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American-Estonians, -Latvians, and -Lithuanians of New Jersey gathered at the Lakewood Estonian House on Saturday, October 9th , 2010 to renew and  enhance existing friendship ties among our nationalities. At the outset, Lakewood Estonian Society President and Master of Ceremonies, Priit Parming, extended a heartfelt welcome to all dignitaries and guests and said that he was pleased to note that after some passage of time, Balts had an opportunity to meet again in such large numbers. After the posting of US and national colors by Baltic youths, the audience joined in singing the National Anthem, accompanied by Luule Prima at the piano. 
The invocation and blessing were given by the Most Reverend Thomas Vaga of the Lakewood Trinity Estonian Ev. Lutheran Church, who based his remarks on the text of the 46th Psalm: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. He mentioned the sheer disaster that the Balts had to experience as a consequence of the Second World War and subsequently finding refuge, not unlike many other nationalities, in the US.
With a flickering light emanating from candles placed on tables and glasses filled with sparkling champagne, the initial toast was offered by CW4, Andres Kurrik, USNR – Ret. He thanked the US for providing shelter, security, the chance to obtain an education, the opportunity to achieve a measure of well-being, and for the sustained support of the government on behalf the Baltic nations in their struggle for independence and securing NATO membership.
Janis Students, President of the New Jersey Latvian Society, thanked the organizers for the opportunity to convene at the Estonian House and recalled that since early 1950, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians of New Jersey have steadfastly represented their fellow countrymen in their occupied lands in order that they may regain independence. “And, indeed, a miracle occurred: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been independent democracies for 20 years. Our common struggle, among other things, is depicted in the film The Singing Revolution as well as in an unforgettable Baltic joining of hands, forming an inseparable chain from Tallin to Vilnius,” stated Mr. Students. 
Latvian language church services are held every second Sunday at the Lakewood Estonian Church. The church altar displays a painting that one cannot see any place else. Surrounding the image of Christ, one observes the deeds of the occupiers: the tortured road faced by deportees as they head toward the icy North, people behind iron bars and refugees in small boats leaving homeland shores for an uncertain destination. The theme of this work of art: “Never again!”
Mr. Students also spoke about the results of the recent  parliamentary election in Latvia, mentioning that some of the newly elected representatives continue to direct their sights in an easterly direction. Notwithstanding the fact that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are currently NATO, EU and UN members, we cannot be completely convinced that our neighbor, Russia, has not conceived some “undisclosed” plans. “We have striven for many years so that our nations may regain sovereignty, retain their unique language and culture and we must thus continue to work together,” Janis Students maintained, and invited the gathering to rise glasses in salute to the Balts.
The Consul General of the  Republic of Lithuania in New York, Valdemaras Sarapinas, in his remarks observed, with regret, that officials in the Baltics do little to prevent the departure of their citizens from their homelands. A younger generation of Lithuanians was well represented at this evening’s friendship gathering. Many had come with their children. Lithuanians have recently established a Lithuanian language school at the Estonian House since they do not yet have a similar facility in the immediate area. Mr. Saparinas urged that our newly arrived citizens should be assisted as much as possible and invited the audience to raise glasses in honor of our “three sisters” on the Amber Coast.
Vytas Maciunas, President of the Lithuanian American Community, indicated in his remarks that it is not only important to recognize the value of belonging to one’s particular ethnic heritage group, to realize that each has its own language and culture, but it is equally significant that we acquaint our neighbors and friends with the history of the Baltic experience and the presently prevailing conditions. In such a way, we can help them to better understand the political and economic ramifications.
Juhan Simonson, Past President of the Estonian American National Council, read a letter, translated from Estonian, from the Estonian Consul General in New York, Janus Kirikmae, which expresses his admiration for the cooperation that the Baltic community maintains here as well, being alert to developments in their homelands after the restoration of independence. Mr. Simonson added that Balts in New Jersey have always found common ground since the 1950’s. He fondly remembered the joint cultural festival that took place in the Trenton War Memorial Building on October 6, 1968 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of proclamations of independence of the Baltic States.  The program pamphlet about the event sets forth the following lines attributed to Winston Churchill: “The deadly comb ran back and forth, and back again, through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. There were no doubts, however, where the right lay. The Baltic States should be sovereign independent peoples.”
Mr. Simonson also remarked on the Second Baltic American Heritage Festival of September 23, 1978 at the Garden State Arts Center and commented on the numerous activities at the New Jersey Latvian Society center “Priedaine” as well as the various gatherings in conjunction with the Lithuanian radio program “Memories of Lithuania” sponsored by its founder and announcer, Dr. Jack Stukas.
Other speakers during this friendship day included the Past President of the Estonian World Council, Lembit Savi, the Secretary of the Estonian-American Natio-nal Council, Ulle Ederma, as well as the President of the NJ Latvian “Daugavas Vanagi” association, Valfrids Spun-telis.
The program festivities continued with the concert portion. The Lithuanian School children’s choir, which consists of teenagers as well as three to four year old children, led by Violeta Kundrotiene, sang two songs. The children’s clear voices left an indelible impression on the listening audience; some were moved to tears. One could observe photographers throughout the hall in various positions to capture the scene.
The Latvian Lutheran Church Men’s Ensemble, led by its Musical director, Dzintra Rumpetere, sang two folk melodies “Rigas puisi tiltu taisa” (“Riga Boys Fashion a Bridge”) and “Puisi, puisi, kas tie puisi” (“Boys, Boys – What Kind of Boys?”). The latter had to be repeated since Estonians in the audience were taken by surprise when the “Letts” sang the phrase Poisit, poisit, what kind of poisit? Soprano, Angela Kiausas, accompanied by Rimgaudas Pranckevicius on the kankles, sang at first a sad composition about one’s longing for home – evidently inspired by an unknown Lithuanian deportee in Siberia. Angela particularly captured the audience when singing the African spiritual Kumbaya on an operatic level. The melody of this spiritual was also known in Soviet Lithuania without having known its origin. At the conclusion, all participants joined in singing each Baltic national anthem.
Priit Parming had delighted the audience with some humorous anecdotes. The hall was filled with conversation  and laughter; the air was permeated with tempting gourmet aromas. Darkness had already fallen by the time participants finally shook hands and said to each other: aituma nagija; jaage terveks; nusirdus aciu; likite sveiki; paldies and “see you again”!

Laima Dzenis
Article courtesy of Latvian American newspaper LAIKS


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