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Lithuanian descendants return for dedication

Tucsonans Joel Alpert and Nancy Lefkowitz attended the Synagogue Square Memorial dedication in Yurburg, Lithuania, on July 19. (Courtesy Joel Alpert)

The town of Yurburg, Lithuania, dedicated a new Synagogue Square Memorial on July 19. Tucson genealogist and author Joel Alpert and his wife, Nancy Lefkowitz along with 10 of his relatives from Israel, Canada, and the United States, represented the descendants of emigres from the once-thriving Jewish community. “It was one of the most emotional events of my life,” said Alpert.

The memorial was fully funded by donations. Alpert’s foundation, Friends of the Yurburg Cemetery, Inc., raised 10% of the monument’s $220,000 cost. The foundation also publishes The Memorial Book for the Jewish Community of Yurburg, Lithuania, by Zevulun Poran, of which Alpert is an editor.

The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad first recognized the Jewish cemetery of Yurburg in 2006 as a site worthy of preservation, sponsoring a preservation project of the cemetery’s fence and gate. But it was the town’s Christian mayor, Skirmantas Mockevicius, who sought to commemorate the former Jewish community.

In 2016, the mayor and the Israeli ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania, Amir Maimon, planned a memorial to the Jewish community. David Zundelovitch, a renowned Lithuanian-Israeli sculptor, was commissioned to create it on a site near where the old wooden Yurburg Synagogue, built in the 1790s, once stood. Jews burned the synagogue in 1941 at the direction of Nazis, Alpert noted.

The memorial is inscribed with the names of families from the former Jewish community and Lithuanian gentiles who saved Jews, said Alpert. Dignitaries in attendance included the mayor, the Israeli ambassador, German academics, and the monument’s executors, including Zundelovitch and his architect daughter Ana, among others.

“In the past, it was a history they didn’t want to face,” Alpert said of the local community. “Once the Soviet Union left in 1990, 30 years later a new generation is looking for unrestricted history. I found this rather gratifying.”

See a video of the ceremony at