Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Lithuania, Pre-Lent Carnival Has Anti-Jewish Overtones

Last week, the Forward reported on pre-Lenten "Carnival" in Vilnius, Lithuania. Known as "Uzgavenes" in Lithuanian, participants in the annual festivities masquarade "eiti zydukais", i.e. they "go as Jews". This often means masks with grotesque features, beards and visible ear locks, accompanied by stereotypical peddling and speech patterns. Some participants dress as farm animals or monsters. Others dress as Roma. Not only is there a parade, but afterwards children often engage in Halloween-like trick or treating. Last year, the executive director of the Jewish Community of Lithuania opened his door to to be faced with two children dressed in horns and tails, reciting a song (that rhymes in Lithuanian) that translates as: "We’re the little Lithuanian Jews/We want blintzes and coffee...." Lithuania was a leading center of Jewish religious scholarship before World War II, but most of the country's Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust. Today's small Jewish community in the country has been hesitant to speak out on the Carnival issue in order to avoid conflict with their neighbors.