VILNIUS, Lithuania — As the school year draws to a close here, high school students at the Chabad-Lubavitch educational center are celebrating not only a year of academic accomplishment but also the pioneering spirit that helped create the first classes of their kind in more than 60 years. For it was at their request that the school was created.

Nursery- and elementary-school-age children have had a welcome academic home at Chabad Lubavitch of Vilnius's school since it opened its doors in September, 1996. Older children and adults could take classes at different times of the day at the city-wide Jewish Center that Chabad opened in 1997 (the city's first since World War II). But the many teens whose families benefited from either the school or the Jewish Center felt that they needed something of their own. Their enthusiasm for Jewish learning had been sparked; and they asked for much more.

"We went to Rabbi [Shalom Ber] Krinsky [Lithuania's chief Lubavitch emissary] and told him that we'd really like a full service school for ourselves," said Luda German. "We just felt that if we had the opportunity, we would want to be in a Jewish atmosphere all day long.

"Rabbi Krinsky immediately said, 'Yes, we'll do it.'"

Inspired by the students' enthusiasm, Krinsky began seeking a place to house the school he had agreed to establish. At the end of August, 1998, a large building finally became available. The catch? There was only one week left before the government-mandated start of the school year.

"Rabbi Krinsky made it seem like it was no problem," said Mrs. German, mother of Luda. "He told us it would be ready in time for school to start."

Rabbi Krinsky and Mrs. Nechama Krinsky, the school's principal and headmaster, wasted no time in purchasing books, getting furnishings, hiring staff and convincing additional families — whose children were already enrolled elsewhere — to change their plans and send their children to the new all-Jewish high school.

The building was purchased on August 25 thanks to financial aid from the Rohr family of Miami and New York, who also ensured that it be renovated and readied to serve not only the high school but also the elementary school. (The nursery was moved to the Jewish Center.)

On September 1, 1998, eighty students from kindergarten through grade 12 walked in to their new school.

The school's opening became a landmark in the context of Jewish history. Vilnius, also known as Vilna, was once a crown jewel of European Jewish learning and life, with 60,000 Jews and 94 synagogues. Yeshivas (places of Jewish scholarship) abounded and the city was home to the famous Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, known as the Vilna Gaon. Many Lubavitch chasidim served in prominent community positions and the movement opened a formal yeshiva here in the 1920s. But the Nazi hand was particularly devastating in Lithuania: A full 94 percent of Lithuania's 220,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust. The Communist rule of the next 50 years all but obliterated what Jewish culture was left. One synagogue remained, in a ruinous state, and the Jews who lived in Lithuania had little sense of their culture or traditions.

Two days after the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on June 12, 1994, Rabbi and Mrs. Krinsky boarded the plane to Vilna to rebuild its Jewish community. The couple started serving kosher meals to 100 elderly and needy Jews, mostly Holocaust survivors, and hosting the first public celebrations of holidays here since before the war. They also offered classes in Jewish studies for all ages. Within eighteen months the couple established the Jewish Center.

The Center received official government recognition in May. But for many children and teens, the school now serves as the focus of Jewish life. The school day is long, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., to accommodate the needs of Lithuania's working parents. Breakfast, hot lunch and light supper are served daily. Mornings are devoted to Jewish studies, and the full range of secular subjects are taught in the afternoon. Clubs, including basketball, dance and woodworking, round out the day.

The students' relationship with the school and its directors continues beyond the school day, with many of them flocking to the Krinskys' home and participating in synagogue services on the Sabbath. When summer comes many will attend Chabad's popular overnight camp.

Speaking of the now one-year-old Chabad school building Mrs. Krinsky said, "Youth is the future of this community, and we feel it is important for them to incorporate some of the greatness, the spirit of Jewish Vilna into their lives.

"This will be a living memorial to those who died and the greatest way to negate the intentions of the holocaust. It'll outlast and have far more meaning for the locals than memorials carved in stone."