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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So which cemeteries has he restored?

“Well, we have one in Trenton [New Jersey] that we’re working on right now.”

Can Felstein name a project he has completed?

No.

The chorus of anti-Lithuanian critics can at times seem shrill. And not everyone is critical of Felstein’s work.

Ruth Franklin, a co-chair of the board of governors of Jewish genealogy website JewishGen, said, “Harley seems to be being vilified for his attempts, and I’m not sure he’s so mal-intentioned or scandalous.”

Franklin spoke at an event in June co-sponsored by the Sunflower Project at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, in Chicago. She said the event successfully brought together Lithuanians and Jews of Lithuanian heritage.

In his interview with the Forward, the more Felstein was questioned about what he’s achieved, the angrier he became.

“I put in all the time, and I put this together. Me. Myself. My time. My effort. And all you can do is sit here and criticize,” Felstein said.

He claimed to have made more progress “with the reconnection of the Jews and the Lithuanians” than his critics have made since Lithuania gained independence.

“I am an individual, I am a grassroots movement and I am making progress,” Felstein said. “I speak on behalf of those who are buried in Lithuania, our forefathers, our history in Lithuania and not the current people who are running around, ranting and raving.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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