This is a long story, but I hope you will follow it to the end!
I get to Vilnius bus Station at 5pm, walk down the hill to my hotel, the Conti, and check in.
I am still unable to make contact with my guide for tomorrow, Regina.
I am hoping that Regina will help me get in touch with Sharon Friedman’s first cousins, whose existence has only been discovered a few weeks ago!
I call the number myself on my mobile at about 6pm and the person who answers does not understand a word!
I ask the hotel receptionist to take over and translate my long story – who I am, that I here from Australia and that I would like to show Alexander and his sister, Faina photos of their newly found cousins – Sharon’s family.
Alexander says he will come to the hotel at 8pm.
My hotel is behind the Choral Synagogue, the only surviving and operating shul in Lithuania. It is locked, but a sign in front says there is a daily mincha at 7:30pm.
I go for a walk through the beautiful town – I’ve never seen so many churches in my life!
I come back to the shul at 7:25pm, take some photos in the main shul and go upstairs for the minyan. There are about 14 men, all are Russian speaking and only one can speak a tiny bit of English. That is Moshe. He gives me a Russian / Hebrew siddur and I don’t know which is more difficult to follow, but he adopts me. He must be the shamas.
I tell him I am from Australia, but I can only stay until 7:45pm as I have to go to a meeting.
At 7:45pm as I leave the small shul, another man who is siting on the other side of me, follows me and asks me in Russian if I am Max. I am let out of the shul while they continue with Ma’ariv.
I go to my hotel, get my computer and my iPad from my room and wait in the lobby for Alexander and Faina to arrive. I brief the new receptionist on my story so that he can translate for me.
Just after 8pm, I see a woman and two men walking up the street and making their way into the hotel.
The woman I have never seen before, but the two men are Moshe, my shamas friend from shul as well as the man who asked me if I was Max.
I immediately twigged that this was Alexander (Sasha) and his sister Faina. Moshe, was brought along as their interpreter.
It was so hilarious and amazing when we all realised at the same time what had happened. I had left shul early (and a bit uncomfortably) to be in time for my meeting – which was to be with the two guys sitting on either side of me in shul.
Moshe wasn’t the greatest interpreter, but he tried his best. We eventually resorted to some Yiddish (which is only marginally better than my Russian and Hebrew).
It was the most amazing meeting. I showed them the photos of Sharon’s family plus ones of themselves that Sharon had emailed me – I suppose just to prove that this was for real! They loved the ones of themselves.
They were very animated and excited to hear about and to see their new cousins. it was fantastic to share their joy in this new world opening before their eyes! They can’t wait to meet their new family!
They loved the koala keyrings I gave them!
I think they are still trying to figure out who I am!
Hope you enjoyed the story – here are some of the photos.