Lithuania’s chief rabbi of more than a decade, Chaim Burshtein, was held by the passport authorities at the Vilnius international airport and told he may never be allowed to re-enter the country, Burshtein reported to his Facebook page (in Russian) on Wednesday.
Though he has served the country’s Jewish population since 2004, a TSA officer told him he may never be allowed back following a routine trip to Israel.
“The frightened passport control employee stated he was just doing his job,” wrote Burshtein, but the chief rabbi said there must be more to it than simply following orders.
Burshtein — who says he has never had an issue with the state or its laws since his appointment — concluded the threats must be related to his opposition to a national project to build a sports complex atop a formerly-used Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, a $21-million project which has been condemned by numerous Jewish groups around the world.
Burshtein is an outspoken activist for the country’s Jewish history, and increasingly this pits him against government projects the chief rabbi feels undermine the history of Holocaust atrocities committed in Lithuania, many by Lithuanian collaborators of the Nazis. About 95 percent of Lithuanian Jewry was murdered during World War II and Nazi occupation.
Last month, Burshtein protested a road project to the city of Šiauliai whose plan would lead to the disinterring of hundreds of Jewish corpses buried in mass-graves during the Holocaust.
A few weeks ago, Burshtein appealed to the authorities (in a statement translated from Russian by American Yiddish scholar and purveyor of all-things Jewish and Lithuanian Dovid Katz at defendinghistory.com) to halt the excavation of the victims’ remains.