Av Harachamim: Remembering Our Shtetls and Martyrs

Noranda CHABAD, Perth, Western Australia

July 2018

After the torah reading on shabbat, we recite Av Harachamim

Av HaRachamim

Av HaRachamim – Wikipedia

Av Harachamim or Abh Haraḥamim (אב הרחמים‬ “Father [of] mercy” or “Merciful Father”) is a Jewish memorial prayer which was written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, after the destruction of the Ashkenazi communities around the Rhine River by Christian crusaders during the First Crusade.[1] First appearing in prayer books in 1290, it is printed in every Orthodox siddur in the European traditions of Nusach Sefarad and Nusach Ashkenaz and recited as part of the weekly Shabbat services, or in some communities on the Shabbat before Shavuot and Tisha B’Av.[2][3]

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Av_HaRachamim

in the ArtScroll 

ArtScroll – Wikipedia

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArtScroll

in Tehillat Hashem

Tehillat Hashem – Wikipedia

Tehillat Hashem (תְּהִלַּת ה’‬, “praise of God” in Hebrew) is the name of a prayer-book (known as a siddur in Hebrew) used for Jewish services in synagogues and privately by Hasidic Jews, specifically in the Chabad-Lubavitch community. The name of the siddur is taken from Psalm 145, verse 21, “Praise of God shall my mouth speak, and all flesh shall bless His holy Name forever and ever.”

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tehillat_Hashem

A noteworthy custom fitting the mood of the Sefira period deals with the prayer Av Harachamim. Av Harachamim, recited on Shabbat after the Torah reading was written in response to the Crusades. In it we memorialize the righteous martyrs and pray for retribution for their spilled blood. Av Harachamim is generally not recited on Shabbatot which have an added celebratory nature – such as Shabbat Mevarchim (the Shabbat in which we bless the new month). In many congregations during the Shabbatot of Sefirat Haomer, Av Harachamim is recited even on the Shabbatot in which we bless Iyar and Sivan. The Mishna Brura (284,18) adds, that even if there is a Brit Milah that Shabbat, giving us a second reason why Av Harachamim should not be recited, Av Harachamim is still said, since this was the season of the tragedies.

Before reading the Av Harachamim prayer,  we select one of the 6500 shtetls that existed before and during the Holocaust from this three volume set:

We then share the story of the particular shtetl to illustrate what we lost in Holocaust!

This week – Plunge / Plungyan


The encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust / editor in chief, Shmuel Spector ; consulting editor, Geoffrey Wigoder ; foreword by Elie Wiesel – Collections Search – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust / editor in chief, Shmuel Spector ; consulting editor, Geoffrey Wigoder ; foreword by Elie Wiesel – Collections Search – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Source: collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/bib63061

With thanks to Rabbi Marcus Solomon of Dianella Mizrachi Shule for sharing this idea with me.

Thanks to Michelle Urban and the Western Australian JHGS for allowing me to use these books from their excellent library housed at Noranda CHABAD.

For more on Plunge visit the KehilaLink:

Commemoration in Lithuania

Five minute presentation at the conference organized by the Lithuanian Embassy in Tel Aviv at the Peres Centre in Jaffa, Tel Aviv

by Abel & Glenda Levitt

When we received an invitation to this conference and read that the first session was titled “What has been done in Lithuania regarding the commemoration of victims of the Holocaust?” I called the Lithuanian embassy to ask if we could have 5 or 6 minutes to describe our role, Glenda and Abel Levitt, in this important mission, Commemoration.

Since our first visit to Lithuania in 1998, to visit Plunge, the shtetl where my father had been born, from where he emigrated to South Africa in 1913, and where his mother, four brothers and sisters and their children were murdered in July 1941, we have visited many times, trying to go every year, sometimes more often.

In Plunge we met Yacovas Bunka, the then 75 year old sculptor who took us to the Kausenai forest to visit the mass graves where on two bloody days 1,800 Jews, men women and children were shot and thrown into the graves, and covered by mounds of earth.

We saw for the first time the memorial, erected in Soviet times. As we left the site with the giant wooden sculptures made by Bunka and his artist friends, the old man took my hand and asked if we could raise the money needed to cover the graves with stone, as he feared the encroaching foliage of the forest would overrun the mass graves.

This we did and our family around the world responded to our request. We also wanted to acknowledge the work of brave Lithuanians, farmers and priests, and ordinary people, who had saved their Jewish citizens. These heroes had been awarded the Life Saving Cross by Lithuania’s presidents. To these noble people we created the Alley of the Savers.

We had met via the internet an Israeli woman, Emma Karabelnik, born in Vilnius to parents who had lived in Plunge but who had managed to escape east to Russia days before the Germans arrived. Emma inspired by seeing the covered mass graves decided to make a contribution and so interviewed families and researched victims’ names to add to Bunka’s list of 700. Emma was interested in having these names somehow displayed. Shortly after our meeting Emma, we were in Plunge, a day before the old synagogue was to be demolished. We called Bunka’s son Eugenijus, and suggested to him that the bricks from the synagogue be saved and be used for building some sort of memorial, ideally at the mass grave.

And thus was born the Memorial Wall project, with 1,200 names of the 1,800 victims. The monument was unveiled in July 2011; 70 years after the murderous act had been perpetrated. Emmanuel Zingeris was present that day, as was Ronaldas Racinskas who is here today.

Speaker after speaker spoke of the need to build more memorials with names at the mass graves in Lithuania. Attending were government officials and ambassadors, and the representative of Yad Vashem. In my address, I too spoke of the importance of names, not only numbers, but names on memorials that would be the tombstones of the murdered Jews.

In May of 2011, two months before the unveiling we had visited Kedainiai and met the director of the museum, Rymantas Zirgulis.

We showed him a photo of the wall being built, his reaction was immediate, “how can I do something like this in my town ? ” he asked showing us the existing memorial.

And so it was that he built a monument at the mass graves, an impressive steel structure with the names cut out.
You have heard from Ronaldas about Tolerance Centres in Lithuania. We have been personally involved in the one at the Saules Gymnasium in Plunge.

Here we have established an annual Holocaust art competition, inviting schools from around Lithuania to participate. We would like to show you a few examples of the innovative artwork that the talented Lithuanian students have produced in the Ronald Harwood Art Competition.

By Albertas, Plunge

A Stain on History
By Bernadetta Plunge

Team project Birzai High School

Drawing by Karolina age 14


A Wall of Tears
By Christina Plunge

Glenda and I had been taken to the northern city of Birzai by Ronaldas’ deputy Ingrida Vilkiene, our first visit to the town where Glenda’s grandmother had been born. There we met the impressive couple Vidmantas Jukonis and his son Merunas who had been responsible for cleaning up the huge 500 year old Karaite and Jewish cemetery.

We were taken to the mass graves where on 8th August 1941, 2,300 Jews and 90 communist sympathizers were murdered in the forest of Pakamponys. By chance, 10 days later, in talking to a friend Bennie Rabinowitz in Cape Town South Africa, we mentioned our visit to Birzai. “Birzh” he called out, “the shtetl from where my grandfather emigrated to South Africa at the end of the 19th century”.

And so began the “Birzai/Birzh” project.

Here is the architect’s first plan for the monument with names that will be built at the mass graves and unveiled in August next year together with an acknowledgement of the Savers of Jews in Birzai.

This will be the 3rd such monument of names at the killing grounds in Lithuania. Not nearly enough you will all agree. The mass graves at Panerai where 100,000 people were murdered, 70,000 of them Jews, need a monument with names, not numbers. Lithuanian officials have said so. It is up to gatherings like this to push for tombstones to our people, with names, even if only some of the names are available, tombstones in the form of memorials such as we have shown you here today.

Abel and Glenda Levitt Kfar Sava , Israel

For the Plunge, Birzai & Kedainiai KehilaLinks, visit:


Israeli Ambassador To Lithuania Visits Plunge


The visit of Israeli Ambassador Amir Maimon to Plunge, Lithuania on 21 September 2016

These photos were taken by Eugenijus Bunka.

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The Plunge KehilaLink



From the Facebook Page


The July Memorial Day post from the Plunge Facebook Page



Plunge, Salantai & Plateliai, Lithuania

Getting to Plunge


Plunge Map


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Plungė Manor
Plungė Manor
Flag of Plungė
Coat of arms of Plungė
Coat of arms

Plungė (About this sound pronunciation SamogitianPlongė) is a city in Lithuania with 23,246 inhabitants. It has a crab stick factory which exports to many countries in Europe.

Before World War II, Plunge had a large Jewish population (see The Holocaust). Known as Plungyan


Sculpture of St. Florian

It is thought that the territory in which Plungė is situated was inhabited in 5th–1st centuries BC. After the Treaty of Melno country seats were started establishing in the forests of Samogitia. From the 14th century to the middle of the 16th century, Plungė was a part of Gandinga volost as an ordinary settlement. Later, the population of Plungė started to grow faster and surpassed the population of Gandinga. In 1567 Plungė was mentioned as a town.

On January 13, 1792, Plungė granted Magdeburg rights. From 1806 to 1873 Plungė belonged to Platon Zubov, and later – to Oginskiai, who built a palacehere in 1879.

During the interwar period there was established gymnasium in 1925 and built railway branch-line in 1932. In 1933 current Catholic Church was consecrated. Since the private hospital was founded in 1939, maternity, surgical sections started their activities. Jewish community composed about 44% of inhabitants whereas about 55% of inhabitants were Lithuanians. According to that Jewish were active participants governing the city. However in events of 1941 almost all Jewish community was destroyed by Nazis.

During the years of the independence of Lithuania Plungė’s economic was based on the factory of fibre flax and cotton Kučiskis – Pabedinskiai and also on the activities of Jewish businessmen and agricultural products made by Samogitian farmers.

After the World War II and soviet occupation, Plungė started to grow rapidly – if the city had 7,400 inhabitants in 1950, in 1990 it had already had 23,300 inhabitants. During the years of soviet occupation, Lithuanians became the majority of city’s inhabitants. According to Government’s Resolution of 1963, Plungė should have become regional centre with a strong industry. However these plans were ruined when it became obvious that the city doesn’t have enough water resources although some high level companies representing various branches of industry were established in Plungė. Most of these companies however bankrupted after the Independence of Lithuania was announced.[1]

The coat of arms of Plungė was affirmed by the decree of the President on June 6, 1997.[2] In 2009 Plungė was elected Lithuanian Capital of Culture.[3] Nowadays Plungė is the sixteenth largest city of Lithuania having 22,287 inhabitants.


Gintare at the Tourist Info and Zita at the Public Library were most helpful. Note that Tourist Info is near the railway station and library and not the town square. Zita showed me an Jewish exhibit she had previously run at the library.

Eugene, is the son of Yaakov Bunka, the wood carver and The Last Jew of Plungyan. Eugene gave me an excellent tour of Plunge and surrounding areas.



Tombstones representing the cemetery

 Holocaust Memorial

Yaakov’s house which will become a museum

A Holocaust Site on the way to Salantai



Holocaust Site in Salantai


Eugene’s house with Yaakov’s carvings and medals

Resort and restaurant

Lita Shtetls Memory Garden



Watch the video

Heading Back East – Alsedziai