(JTA) – Lithuania’s government is reconsidering plans to build a convention center atop what used to be a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, rabbis said after meeting with the country’s ambassador to the United States.
The seven-member delegation of American haredi Orthodox rabbis and activists met Rolandas Kriščiūnas last week to discuss the controversial plan to build the $25 million center above the former Snipiskes Cemetery, which the Soviets destroyed decades ago. Many Jewish sages are buried there.
“The reception was certainly different than prior meetings, and we were encouraged to hear that the government is currently reviewing its options,” Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, who organized the meeting, wrote in a statement sent to reporters Tuesday.
The meeting coincided with reports in the Lithuanian media that the Lithuanian government recently canceled the solicitation for bids for the Congress Hall project due to technical irregularities.
The developments follow months of intensive lobbying by rabbis and activists who oppose the planned construction for religious reasons, citing rules set forth in Halachah, Orthodox Jewish law, that forbid disturbing Jewish bodies.
Other activists, including the American scholar Dovid Katz of Vilnius, also oppose the plan on the principle of equality, saying Lithuanian authorities would not proceed with such a project on the burial grounds of the nation’s luminaries.
An online petition launched last year calling for a halt to the project has received more than 38,000 signatures.