They could have been museum pieces, grim reminders of the Nazi holocaust in Lithuania. Instead, several Jewish religious scrolls will live on in three Washington congregations, to be used in synagogue services as Jewish tradition dictates.
The scrolls, which survived the holocaust and the Soviet occupation of the eastern European nation, were presented Thursday by Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas to the Adas Israel, Kesher Israel and Temple Sinai congregations.
"It is from these scrolls that we not only derive our past, but our future," said Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of Adas Israel.
The scrolls contain the Biblical book of Esther, who saved the Jewish people from extinction during the Babylonian captivity.
They will be used during the upcoming Purim holiday, which celebrates Esther's miraculous achievement.
Their message is especially poignant to Jews in light of the holocaust.
In prewar Lithuania, the capital, then called Vilna, was a center of rabbinical studies and a hub of Yiddish culture. The Nazi invasion in 1941 put an end to all that, leading to the deaths of 200,000 Jews and the theft and destruction of Jewish scrolls and books.
Some materials survived, though, and were kept in libraries during the Soviet occupation, in defiance of government orders.
y the time Lithuania was liberated in 1990, the country's Jewish population had dwindled to fewer than 4,000 and the Jewish artifacts remained archived and catalogued in the basement of the National Library.
Officials with the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith and the Israeli government persuaded the Lithuanian government to release the scrolls for use in synagogues throughout the world.
They were taken to Israel, where many were restored before being given to synagogues.