Jewish life in Vilkaviskis under the Russian Rule

This material has been collected from personel memories and archival materials.


A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more

This site was built by Ralph Salinger of Kfar Ruppin, Israel
It is built to the glory of the Jewish Community of Vilkaviskis
You can contact me with any comments at,il
Mother and child were surrounded by various charms and talismans from the moment of birth until the circumcision Most of these charms were to guard them against the female demon *Lilith and her counterparts, They were placed above the bed of the woman and above the doorposts of the room A popular custom in the case of the birth of a male child, was the vigil ceremony which was performed every night , friends and relatives nightly gathered at the home of the newborn to recite the *Shema prayer in order to protect the child from demons. Schoolchildren led by their teachers also participated in this ceremony and were rewarded with apples, nuts, and sweets.

Often the father promised a cash gift to the groom that he was unable to fulfill. If the groom wanted to make sure he would not be cheated, he demanded his dowry before the wedding ceremony.. It was considered below a woman‘s dignity to marry a working man. A saying admonished, "A shoemaker and a tailor are not suitable." The expression, "In my family there were no working men", also conveyed the sentiment that suitable marriage partners were from the highly educated class. Although desired, some of the Bible students were not as successful providers as some of the so-called lower-class working men. Many of the educated and those who adopted a lifestyle of continual full-time education had to depend on their wives to run their shop in the market and support them, while they sat in the house of prayer and study and studied the Talmud. However, regarding the working man, the Hebrew saying declared "By his sweat he earns a living." A man‘s wealth was judged by the size of his protruding stomach. A buxom hefty young girl took a man‘s fancy.

Not only were the bride and groom and their families kept busy preparing for the anticipated wedding but also the entire town seemed involved with the preparations. Friends and families were seeking suitable wedding gifts and the bandleader and his musicians were practicing their music. The family was arranging the bridal and wedding quarters. At last, the day arrived. A wedding took a week to celebrate. The wedding party marched through the streets to the canopy under which the ceremony was performed. Usually they walked from the bride‘s house to synagogue and stood before the crowd of guests. The musicians played the wedding march and relatives carried lit candles. The rabbi, cantor ceremoniously awaited the bride and groom at the canopy. At the end of the ceremony, the groom broke a ceremonial wineglass wrapped in a cloth by stomping on it, and everyone shouted, ―Mazltov, mazltov” [congratulations]. The musicians played cheerful melodies. The guests were invited to the wedding house to eat bridal soup The traditional wedding entertainer recited rhymes for the wedding couple The friends of the bride‘s side and groom‘s side danced, celebrating the joyous event. Three days after the wedding, newlyweds were invited to visit the homes of friends and relatives.

Straight after the death, a commemoration of death]candle was lit in the mourner's house for the ascent of the soul of the departed. If possible the funeral was soon as possible. Until the funeral, the mourner was exempted from prayers and blessings, so he can honor the dead and take care of the funeral arrangements. At the funeral, the mourner tore an outer garment, and continued wearing it throughout the shivah [Judaism's week-long period of grief and mourning for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse]. The men‘s and women‘s volunteer members of Chevrah Kadisha [burial society], arranged for funerals. They prepared the bodies for burial, chanted the prayers for the dead, and collected money in tin cups at the time of the funeral. The ring of the cups and the chant ―charity will save one from death accompanied the funeral procession. The poor and pious were buried promptly without remuneration by the family. Once the family returned from the funeral, the mourners were not allowed to do many things for the seven days. The shivah candle flickered during the seven days following the funeral was a period of mourning after the death. There were many rules concerning the shivah, which created a great interruption to one's normal routine to honor the dead and to help the mourner deal with his or her loss. The week of mourning, the family was confined to their home and friends came for condolences.

Metrikes [birth certificates] caused worries for some people. Parents, burdened with responsibilities, sometimes neglected to register a newborn, thus creating troubles for their sons or daughters in later years. For instance, a young man who looked physically big enough to be called into the army, but could not prove his age, was taken before a military commission that opshatsn [appraised his age]. The army, hungry for soldiers, would conscript such a young man years before his legal age. A birth certificate also was needed for entering high school and when applying for a passport. Many children marked their birthdays based on holidays or specific months of the Jewish calendar. For example, ―I was born on the drite likhtl [third light] of Chanukah. My birthday is three days on elel [the last month on the Hebrew calendar] or during peysekh [Passover].‖ When  Jews were uncertain about the year they were born and when they did not know their exact age, they often guessed. This proved useful for those who wished to appear younger by removing a few years from their age. A father  knew he was born in August, but he was not sure if it was 1889 or 1899. His age and those of his siblings were estimated relative to events and the span between siblings‘ births.