Mira Jedwabnik Van Doren, founder of The Vilna Project, was born in the city of Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1929. Her father, Dr. David Jedwabnik, was an eminent physician and leader of Vilna's Jewish community. Her mother, Lydia Baruchson Jedwabnik, was a painter.
In 1939, (at ten years of age), Mira embarked upon a trip from Gdynia on the S.S. Batory with her family to visit the New York World’s Fair. By the time the ship docked in New York, war had broken out in Poland and she and her family were unable to return home. Mira attended the High School of Music and Art, the Art Student’s League, the Cranbook Art Academy in Cranbrook, Michigan and Columbia University where she was introduced to her husband, John Van Doren – son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mark Van Doren.
Throughout her career as an award-winning painter and a pioneer in the art of vitreous enamel on steel, Van Doren has created murals, doors, elevator panels, furniture and decorations for ships, banks, hotels, synagogues and churches. In the midst of a fulfilling art career, Van Doren's interest in her hometown of Vilna, it's history and it's people, began to flourish.
Driven to create a film to honor the legacy of Vilna's lost Jewish community, Van Doren amassed a library and made several trips to Vilna searching for remnants of the centuries-old culture that had vanished almost overnight half a century before. In 1989 she formed a non-profit organization, The Vilna Project, Inc., dedicated to preserving, documenting and disseminating material evoking the richness and diversity of pre-war Vilna.
In the years that followed, Van Doren conducted extensive research on Jewish life in the city, assembling over 200 hours of interviews with survivors and scholars in the United States and abroad, and collecting thousands of photographs and other historic material.
In 1993 Van Doren assembled a film crew to film the 50th Anniversary commemoration of the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto. From that visit, Van Doren produced a 16-minute documentary short, "Hidden Treasures," relating the discovery of a large collection of books and records that had been hidden from the Nazis in a former monastery in Vilna during the Holocaust.
Van Doren is the creator and the Executive Producer of the 58-minute documentary The World Was Ours, depicting the remarkable Jewish community of Vilna before its destruction in World War II. It has been shown internationally at film festivals in the U.S, Canada, Europe and Australia and broadcast nationally for three years on American Public Television and WNET Channel 13. It continues to be screened at other venues around the world. In 2006 YIVO Institute awarded Van Doren the first Vilna Award for Distinguished Achievement. Van Doren was also the recipient of the Kent, Connecticut Film Festival’s Outstanding Achievement Award, and she was honored by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre for her work on the documentary film in 2006.
Van Doren is married to John Van Doren who was the Executive Editor of "The Great Ideas Today" for over 30 years, and a fellow of the Institute for Philosophical Research. He was also a professor of American History and English at Brandeis University and Boston University. The Van Dorens have two sons, two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren.