Category Archives: Poland and Lithuania


When I got back from “the” trip, I printed a Shutterfly album. I made an appointment to have coffee with Rabbi Mari Chernow as I was so excited and proud to share the book with her. She asked me if I would say a few words about it at the memorial Yizkor services.   This is what I have planned so far…

This summer, my mother and I had the honor of visiting my great-great grandmother’s grave.  There were no stones placed on her gravestone as no one has visited her since 1942.  It was a beautiful cemetery that has been slowly restored by a non-Jewish local woman named Riva Vaivos. We met RiVa at the cemetery and I asked her why she is spending countless hours by herself in the Jewish cemetery restoring and hand painting each headstone… her response was, “because there are no Jews left to do this.”   The cemetery is illuminated with color.  Riva hand paints the Hebrew letters on each headstone in a rainbow of colors telling me that she is fulfilling OUR tradition.  While restoring, she sometimes she scrapes off 7-8 layers of paint.  Risa Gittel Freyman’s stone is in a cemetery in Jurbarkas, Lithuania adjacent to the town’s mass murder site where the remainder of her family is buried in the mass grave.

My mother and I had brought our blue Temple Chai Yizkor book and said Kaddish for her and for everyone around us who haven’t had Kaddish read for them in 70 years.

We also said Kaddish in the Jewish cemeteries of Vysokie Mazalowieki and Chee-cha-novitz, Poland where my grandfather’s family are likely buried.  I say likely because Jewish headstones were frequently taken and used for building materials such as foundation walls and wheels after the Jews were gone.  There are no caretakers there and the headstones are going back to becoming field stones.

I need to take a step back and tell you how I got here.  My family was watching the NBC show “who do you think you are?” which follows some of today’s iconic celebrities as they embark on personal journeys of self-discovery to trace their family trees.  Bennett asked me if I would make our family tree.  I thought…how hard could it be when you have those little shaky leaves giving you all your hints?  After a few months of tracing the Freeman family to 1750 Lithuania, I got hooked.  I now have 2200 people in the Weitz/Katz tree and it has transformed from just being about “my” family to something much bigger. I have new connections with new family around the globe from sharing my tree with relatives who also were wondering “who they were and where did they come from.” 

There are less than 5,000 Jews in the entire country of Lithuania. Over 96% were liquidated during WWII.  One thing that struck me while in Poland and Lithuania was that the majority of people we met at Jewish sites caring for our cemeteries and synagogues were not Jews.  Similar to angel in the Jurbarkas cemetery, our guide at Auschwitz was not Jewish, nor was our guide on the Jewish Quarter/Schindler Factory tour, nor the head of Matzevah in Lithuania, nor was our researcher in Poland, nor the man who cares for the only wooden synagogue standing in Lithuania.  They all said that there are no Jews to do this.  I hope ‘out of sight out of mind” will not become our American Jewish “norm”.  It was an honor to visit Lithuania and Poland. I hope I can pass on the family legacy and to continue the Yizkor tradition of remembering so our family will be able to visit a grave and know others were there to visit and honor them too. Let’s also remember those generations cut short with no one left to leave a stone for them.


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The Euro 2012

It all comes full circle. One of my first blogs was how I couldn’t get a hotel room in Warsaw for some crazy reason mid June. I have now experienced full Euro football mania in person. What a great sport and awesome fans. I am still feeling a bit jetlagged so this will be short. Here are some of my favorites from the trip.

Football bread!


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I am sometimes accused of thinking I am always right. It is because I am. My guess is that sometime in February when they canceled our flight from Warsaw to Chicago and rescheduled us on the 6:00am from Vilnius to Warsaw I might have deleted the email thinking it was advertisement. So when we woke up this morning at 8:00am and I turned on my phone, I saw the Orbitz txt saying that our 6:00 am flight was on time, I freaked out in my reserved sorta way. My mom was a wreck. After being in the phone with Orbitz and LOT for 2 hrs. they said I have to change the ticket at the airport in person no guarantees. Got to the airport we were able to fly to Warsaw on the original flight then fly to Newark. We were on our own from there. So then I called the International dept of USAir and had the loveliest woman help me change our award travel from Chicago-Phx to Newark-Phx. She did it!! Angels again! Mom was able to rebook with Marriott.

So the best part is that we arrive an hour earlier than planned and will be able to welcome David and Brett off their plane and go home together. Celebratory Svyturys!


Cheers from Vilnius Airport


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What I am served

I love looking at the artistic food postings of my friend Debby Wolvos and the healthy plates of my friend Kim Miller. Being on a group tour we don’t have the freedom of a menu; we all get the same thing. I decided to share with you a few of my plates from earlier tonight. I was one of the few to try the tuna tartar. It looks like a gray pancake but it was really good. The mystery cabbage is still a mystery, enough said. I am enjoying all the lox and dark bread at breakfast. They have some mystery fish that people are eating but it will remain a mystery as I am not interested in trying it.

6.24.12 More dishes. Karaism restaurant in Trakai it was really interesting. We were served a beet salad then meat patties. I attached a picture with more information. We asked what kind of soup was being served, the waiter said, ” some kind of broth soup with a lithuanian grass” lol

Tonight’s dinner was at a beautiful restaurant. They served baked pear with blue cheese, lettuce, and Parmesan cheese. Halibut with a mushroom sauce with purée cauliflower . It was delish.

6.25.12 finally a salad! I am so excited to say I finally had a salad for lunch. Actually, no lettuce but cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and feta. We also ordered fried dark bread dipped in cheese. I have to say it was good.

6.27.12 have fallen a little behind but had to comment on lunch today. We had beet and apple salad -yum with herring (which I didn’t touch)soup was borscht with a side of potatoes and the entree was potato latkes. Carbs!!!!! Yikes.

6.28.12 Carbs carbs and more carbs. I can’t wait for my Whole Foods salad bar!!! Blinses for breakfast. Probably the best I have ever had. Lunch started with a beautiful salad with tuna and eggs then we had cabbage soup in a dark rye bread bowl, followed by a huge potato dumpling full of cheese ( I took one bite) too rich.

6.28.12 final group dinner at Novotel Vilnius. The fish was butterfly fish? Delicious rhubarb desert

6.29.12 Polish Airline (LOT) has an interesting assortment of weird stuff see picture of tray. eek!


the infamous “tuna tartar” yes, I ate it and it was delicious even though it looked rather nasty


my selection at the buffet for breakfast, I loved having lox and fruit every morning. The baked tomatoes with pesto were delicious


mystery cabbage, have no idea what was in it but didn’t like it very much


mushroom soop with sour cream?


this one was from Poland when we were on our roots tour with Grazyna. This was turkey and potato kishka. It was awesome. Better than grandma used to make it. The salad was a bonus!


our fancy meal. The poached pear was delish! Blue cheese and cheese crisp salad


I believe this was halibut and a califlower mash above. The zucchini formed a flower. Soooo good.


Karaite meal with meet in that pocket and water soup? It was interesting


beet salad was a popular dish, we had it every other day


beautiful buffet at the Radisson




deep fried dark rye bread dipped in mayonaise and cheese, this would be a “No she didn’t but it was a Yes, we did”


after beet salad, borsht with potatoes, we were served potato pancakes for lunch


borsht served with potatoes and sour cream


the most delishous beet and apple salad with scary herring (no I didn’t try the fish)


chicken with potato balls and frozen vegetables, lol


more potato balls with chicken and vegetables (in Jurbarkas)


breakfast in Kaunas, lox on dark rye, banana crepe


coffee was incredible!


tuna salad at the Karoite restaurant, dark rye non-alcoholic carbonated beer?


Best cabbage soup ever! The bread bowl was incredible.


A very scary looking potato and cheese dumpling that scared me too much to try it.


Last breakfast in Kaunas, cheese blinzes and fruit


rhubarb desert in Vilnius at the Novatel final dinner


LOT Airlines dinner on the plane. Yikes! Not sure how it formed a meal, chicken was eatible.


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The “Others”

The Soviets had people categorized into the following categories: Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, and the Others.

After a lovely breakfast of fruit, lox, dark breads, and yes I had bacon, we started off our first day of tour Lithuania. We are a group of 25 Jews of Lithuanian decent. Our first stop was at the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum or the Holocaust museum. They also called it the Green house. We met Rachel Kostanian. She is a survivor in her 80’s but won’t say how she survived. We learned about the 200,000 Jews who used to live in Vilnius. There are currently an estimated 5,000 in the country. 1/3 are elderly, 1/3 came from Russia, and the rest who were born in Lithuania are assumed Jewish because they put themselves in the category of “Others.”  I attached a picture that tells the history of the Jews in Lithuania.  They were invited to come in the 1300’s by the Grand Duke of Gediminas. At the museum we learned about the 200 mass graves scattered throughout the country. More than 90% of the jews were murdered. One attached picture has a cemetery stone used as a whetstone; it was discovered in a cattle-shed in the farmstead of Anylsciai. The text said that a farmer said a Jew killer used to live here. We watched video accounts of both survivors and killers of Panar, where 50,000 Jews were shoved into pits and then shot and burned. The man who was interviewed was smiling and smoking, simply telling how he just watched the clothes after everyone stripped. That was it. Just sick.

Next we went to the Museum of Tolerance. It had elements of Jewish culture that were rescued after the war. There were ornaments from the bima, candle stick, menorah, and crafts. They had an exhibition on the rescued Jewish children. I had a hard time in there and had to leave. We then went to The Pits of Panar I mentioned above.

How do I start… The most beautiful trees in a beautiful forest, sounds of birds and leaves… Then the pits!  I can only imagine all the screaming, pleading, and shouting followed by 50,000 gunshots. Then the burning. They say we were walking over a burial ground. Ashes were spread throughout the forest. We said Kaddish. Tears.

Our next destination was the Jewish cemetery where the great Gaon is buried. Some of the stones were both Hebrew and Russian. One of the pictures is of a Katz. Another is a 49 year old Fruma Rosenberg. I just connected with this mother. Another was just moss growing in the Hebrew letters.

On the bus ride back we saw a lot of old Soviet buildings in neglect. There is an old stadium that never was completed.

I hope everyone is enjoying my thumb typing. No spell check on the iPhone WordPress app. Trying my best.


Over 220,000 lived in Shtetles before the war, more than 90% were murdered during the war.



Jews were required to wear stars


after the war, Lithuanians used the headstones from Jewish cemetaries for other purposes


At the Holocaust museum we met with a survivor and she took us through the center


Artifacts from the Vilnius Tolerence Center


Artifacts from the Vilnius Tolerence Center, this was from the Great synogogue


monument at Panar





One of the pits, where Jews were shot and burned.


The silence was dreadful, such a beautiful forest with a nightmare past


Moss grows in the Vilnius Jewish cemetary


A Katz family at the Vilnius Jewish cemetary


A survivor of the war at the Vilnius Jewish cemetary, the Russians put photos on the headstones


unfinished stadium from Soviet times


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Rashida Jones

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are was a flash forward to our trip next month. If you haven’t seen the episode, check out the link embedded in this post. Watching Rashida Jones and her mother in the forest where her family was shot was such an emotional moment.  Our family had the same story but only a few miles away. We were the “lucky” the “miracles” that survived and are here today to continue our lineage. I read the accounts about how the Jews of Jurbarkas, Lithuania were exterminated. How the Nazi’s marched them out into the forests and shot them into mass graves.  Watching Rashida putting a stone on the menorah gave me an idea…we will bring a stone from Arizona signed by the kids to show that we are still here and the family lives on.


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Will I come back a skinnier me?

I just was reading about the foods of Kaunas, Lithuania. Here we go…


While in Lithuania, one should try these national dishes: appetizers – Piršteliai prie alaus – thin, rolled-up puff pastries served with beer main courses: Cepelinai (or didžkukuliai) su spirgučiais – potato balls with meat ; Vėdarai – a sausage, made of a potato stuffed intestine of a pig Skilandis – pig stomach stuffed with meat, garlic and cold-smoked; Plokštainis – meal of potatoesBulviniai blynai (grated potato pancakes) with different sauces; Virtinukai – curd patties; Kastinys – soft sour cream butter; Šaltnosiukai – dumplings filled with lingonberries; Fish – pike or perch, is often baked whole or stuffed, or made into gefilte fish (various prices); Herring (silkė) –  marinated, baked, fried, or served in aspic; soups – Šaltibarščiai (a summer soup based on beets and soured milk), Juka (blood soup) or Cabbage soup flavored with carrots, ham, onions. Ruginė duona (dark rye bread) is very advisable to try with soups. Lithuanian cuisine is also famous for wide use of wild berries, mushrooms, and cheese. Honey and poppy seeds are commonly used as filling in pastries. For desserts, try Žagarėliai – twisted, thin deep-fried pastries dusted with powdered sugar or Spurgos – a Lithuanian variant of doughnuts, often filled with preserves. Of course, European, Oriental, French, Italian, Russian and other cuisines are available at Kaunas’ restaurants.


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