For most American Jews, the old country-"di alte heym"-exists only in memory. We have faded images, some stories, a few shreds that our grandparents carried with them. We assume Jewish History in Eastern Europe ended with Hitler; what we didn't wipe off the map, the Soviets must have bulldozed. And the people, those cousins and lansleit who survived the Holocaust, survived Stalin-if they aren't yet in Isreal or Brighton Beach, we assume they're still trying to get out.
It's not quite true. Though their numbers are pitifully small, and their future painfully uncertain, tidy communities of Jews still exist, ironically isolated in what once was the heartland of Yiddishkeit. Since the Soviet collapse, moreover, Jews in the newly independent Eatern European nations such as Lithuania have regained the right to a life that the Communists denied them. They can organize, create schools and cultural organizations, and strive for some belated measure of justice. Here a former communal building is returned to Jewish use; there a cemetery or monument to the Shoah's victims is restored and maintained. Just short of complete extinction, they are still holding on, bearing witness to what we all have lost in the tragic and devastating last century.
- Andrew Cassel