A strong, witty man of the Litvak world: Tribute to Markas Zingeris
I am at loss. Friends are saying that the news about Markas’s passing came as a thunder-bolt. It does feel unreal. Markas was a kind of man with whom nothing could have happened. Self-assured, with so many good reasons, superbly equipped for this life: with sharp intelligence, a wealth of knowledge, shrewdness of understanding, power of mind, fit physically (only friends knew about his severe heart-problems).
He did a lot in this life, and he achieved the things, in their quality and meaning, which not many of us would be privileged to get into our final balance-sheet: the crucially important Vilna Gaon Museum of Tolerance in Vilnius which came at the time of its most need and has become a magnet and the heart of the process of returning memory. That collection of Samuel Bak’s works, thought of, arranged, brought back to Lithuania, and hosted in the impeccable way as a special tribute to all the tragedy of Lithuanian Jewry in the capital of the country today, with its double and triple meaning. The institution which has become an embodiment of hope and a ray of light for all and every Litvaks world-wide. And so many things related to it, and complimenting it.
I am at loss because of the doubleness of this blow. With Markas’s passing, a special, dear and always understanding friend is gone which always makes an un-mendable hole in one’s heart. And Markas Zingeris’ role in the post-Soviet landscape of European return of the Jewish memory is towering. This role goes far beyond Lithuanian borders, and as we all who have participated in this process know, it would not go anywhere without a personality added to an effort. In the case of Markas, the personality was strong, qualified, leading, and motivating. This place will be towering forever, but what will we do with the place which will be empty due to the irreplaceable personality of this man? I do not know. And that’s why I am at loss.
Markas is gone a day before Shabbes, and he will be buried just literally before Shabbes at the Jewish cemetery in Vilna. I know that this timing of passing is very telling and significant for a Jewish person. It’s supposed to console and it always does, but my feeling of getting a sudden blow is prevailing at the moment. To understand that I could not speak with Markas about a million things we always did is simply unreal.
He was always there for me, as probably for many other colleagues and friends, for so many years. We loved to talk. We always understood each other. I always got something new and meaningful from Markas. We had so many plans. We used to laugh a lot together and we loved to do it. We always had a lot of ideas to discuss and there always was something new, smart, creative, interesting, unexpected, engaging to appear in the course of our meetings and talks, every single time. I still have his recent email, just a few weeks back, as so many before, so often and for so long that it has become the part of my life both professional and personal one. He was always reacting to what I have been doing, and always had something special to say about it. I always got his messages, so many of them, always coming throughout so many years, as from some truly rare one who is interested, understanding, seeing, getting, appreciating, encouraging, – and more. It was a privilege and a joy. And I could always rely on him. And now what?
It is a very selfish tribute, and I feel not that good about it. But I know that there will be a lot of tributes about Markas’s uneasy, dramatic, eventful life, his family, his career as a writer, his books, his poetry, everything he did artistically and as an author. It would be also a lot of very well-deserved tributes appreciating his public activities and its very tangible and real outcome during last thirty years under the circumstances which were demanding and creative at the same time. And extremely challenging from the point of view of one’s personal integrity, loyalty, understanding, tolerance, and commitment. It was quite a toll. And to achieve real result, people like Markas needed to spend a lot of their nerves, energy, and the inner capacity which wears one’s heart off. Only that one would never complain.
I just try to come to terms with the sudden and very painful double-loss of a good friend and of a very meaningful figure in the European and international cultural and memorial landscape. Oh, how painful it is. And how unbelievable.
And we all know that Markas was a really strong person. A real man. A very real Litvak, to the bone. He would never complain about his health, even to the friends, just remark something off-hand, in a semi-joking way. Of course, we have to be strong, we learned it a hard way, didn’t we? And we will be. We will be dear Markai, we have such a good sample in you to follow.
Our love to all the Zingeris family, his brother Emanuelis, and the entire family. We know that the co-founder and the first director of the Gaon Museum of Tolerance who brought Samuel Bak’s collection back to Lithuania would be remembered in his country for long and with deep respect. He was the one of the most fundamental figures in the post-Soviet Lithuania in so many ways and for over three decades.
I still have Markas’s witty smile and that special rare super-smart engaging vivid look in front of me. I do not want it to go. It is probably the only thing which I somehow manage to realize at this moment of loss. I just cannot get it that the next time I will be in Lithuania, I would not be seeing Markas, or speak with him when I would like to discuss something, or that we would not be seeing each other at one of the conferences or future events related to the Jewish Heritage world-wide. That he would not see my new projects and that I would not hear from him on that. Because he always did it and I so much got to use to that during the last thirty years.
Markas was one of the most intelligent and shrewd people I knew, and his will to bring the Litvak world, even if in its memory, back from oblivion was strong, solid and determined. His determination and his organic belief in an absolute necessity of restoring anything which is possible to restore related to Litvak world was both encouraging and motivating. It was also justified and justifying.
The strength of intellect and the intelligence of strength, two-in-one phenomena of my friend Markas Zingeris was the one of highlights of my life. A gift for which I will ever be grateful to the Creator and to Markas himself. So long, dear friend. You will be remembered by very many of us for very long.