue to Trakai, the ancient capital of Lithuania‘s princes which is located among beautiful lakes. We'll visit the Trakai museum and then return back to Vilnius.
DEPARTURE FROM BALTICS
- After breakfast at the hotel, you'll check out and then transfer to Vilnius Airport for your departure. Now that was an incredible trip!
- INCLUDED: TRANSPORTATION
DatesUnlike most tour operators, you are not required to choose a fixed date or travel with a group. You can choose to begin your private tour on any date. These are EVERYDAY DEPARTURES.
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- Prices are per person based on double occupancy.
- Single supplement price for single room as part of a group of 2 or more.
- One person traveling alone will incur a higher price due to private tour.
- All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change.
- Please note: Prices for 4 & more travelers available upon request.