Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on June 29th, 2008

Well, who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German because he was a Jew?

—Mr. Wilson, The Stranger

ImageI leave for Šokių šventė on Wednesday, making this post the likely last peep from me before then. I start with a quote from the interesting but not spectacular Nazi hunter movie, The Stranger, a 1946 production starring both Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson. Robinson plays Wilson, a G-Man who is tasked with finding the whereabouts of Franz Kindler, the mastermind behind the Final Solution, who disappeared without any trace of his identity (other than knowledge of what his all-consuming hobby was and that one other Nazi knew who he was, his underling).

Welles plays Kindler, who has refashioned himself as a history teacher at a private school in Connecticut. Charles Rankin he’s now called, and he marries at the start of the movie a daughter of a Supreme Court justice. Wilson gets in with the family, and then he gets invited to a dinner with them all.

Here Rankin explains that democracy is not in the German blood. Lines like “All men are created equal” and “liberté, égalité, fraternité” have no German counterpart. Rankin’s young brother in law then offers Marx as a counterexample. Rankin immediately retorts that Marx was no German; he was a Jew. This quick retort is the only thing that keeps Wilson on Rankin’s tail as a potential Kindler.

And I think the line is a good lead into this pre-Šokių šventė post. It was not even half a year ago that Darius Udrys turned JAVLB upside down by suggesting that a Litvak dance group perform a Litvak dance at šventė. Litvaks, of course, have been vital contributors to Lithuanian culture for over 500 years, yet for the organizers of šventė, including them would have threatened the “Lithuanianness” of the event.

The complainers built up shields against claims of anti-Semitism by offering the farcical argument that allowing Litvak dances would then mean that they should allow dances from remote cultures such as those on Zanzibar. In other words, the Litvak is so wholly Other to the Lithuanian, that her cultural contribution is equivalent to that of an African villager a half a world away.

The Litvak, by being a Jew, has no right to a claim on Lithuanian culture (though, of course, Catholics, Lutherans, atheists, etc., do, right?). The Litvak is not Lithuanian, the thinking goes. She is a Litvak, and that is it. Closed are the doors to Šokių šventė to these anomalies. They are not Lithuanians, so they should not have opportunities to perform their cultural dances in our cultural fair. Let them learn our dances and dance them, if they like. But their culture is out of bounds.

And, well, now we know how Ashkenazi Emanuel Goldenberg reacts to that: Only a Nazi would deny that a Litvak is a Lithuanian because she is a Jew.

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8 Responses to “Getting ready for Šventė”

  1. Arvydas Barzdukas
    July 8th, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Let’s make one factual correction. Darius proposed to invite an Yiddish dance group. I became Litvak only a couple of weeks later when it was “discovered” that Yiddish actually was a language spoken by some Jewish people and that dancing had nothing to do with any language. In fact, I venture to say, vast majority of the Lithuanian dancers at the USC arena communicated in English. The entire show was a group effort and had a Litvak dancer group requested to be included and had endeavored to learn the dances the rest of the participants had practiced for months (some, not so well), I am sure they could have come and danced just like the rest of those who did. There was not one dance specifically attributed to some ethnic origin or source. Yhere was a huge variety of “national” dress there. If there ever was a bogus issue and a non-problem, this certainly was it. Most intelligent people consider Jews from Lithuania Litvaks. While in L.A., we had dinner with a family whose ancestors had come from “Kauno gubernija.” I can’t count how many times I have been introduced as a Litvak to Jewish friends, although I have been a Catholic for entire life. No big deal. Usually, I ony smile, but this matter of the “sokiu svente” and the invitation of a Litvak dance group has become laughable. As my daughter’s inlaws say, “enough already!”

  2. Arvydai,

    Thanks for writing. “Yiddish” is, of course, a language, just as “English” is. But “Yiddish” is also a general adjective that can be applied to concepts that aren’t language, like “Yiddish culture” (51.4k hits on Google). So though groups like Fajerlech ( refer to themselves as a “žydų dainų ir šokių ansamblis,” using “jidiš” instead of “žydų” emphasizes Udrys’s distinction about cultural as opposed to religious contribution. A Lithuanian dance festival does not benefit from “Jewish” dances in the same way that it does not benefit from “Catholic” dances (like… the mambo?). “Jidiš” places the cultural contribution within a central European milieu.

    To say that “Yiddish is only a language” is a rather narrow-minded way of looking at things, which recalls early Romantic pan-Polish nationalists who felt that Lithuanians were not culturally distinct from Poles–they were just Poles who spoke a different, backward language. Hence, in this view, “lietuviški šokiai” have no meaning. Furthermore, “Jewish culture” is as unintelligible as “Christian culture”–both span multiple continents around the world and have piles of local variance, such that local people of separate faiths have culturally more in common than people of the same faith from two separate corners of the globe.

    Sure, there’s a word that encompasses “Lithuanian Jews” with even more specificity than “Yiddish,” “Litvak,” but I don’t know why it is used little in comparison.

    In any case, the fact that the majority of dancers spoke to each other in English seems a non sequitur.

    As for your comments regarding integration and not being singled out and the rest, I addressed those in my MonoLithuania article.

  3. Arvydai,
    A Yiddish dance group is one that is able to represent Yiddish culture, which was a particular form of Jewish culture that flourished in Europe until the Holocaust. The culture had a particularly strong presence in Lithuania, and flourished once Lithuanian independence was reestablished in the 20th century–a task to which Lithuanian Jews contributed with their own lives and fortunes, fighting alongside Lithuanians, supporting the cause of Lithuanian independence and participating in Lithuania’s government. I had always been taught that these were points we, as Lithuanians, celebrate and are proud of.

    Inviting a Yiddish/Litvak dance group to the festival to represent our Jewish heritage and history could have showcased and reminded festival participants and spectators about the tolerance, respect and support for Jewish culture that Lithuanians love to boast about in recalling the periods in which Lithuania was an independent state. That was the point of my proposal, which is why your and the organizers’ suggestion that Litvaks “may come” (“oh, thank you, good sirs, for your kind permission”), but may dance only “our” dances completely misses the point and defeats the purpose.

    Inviting a Yiddish group would also have been a salutary and non-political gesture of friendship to ALL who come from Lithuania at a challenging time in relations between our ethnic groups.

    Instead, what we got was a public relations fiasco brought about by narrow-minded excuse-making and obsessively exclusionary politics that strengthened the hateful and anti-Semitic among us. The outpouring of anti-Semitic filth that ensued and the abject failure of the Lithuanian American Community’s leadership to condemn these developments was so appalling and offensive as to lead one to wonder whether the leadership does not, in fact, tacitly condone such points of view.

    It’s sad to see you adding your own part to that sorry exercise by disparaging my proposal with your sophomoric cultural musings and (I’ll be charitable here) willful ignorance.

    Excluding people related to us will not make us stronger as a community.

  4. Arvydas Barzdukas
    July 16th, 2008 at 9:08 pm


    Thanks for your thoughtful and informative response to my hurried comment, which I wrote on the road, while in L.A. I guess, one could also refer to “English culture,” perhaps based on culture of those, who speak English. But that would be all over the lot. I only said that dancers spoke to each other in English to point out that dancing did not have much to do with any language. If you thought that was a non sequitur, so be it.

    When I started working in Washington, I worked for a genuine Litvak, architect Joseph Miller, FAIA, who had told me that his grandparents came from — as he put it — “Kauno gubernia.” He was a wonderful person and, alas, I attended his memorial service this spring. I sent a small contribution to the memorial scholarship fund established by his widow and his children, Danny and Becky. (His son is the producer of the Fresh Air program, by Terry Gross on NPR.) I learned a lot from Mr. Miller both about architecture and the Jewish tradition. My colleague there was a very religious observant Jew Harold Adler, who also passed away this year. He and his wife Alice frequently drove all the way to Baltimore to buy kosher food. We became good friends and when my wife was having our second child, Harold and Alice invite me and our hear-and-a-half old son to spend a night at their house, so “I would not have to cook for the baby son.” Alice, the typical Jewish mother. My very good friend John Hirschmann, whose parents escaped the Holocaust gave me the first Leo Rosten’s book. There is a lot of information there about both Yiddish and Litvaks. I say all this to stress that I have no ill feelings or any prejudice agains any Jewish people or the idea of inviting a Yiddish speaking Litvak dance group to the festival. Certainly, they could have learned the dances like the other groups did and would have fit in just fine. And would have been properly recognized. But the whole thing, unfortunately, was sadly botched. Too bad.

    Arvydas Barzdukas

  5. How ridiculous to even entertain the notion of asking a Litvak/Yiddish dance group to learn and perform “our dances.” Clearly the gesture would have been meaningful only if the group had been invited to perform one of their own dances. I am thankful Darius Udrys had the courage to invite the group in the first place, even though his desire to bridge the troubled waters between our two communities was not a shared one. At the very least, it opened up a dialogue, however fraught, around Jewish-Lithuanian relations. With no disrespect to the elders of the Lithuanian-American community, it is my hope that younger generations of Lithuanian-Americans will be able to embrace the ideals of tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation, and be ready to accept the fact that Lithuania was not always the culturally monolithic state it pretends to be today.


  6. Arvydai,

    I have no doubt that you are not anti-Semitic. I do, however, strongly react to your continued assertion that somehow having a Litvak group learn the dances that were already in the program is a culturally appropriate compromise. I react to it so strongly that today’s front page post is about it–though I single your comment out, I want to strongly emphasize that you are not the only person to (repeatedly) make this assertion out to be a sort of compromise.

    As for “Kauno gubernija,” I’m not certain what you mean by bringing it up (again). (For everyone else…) In the old Russian Empire, districts were called губернии (sing: губерния), that is, “gubernii” and “gubernija.” There was no “Lithuanian” district. What we typically consider “Lithuania” was split across four gubernii: Kaunas (ковенская губерния), Vilnius (виленская губерния), Suvalkai (сувалкская губерния), and Gardinas (гродненская губерния). The government of the first republic obviously got rid of these unwieldy divisions after independence.

    Here is a great map of the regions:

    Saying one is from the “Kauno gubernija” is like saying one is from Illinois. So while I appreciate your exposure to Litvaks, I don’t understand the distinction you’re trying to make with the Russian Imperial terminology, unless it’s to demonstrate that Miller was using Lithuanian (“Kauno” as opposed to “Kovno,” “Kovenskaja” or just “Kaunas”) toponyms and morphology in describing the homeland of his grandparents.

  7. Arvydas Barzdukas
    July 17th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Sure. What some are suggesting in response to what I said would have been another totally different format for the festival. Of course it could have been done that way, had someone started thinking about it more than two years ago and had gone about it in a reasonable manner, instead of picking up his marbles and going away angry after the idea was not accepted.

    As to “Kauno gubernia,” thanks for enlightening the readers. I did not say anything about any “Lithuanian district.” I did not make a single reference to any “imperial terminology,” “toponyms,” “morphology” or commit any other sin I am being accused of, so I don’t know why all of that came up. Where Mr. Miller picked up the word “Kauno” and not “Kovno” (which I would have thought he would say) I sure don’t know. We can’t ask him, because he is dead. Thanks for advising me that is like saying “one is from Illinois.” I would have never figured that out. (Only kidding. Please.)

    Why don’t we start planning for the next dance festival? I have been to several of them and everyone was slightly different. Now is the time to start thinking about its format, inclusiveness, music preparation and a myriad other details such a project entails and forget about the last one. That’s water over the dam and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It was not perfect, but, hey — what is? Everyone interested please step up and let’s do it better.

  8. OK. So your point about “Kauno gubernija” was that Miller was using “Kauno” as opposed to “Kovno,” which means your point was about using Lithuanian (as opposed to Russian/Polish toponyms and morphology. FWIW, “Kovno gubernija” doesn’t make any sense. It strikes me as more likely that the imperial gov’t used “Kovenskaja gubernija.”

    Google sez:

    No results found for “ковно губерния,” and 3.5k for “ковенская губерния”

    As for next šventė, from my understanding, the planning has already begun.

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