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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(page 6 of 7)

In a telephone interview, Felstein said this was an error and that all checks must be made payable to the Embassy Series.

Participants in an email list devoted to Lithuanian-Jewish issues have questioned the substance of Felstein’s activities, particularly the extent of his cemetery restoration projects in Lithuania.

In mid-June, after weeks of email list participants demanding proof that he had carried out any work in Lithuania, Felstein said he had restored one Jewish cemetery in Skaudvilė, in the western part of the country.

As evidence, Felstein brought to the Forward offices photographs of a local pastor and a group of young people clearing long grass from around the burial ground. Felstein said he would send carbon paper to the local pastor so that the pastor could “rub” the inscriptions. He also promised to have metal signs produced that could be affixed on each headstone.

Felstein says he has years of experience restoring cemeteries in North America. In several interviews, he has taken credit for ensuring that the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries secured a $140,000 grant several years ago to renovate Bayside cemetery, in New York.

Gary Katz, president of CAJAC’s board, said: “That is completely inaccurate. The grant had already been awarded before I or anyone at CAJAC heard of Mr. Felstein.”

Rather than helping secure the grant, Katz said, Felstein arranged for CAJAC to interview three contractors who gave quotes for cleaning up the cemetery, ranging from about $750,000 to about $1.5 million. “We wound up doing the entire cleanup for about $180,000 using other contractors,” Katz said. “He appeared to have no experience [that would enable him] to actually clean up and restore a cemetery.”

Felstein bridles at the insinuation.

“I have 45 years experience in the world of cemeteries,” he said.


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