Vilna, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," was the vibrant core of Eastern European Jewish life. Distinguished British historian, Israel Cohen, opens with the legend of the origin of Vilna in 1322 and traces the history of its Jewish community through vivid portraits of scholars, heroes, and leaders. The result is a book based on scholarship, yet full, too, of wonderful unforgettable stories.


Esther Hautzig

In the preface to his remarkable book, Vilna, the distinguished British scholar, Israel Cohen, wrote nearly half a century ago, "The desire to write it suggested itself to me when I first visited the city some fifteen years ago, for it exercised so fascinating a spell that I immediately began to interest myself in its Jewish aspect...."

The "spell" Vilna cast over Israel Cohen also binds me, reflecting my own feelings for the city where I was born and where I spent an idyllic childhood in the 1930s. Its spell over me has never diminished; perhaps it is so strong because of my mother's wise advice never to return to Vilna after the Holocaust. "My child," she often said, "don't make a ruin of your beautiful memories."

When the Jewish Publication Society asked me to write a new introduction to their facsimile edition of Israel Cohen's splendid volume, I was honored and excited. However, composing it has proven very daunting. Israel Cohen's text is woven in a luminous blend of textures and colors. His words are also blessed with perfect pitch -- an attribute one seldom encounters in historical works. It . . .

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