March 1991

B'nai B'rith Visits Vilnius

Just two weeks after Soviet troops took over a television station in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, B'nai
B'rith sent the first American delegation to the Baltic city in a show of solidarity with the Jews of the soviet
republic.  B'nai B'rith remains neutral on Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union.
The delegation of volunteer leaders--Friends of Soviet Units Chairman Irving Silver, Rabbi Arnold
Resnicoff, Harry Sterling, Fran Sterling, Phillip Leonard and staffer George Spectre--met for 40 minutes
with Lithuanian Prime Minister Vytautas Landsbergis. The Lithuanian leader called on Western
democracies to "practice what they preach" and to support the government.  He expressed his desire to
see more education in his republic concerning the important place of Lithuania in Jewish history, as well as
the major contributions of the Jewish people to Lithuanian history and culture.
While the B'nai B'rith mission expressed concern over the recent events in Vilnius and commmiserated
with the Lithuanian people over their uncertain future, George Spectre, B'nai B'rith director of Political
Education, pointed out that B'nai B'rith remains neutral on the issue of Baltic independence.
As the meeting drew to a close, one member of the delegation said: "Mr. Landsbergis, you are a hero to
many people."  Landsbergis, who sent a solidarity message to Israeli prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
following the first Scud attack, responded, "Well, at this moment Israel is my hero."
The group met with leaders of the Vilnius B'nai B'rith youth group which was formed last summer
following a B'nai B'rith-sponsored camp.
 The group traveled to Moscow for the second annual meeting of the Vaad, Soviet Jewry's combined
leadership.  This yaer, over 1,000 Jewish leaders from 150 communities throughout the Soviet Union
attended.  Joined by District 19 (Europe) Soviet Jewry Chairman Gerard Marx, the B'nai B'rith task force
was the largest foreign delegation to attend this year's Vaad meeting.
The agenda of the Vaad sessions reflected the difficult social and political position of Soviet Jewry.
According to Soviet Jewry activist Irving Silver, Soviet Jews are feeling pressure from both sides of the
recent secessiionist upheavals. Supporting the various independence and democratic movements may
provoke Soviet officials to restrict budding Jewish institutions and freedom of emigration.  On the other
hand, backing the central government may attract resentment from supporters of the democratic parties.
Reflecting this tension, the Vaad conducted a lengthy debate on the group's official name and finally
decided to change it from the "All Soviet Union Congress of Independent Jewish Communities and
organizations," to the "All Union Congress of Independent Jewish Communities and Organizations,"
thereby minimizing the role of the central government.
In addition to Vilnius and Moscow, the B'nai B'rith mission also visited B'nai B'rith units in Riga and
Leningrad, hosting leadership and volunteer programming workshops. "With so many of the most
experienced Soviet Jewish community leaders leaving for Israel, it is important that B'nai B'rith leaders
from the outside visit regularly to help inspire, nurture, and train new leadership," said Silver.  "We must
send our people in regularly for support and follow-through."

                                                                 NOTE: The official dissolution of the Soviet Union
                                                                    is dated at December 1991.
Click here for a
                                                                   brief history.

                                                                 Click here for webpage for Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff