For decades, the principals at a boxy, two-story kindergarten in downtown Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, unwittingly pored over their lesson plans just a few feet above one of the city’s most sacred sites.
Today there is a gaping 10-foot hole in what used to be the principal’s office, exposing masonry that once was the back of the bimah, the central platform from where the Torah was read in the city’s 17th century Great Synagogue. A team of archaeologists from Lithuania, Israel and the U.S. made the discovery this summer.
“I was relieved because now we know that there is something left,” said Justinas Racas, one of the archaeologists who dug up the bimah. “The Great Synagogue was one of the biggest buildings in the Old Town — and one of the oldest. It’s very important — not only for Jews but all people living in Lithuania.”