Lithuanian Jews, also called Litvaks, were among Europe’s most influential scholars, energetic businessmen, and skilled professionals prior to World War II. In Lithuania, Jewish secular and religious institutions flourished. With more than 100 synagogues and some of the leading rabbinical schools of Europe, Vilnius was affectionately known as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.” The YIVO Institute — the leading academic institution for the study of Yiddish language and literature — was founded in Vilnius, and the Gaon of Vilna was a world-renowned Talmudist and scholar.
In nearby Latvia and Estonia, Jews also played important roles in the economic and intellectual life of their countries. Their Jewish communities flourished, with customs and culture influenced by German, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian traditions. Over the years, such luminaries as Isaiah Berlin, Rabbi Kook, Mark Rothko, Louis Kahn, Abba Eban, and Amos Oz have come from Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian families.
Join Professor Sid Leiman, scholar and expert on Lithuanian Jewry, to explore the heritage and culture of these Baltic Jewish gems. Our trip will begin in the picturesque city of Vilnius and continue through the countryside of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Among other places, we will visit Trakai, ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the charming city of Riga, a World Heritage Site; and Tallinn, an architectural wonder. Throughout the journey, travelers will enjoy good company, magnificent countryside, and Professor Leiman’s fascinating lectures, which will provide invaluable context and insights.
- 11 nights of deluxe accommodations in Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn
- Walking tours through the medieval Jewish quarter of Vilnius and historic Old Riga
- Tours of Rundāle Palace, Riga Art Nouveau Museum, Riga’s Jewish Community Center and Museum
- Visit the old Jewish cemetery of Vilnius, the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, the synagogue and museum of Keidan, the Kaunas Synagogue, the Ninth Fort Museum, the Paneriai Forest memorial site, Trakai Castle, the Karaite Ethnographic Museum, and the Tolerance Museum
- Presentations and discussions with Dr. Sid Leiman, PhD, professor emeritus of Jewish history and literature at Brooklyn College, and Vilnius-based scholar and author Dr. Dovid Katz, who specializes in Yiddish, Lithuanian Jewish culture, and the Holocaust
Sunday, August 27 | Vilnius
Afternoon: Check in to our centrally located hotel, the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square.
Evening presentation by accompanying scholar, followed by orientation and an opportunity to get to know one another; opening dinner at our hotel (included).
Monday, August 28 | Vilnius
We will begin this morning with a visit to the old Jewish cemetery (where the Gaon of Vilna is buried) and a walk through the medieval Jewish quarter and ghetto and a visit to the Vilnius synagogue.
Following lunch on our own, we will visit the State Jewish Museum. The hub of the city’s tiny Jewish community, this small museum surveys the history of the Jewish community of Vilnius from the 15th through 20th centuries. It displays rare photographs and copies of diaries and handwritten notes relating to the Holocaust.
Evening presentation by accompanying scholar. Dinner on our own.
Tuesday, August 29 | Vilnius | Keidan | Kaunus
Early-morning departure for Keidan (also known as Kedainiai), once an important Jewish shtetl. Here, we will visit the town synagogue and museum, tour Old Town, and have lunch (included). Following lunch in Keidan, we will drive to Kaunus (also known as Kovno) and visit a synagogue that was founded in 1871. Before the Holocaust, this radically designed, neo-Baroque synagogue was one of more than 35 synagogues and Jewish prayer houses in Kaunus. Though few Jews remain in Kaunus, the synagogue houses a stunning Torah ark and encapsulates the rich and famous history of Jewish Kovno. Now a museum, the synagogue contains collections of historical artifacts related to Soviet and Nazi atrocities. Before returning to Vilnius, we will visit the “Ninth Fort” (the ninth in a series of fortifications dating back to Tsarist Russia), today a museum and memorial to victims of fascism.
Evening: Free; dinner on our own.
Wednesday, August 30 | Vilnius | Trakai
Depart our hotel for a day trip to Trakai, ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. En route, we will stop in Paneriai Forest to see a site commemorated by a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. In this forest, more than 100,000 Jew were murdered, most over a period of a few days.
In Trakai, we will tour historic Trakai Castle and visit the Karaite Ethnographic Museum, situated on a street dotted with picturesque wooden cottages. Many of these cottages were built by the Karaites, an ancient sect and offshoot of Judaism, whose descendants arrived in Trakai from the Crimea in the 14th century. Lunch in Trakai (included).
Evening: Presentation by accompanying scholar. Dinner on our own.
Thursday, August 31 | Vilnius
Morning: Depart our hotel for the Old Town Gothic Corner and Dawn Gate, followed by a tour of the Tolerance Museum, before returning to our hotel. Afternoon free for exploring Vilnius on our own and/or shopping.
Evening: Special guest lecture by, and discussion with, Dr. Dovid Katz. An American-born, Vilnius-based scholar and cultural historian of Lithuanian Jewry, Dr. Katz is the author of many articles on Yiddish that have been published in encyclopedias (including the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe) and is intimately familiar with the status and situation of today’s Jewish community in Vilnius. Dinner on our own.
Friday, September 1 | Riga
Depart Vilnius for Riga, with a stop at the Baroque Rundale Palace for a private guided tour. One of the most outstanding monuments of Baroque and Rococo architecture in Latvia, the palace was built as a summer residence for Ernst Johann Biron, Duke of Courland and a favorite of the Russian empress Anna Ioannovna. Lunch at Rundale Palace (included).
Upon arrival in Riga, check in to the deluxe Grand Palace Hotel, with time to rest and relax.
Evening: Attend services at Peitav Shul (a 10-minute walk from our hotel). The synagogue is an architectural gem and considered a monument of national significance. The only synagogue to be spared during the Nazi occupation, the Peitav Shul is a magnificent edifice, constructed in the manner of Art Nouveau and well worth seeing. Following services, Shabbat dinner (included).
Saturday, September 2 | Riga
Morning: Free to relax or (optional) attend Shabbat services.
Afternoon: Walking tour of historic Old Riga (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with its many wooden buildings and Art Nouveau architecture. Included is a guided tour of the Art Nouveau Museum.
Evening: Free; dinner on our own.
Sunday, September 3 | Riga
Our morning will begin with a private guided tour of Riga’s Jewish Community Center and Museum. At the museum, we will hear a presentation about Riga’s Jewish history by Ilya Lensky, a researcher at the museum. Following lunch on our own in Old Town, we will visit the “Moscow District” and Rumbula Forest, where more than 25,000 Jews were massacred over one weekend.
We will end our day at the Žanis Lipke Museum (a modern, interactive museum designed by a prominent local architect that tells the little-known tale of Žanis Lipke and the network of about 25 people who created an “underground railroad” to rescue Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation of Latvia).
Evening: Free; dinner on our own.
Monday, September 4 | Tallinn
Depart Riga for Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Along the way, we will view the magnificent countryside with a stop in the seaside town of Pärnu for lunch (included) at Villa Ammende. From Pärnu, we will drive to Tallinn and check in to the Hotel Telegraaf.
Evening: Free; dinner on our own.
Tuesday, September 5 | Tallinn
Morning: Private guided tour of the spectacular Kumu Museum, encompassing the building’s award-winning architecture and permanent collection of Estonian art. In 2008, the museum received the European Museum of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious in Europe. Lunch at Kumu (included).
Afternoon: Walking tour of Old Town, including Town Hall Square, Toompea Castle, Dominican Monastery, and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (magnificent example of a Russian Revival cupola cathedral). Along the way, a guided tour of the Niguliste Museum, with its collection of medieval and early modern ecclesiastical art.
Evening presentation by accompanying scholar followed by a meeting to process the experience of our trip.
Wednesday, September 6 | Tallinn
Morning: We will visit Tallinn’s new Jewish Community Center and the adjoining, architecturally fascinating, synagogue and museum for a guided tour. Lunch on our own; afternoon free for last-minute shopping or exploring Tallinn.
Evening: Festive closing dinner at our hotel (included).
Thursday, September 7
Depart for home.
Traveling with you…
Sid Leiman, Ph.D.
Sid Leiman, PhD, is professor emeritus of Jewish history and literature at Brooklyn College, and he teaches at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, as well as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Author of Rabbinic Responses to Modernity (2007) and The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (1991), as well as hundreds of articles and numerous publications, Dr. Leiman has contributed entries to Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopaedia Judaica. He frequently leads Jewish historical tours to Central and Eastern Europe.
Vilnius: The Grand Hotel Kempinski
The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square is a truly distinctive hotel located on Cathedral Square, featuring breathtaking views over the UNESCO-listed Old Town. Major tourist attractions, such as the Presidential Palace and the main shopping street, Gedimino Boulevard (home to many designer boutiques), in addition to galleries, are all within walking distance.
Riga: The Grand Palace Riga
The Grand Palace Riga was originally built in 1877 as the Central Bank of Latvia and was converted into a boutique 5-star hotel in 2000. It now offers a setting that encompasses luxury, warmth, and comfort. Voted as Latvia’s leading hotel, the Grand Palace Hotel is located in the heart of the sightseeing district of Riga Old Town.
Tallinn: Hotel Telegraaf
Hotel Telegraaf is an elegant 19th-century building with a stunning façade, perfectly placed in the heart of Tallinn’s historical Old Town. Formerly a telephone exchange, it has been masterfully converted to a boutique hotel that provides the highest standards of accommodations and cuisine.
Program Cost: $6,650* includes:
- 11 nights’ accommodations at deluxe hotels
- Full breakfast daily; five lunches; three dinners
- All group transportation via deluxe air-conditioned coach
- All lectures, presentations, guided tours, and museum and site entrance fees
*Per person, based on double occupancy. Single supplement: $1,450. Fees not included: gratuities: $165. Museum of Jewish Heritage membership for nonmembers: $54.
Secure your place
Book Now: use the link below to reach our easy online booking form.
By phone: 845-256-0197 Monday–Friday, 10am–4pm EST.
Payment Reserve your space with a nonrefundable deposit of $1,000 per person. Final balance is due 120 days prior to departure.
Participation Tour sizes are limited to 30 participants unless otherwise noted. Trips entail considerable walking including over uneven terrain. Participants need to be in good health, be able to keep up with the group, be able to experience group and cultural differences with grace, and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Please let us know if you have any physical conditions that may require special attention while on tour.
Cancellations All cancellations must be received by Jewish Heritage Travel in writing. Cancellations received 120 days or more prior to departure: full refund less nonrefundable deposits, per person; 119–90 days prior to departure: 50% refund per person after nonrefundable deposits. 89–0 days before departure: no refund.
Trip Cancellation Insurance Jewish Heritage Travel strongly urges all participants to purchase travel insurance for coverage of losses necessitated by having to cancel due to illness or accident. For your convenience, we are providing a link to Allianz Global Assistance, which many past participants have used. Please use code ACCAM/Agency ID# F026815 or feel free to use your own insurance agent. When purchasing insurance, please consider the plans carefully to familiarize yourself with what is covered. In this context, do take note that most insurance companies generally will waive exclusion for preexisting conditions only if your application is received by them within 14 days from the date of your program registration. If you have a preexisting medical condition and are interested in taking trip insurance, you should do so either with Allianz or through your own insurance agent within 14 days of registration.
Changes All rights are reserved by Jewish Heritage Travel to make scholar substitutions and/or to modify the itinerary (including hotels) as needed. Every reasonable effort will be made to operate the program as planned; however, should unforeseen world events and conditions require the itinerary to be altered, Jewish Heritage Travel reserves the right to do so for the safety and best interest of the group. Any extra expenses incurred in this situation are the responsibility of the participant.
Disclaimer of Responsibility By registering for this program, each participant specifically waives any and all claims of action against any participating organization and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs for damages, loss, injury, accident, or death incurred by any person in connection with this tour. Any participating organization and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs assume no responsibility or liability in connection with the service of any train, vessel, carriage, aircraft, or other conveyance that may be used wholly or in part in the performance of their duty to the passengers. Neither will any participating organization or the Jewish Heritage Travel office or their staffs be responsible for any injury, death, loss, accident, delay, or irregularity through neglect or default of any company or person engaged in carrying out the purposes for which tickets, vouchers, or coupons are issued. No responsibility is accepted for losses or expenses due to sickness, viruses, weather, strikes, wars, and other causes. In the event it becomes necessary or advisable for any reason whatsoever to alter the itinerary or arrangements, including hotels or scholars, such alterations may be made without penalty. All rights reserved to require any participant to withdraw from the tour at his/her own expense when such an action is determined by the tour staff to be in the best interest of the participant’s health and safety and that of the group in general. Prices subject to change. Cost in effect at time of registration will be honored.