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.
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Pavilionis, Lithuania’s envoy in Washington D.C., said that since his appointment to D.C. two years ago, he has been trying to find people, like Felstein, to bring together Litvaks and Lithuanians. “We feel the Litvak community as part of our own heritage,” Pavilionis told the Forward.

But in reaching out to Felstein, Pavilionis has only exacerbated already simmering tensions with Litvaks. Mistrustful of Felstein’s expertise, they are particularly incensed at a couple of opinion pieces Felstein has published in the Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post, calling on Jews to improve ties with Lithuania.

“Starting today, let’s commend the American-Lithuanian-Israeli bond,” Felstein wrote in the Jerusalem Post article, referring to a recent United Nations vote in which Lithuania opposed a Palestinian request to join UNESCO.

Grant Gochin, a Litvak in Los Angeles, said he found Felstein’s opinion pieces in this vein highly skewed. He and other Litvaks pointed to recent controversies over the Lithuanian government’s reckoning with its own history, such as its recent decision to reinter with full honors a Nazi puppet leader who died in the United States, Juozas Ambrazevičius.

“The information that he presents is one-sided,” Gochin said.

The prominence that the ambassador’s support has given Felstein in these circles also comes against a backdrop of suits filed against Felstein for nonpayment of debts.

One of several vendors who complained about being stiffed by Felstein was a Washington-area kosher caterer who has yet to receive payment for food his firm provided for a Felstein event last year.

“What bugs the heck out of you is he tells you: ‘I’m coming right now to pay for it. I’ll be here this afternoon,’” said Shaukat Karimi, of Signature Caterers, in Maryland. “And each time you talk, it’s always the next time.”

During his interview at the Forward, Felstein said he had spoken to Karimi that day and that Karimi is “going to have his funds next week.”


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