Is He Beacon for the Jews of Lithuania?

Activist Harley Felstein Leaves Trail of Critics and Questions

Cleaning Up: Reve. Mindaugas Diksaitis, right, a volunteer associated with Harley Felstein, leads a group cleaning up a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania.
courtesy of harley felstein
Cleaning Up: Reve. Mindaugas Diksaitis, right, a volunteer associated with Harley Felstein, leads a group cleaning up a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania.

By Paul Berger

Published July 30, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

With crucial help from Lithuania’s ambassador to Washington, a Maryland cemetery employee has managed to position himself as a key mediator between Jews and the Lithuanian government in a little more than one year.

Harley Felstein launched his new organization, the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage Project, at a party hosted by Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionis at the Lithuanian Embassy in April 2011. By that fall, Felstein was invited to the Lithuanian Embassy once again, this time to participate in a roundtable discussion on Lithuanian-Jewish relations that included senior Lithuanian government officials, top Jewish communal leaders and America’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal.

Pavilionis also features prominently on Felstein’s marketing materials. A letter from the ambassador, printed on Lithuanian Embassy letterhead, accompanies a request for advertising and sponsorship related to fundraising concerts Felstein is planning for New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington this September.

But Felstein has no academic or scholarly expertise on Lithuania and has never been to the country. Nor does he speak Lithuanian or Yiddish, the native language of Lithuania’s Jewish Diaspora, many of whose members are Holocaust survivors.

Some of those Lithuanian Jews, known as Litvaks, and figures in Lithuania’s own small, surviving Jewish community are joining others in criticizing Felstein for generating anger and division rather than good will. Many view as deeply wrongheaded Felstein’s solicitous stance toward a government that even today, they say, has failed to come to terms with Lithuania’s conduct during the Holocaust.

There are critics, too, who question Felstein’s financial management of his not-for-profit groups, his own past financial history and key achievements he claims both here and in Lithuania.

Today, these critics are putting the spotlight on a rising, self-described grassroots activist who says that all he ever sought to do was help.

In an interview at the Forward’s offices on June 21, Felstein explained that his passion to restore Lithuanian-Jewish relations was born after his teenage son returned from a school trip to Lithuania in 2010.

“What struck me was the condition of the cemeteries,” Felstein said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to look into this more to find out why the cemeteries are in this shape.’”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.