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Zakhor! Imaginations of the former Jewish Vilne

On the 4th May 2016, an exhibition of 34 paintings by leading Lithuanian contemporary artists opened at the SA Jewish Museum. The exhibition explores the Jewish cultural influences on Vilne, the capital of Lithuania. Zakhor is a Hebrew word meaning Remember.

Prior to World War II, Vilne (as Vilnius is referred to in Yiddish) was a world centre of Jewish learning. Often referred to as “The Jerusalem of the North”, Jewish faith, life and culture had thrived in Lithuania for hundreds of years. This era ended in the Holocaust and today only 5000 Jews remain from the estimated 200 000 that lived in Lithuania prior to WWII.

The South African Jewish community is predominantly descended from this community. Known as Litvaks (Jews with Lithuanian roots) most South African Jews can trace their ancestry to Litvaks who arrived in South Africa between the 1880’s and the 1930’s.

The curators of the exhibition, eager to keep the memory of this important community alive, called on (non-Jewish) Lithuanian artists to explore, conceive and present their personal interpretation of Vilne’s lost Jewish heritage. Zakhor! is the result of this project, a group exhibition of 34 paintings by preeminent Lithuanian artists, each individually interpreting this amputated aspect of their country’s past.

The exhibition was in Cape Town as part of a world tour. Having opened in Vilne and already been presented in Berlin, the exhibition will traveled on to Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires after its run at the SA Jewish Museum.

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