Happy New Year from the Jewish communities of Belarus

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Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins on the 2nd October, and we would like like to take this opportunity to wish all our Jewish supporters Shana Tova, a very happy New Year. The communities we work with in Belarus have also asked us to extend thanks and offer their wishes for a sweet and healthy new year.

As The Together Plan prepares to enter its fourth year of operations, we would like to thank each one of you for all your support – whether through financial support, volunteering, donations of humanitarian aid, coming along to an event, or simply by reading our newsletters. We have achieved incredible things this past year, all made possible by your valued support. We hope that together to make the coming year even more successful than the last!

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The Together Plan supporters return from Belarus

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Today, a group of 13 people led by The Together Plan Director Debra Brunner returned from a seven-day trip to Belarus. The group visited five cities and many of The Together Plan’s supported communities and projects. Below are some of the trip’s highlights:

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Minsk

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After a tour of the city, the group a very special meeting with survivors of the Minsk Ghetto, notorious as one of the most brutal in Europe. After two years of inhuman conditions with almost no food, no heating in winter, and fear of random attacks by Nazi soldiers, the ghetto was closed and its inhabitants massacred. Only a handful of individuals survived, and the group had the opportunity to hear some of their incredible stories.

The group also visited Super Kids, a partner of The Together Plan that provides instruction in singing and dance for disadvantaged children, including disabled children, orphans and children from difficult families. The Together plan has already donated sound equipment, costumes and dresses for performances. This project helps these children to integrate into society, it makes them feel valued and gives structure to their lives.

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Polotsk & Vitebsk

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The group attended a Kabbalat Shabbat the Polotsk Jewish community in the north of Belarus. Young adults trained by The Together Plan led the well-attended Shabbat, which they followed with a presentation on the community’s various activities: Sunday School (where Jewish topics, Hebrew, English and music are taught using games and arts & crafts), a knitting group for the community’s elderly members, and a programme of restoration of nearby Jewish cemeteries. The visiting group commented that the community felt very warm and welcoming, as well as genuinely spiritual.

The group then continued to Vitebsk, one of Belarus’s cultural centres. The group visited the house of Vitebsk’s most famous resident, Marc Chagall, and the Marc Chagall Art Gallery.

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Bobruisk

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Early in The Together Plan’s relationship with the Bobruisk community, their only premises was a tiny basement with no windows or heating. By developing links with other partners such as Hendon Reform Synagogue in London, and through regular visits, The Together Plan helped the community to locate and fund a new community centre. The group from London visited both the old and new premises (pictured above). The new space has enabled community life to flourish, with regular Shabbat services and a Sunday School. After a presentation by the community’s chairwoman, the members of the group were invited to dinners hosted by community members at their homes.

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Brest

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The group visited the Brest fortress, site of one of the most important and bloody battles against the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Currently stored under the fortress’s perimeter walls are hundreds of rescued Jewish headstones, which had variously been repurposed for building materials after the Soviet authorities demolished the Brest Jewish cemetery to make way for a sports stadium in the 1950s. The Together Plan are currently working in Brest to develop a heritage project which aims to bring all ages together to facilitate and stimulate research, creativity, discussion, education, connection and repair. We anticipate that this significant project will engage Jewish and non-Jewish people in Brest bringing them together, and this will help to lay the foundation for a new Jewish community.

We would be delighted to welcome support for any of the above projects, or if you have a personal connections to Polotsk, Bobruisk, Brest, Minsk or any other parts of Belarus please do get in touch by replying to this email.

The Together Plan has recently started working with the Orthodox Jewish community in Brest. The community told us that it is desperately seeking Judaica (including tallitot and tefilin). We therefore ask anyone with spare or unwanted Judaica to consider donating this to the community through our Aid Together Programme (contact project coordinator Lucille Baker at lucille@thetogetherplan.com for more information).

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Mitzvah Day arrives in Belarus and at home

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Mitzvah Day, at home and abroad

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Mitzvah Day will take place on the 27th November 2016, and planning is already well underway. This morning, Mitzvah Day packs containing branded t-shirts, stickers and balloons began their journey to our communities in Belarus, where Mitzvah Day will be held for the first time ever. Meanwhile, closer to home, there are loads of fantastic opportunities to support us or become a part of our amazing project!

For the first time ever, Mitzvah Day is coming to Belarus. In a joint project with The Together Plan and Mitzvah Day UK, we’re asking Belarusian communities to decide on Mitzvot, or charitable deeds, to perform on the 27th November. These might be running activities in a children’s home, visiting housebound community members, or helping to paint the fences of a local school. Being able to identify difficulties within and around their community and take the initiative to solve them is a crucial skill in community leadership, and learning to support others is a step towards

Meanwhile, there are lots of fantastic ways that you can support us on Mitzvah Day!

  • Join our ‘Chat & Pack’ session at Hendon Reform Synagogue, 10am-1pm. Be a part of our amazing and friendly team of volunteers as we sort and pack donations of humanitarian aid, which will be sent to Belarus by lorry later this year.
  • Donate unwanted clothes and goods to be sent to Belarus. We are grateful for any donations of good quality clothes and shoes for all ages, knitted blankets, toys and games, stationery, arts & crafts supplies, Judaica (candlesticks, chanukiyot, kippot, challah covers) or anything else useful in a community centre. Please bring these to our ‘Chat & Pack’ session or email office@thetogetherplan.com to arrange drop-off or collection.
  • Help move sorted and packed aid to our warehouse in your car or van, between 12 and 1pm. Please email us on office@thetogetherplan.com so that we know you will be helping us.

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Aid Together project moves into a new warehouse

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We are currently in the final stages of moving our store of humanitarian aid into a new warehouse in Mill Hill. The aid, generously donated by you, our supporters, is collected as part of our Aid Together project, in which humanitarian aid is packed and sorted for transport to Belarus by lorry. A special thank you is due to Neil Clowes of Apt and Able, who kindly organised the move at no cost to us.

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Minsk Ghetto survivors enjoy tea with the British Ambassador

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Last week, British Ambassador to Belarus Fionna Gibb invited the survivors of the Minsk Ghetto, notorious as one of the most brutal in Europe, to tea at her residence in central Minsk. The invitation was part of a programme run by the Ghetto survivors in partnership with The Together Plan, in which survivors take turns to host a social gathering in their home. These are a valuable opportunity for these elderly people to socialise and maintain contact with the wider community. The Together Plan has introduced new visitors to the Ghetto survivors – first The Together Plan’s office team in Minsk, and more recently Ambassador Gibb – fostering relationships across generations and ensuring that these individuals’ remarkable and harrowing stories are preserved for the future.

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13 depart on a trip to discover Belarus

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This morning, director Debra Brunner set off on a seven-day trip to Belarus accompanying 13 first-time visitors to the country. The group comprises donors and volunteers, people of Belarusian ancestry seeking to discover their roots, and others simply interested in seeing The Together Plan’s work in real life. The itinerary includes a meeting with survivors of the Minsk Ghetto, Marc Chagall’s childhood home in culturally rich Vitebsk, the artillery-battered bricks of the strategically vital but ill-fated fortress of Brest-Litovsk, and a Shabbat with one of The Together Plan’s supported communities in historic Polotsk.

We will be posting and tweeting throughout the trip, so you can follow the excitement on our Facebook. Twitter and Instagram. That said, we firmly believe that the best way to learn about Belarus, and to understand the importance of The Together Plan’s work, is to visit. We run a trip approximately once a year and we’d be delighted to have you on the next one – once planning begins we’ll let you know.

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Sponsor Warren Lipman’s 7-day trek to Angkor Wat

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Warren Lipman is the director of Storm IT and a member of the BNI networking group to which The Together Plan belongs. But from the 5th November, Warren will leave his life behind for a seven-day trek through the Cambodian jungle in aid of The Together Plan. Warren describes the challenge on his fundraising page:

My charity challenge starts in Siem Reap, to explore the ancient capital of the mighty Khmer Empire. I will trek over the hills, through the valleys and dense forests of the surrounding area, ascending to the upper plain of Kulen Mountain. Rich not only in history, but in beautiful landscapes and the rural way of life, little changed for centuries. My challenge will be gruelling, hot and dusty, but the famous smiles of this remarkably friendly country will carry me to my finish point at Angkor Wat, one of the most renowned and impressive sights in Southeast Asia.

So far Warren has raised £875 for The Together Plan. Please sponsor him through his BT MyDonate page and help him meet his target of £3000.

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Shabbat and Falafel Party in Polotsk

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This week’s Shabbat in Polotsk had a spicy twist, with home-made falafel. The Polotsk Jewish Community posted this photo on its Facebook page, along with pictures from its Sunday School’s Hebrew lessons. This is a testament to the amazing commitment of its longstanding members, and we are also excited to see several new faces in the community.

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Enjoyed Look At Us Now, Mother? Watch this space for great films coming up soon!

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Last Monday, 211 people flocked to the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley for a screening of Look At Us Now, Mother!.

The event was a massive success, raising £2600 for The Together Plan, and we received fantastic feedback both on the night and since. A massive thank you is due to everyone who came for making the event such a success! Thank you also to Gayle and Mildred Kirschenbaum, director and co-stars of the film, for being present at the event to answer questions, and to Tracy Ann Oberman for hosting the Q&A.

Don’t go anywhere – we have even more screenings of fantastic films just around the corner:

Back by popular demand: Arranged

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We screened Arranged in April, and the positive feedback was so overwhelming that we’re giving it a second outing, both for first-time viewers and old fans! A moving story of friendship and unity in the face of cultural divides, Arranged follows the friendship of two women, one Jewish, one Muslim, as they discover that despite their diverse backgrounds they have far more in common than separating them. Proceeds will be split between our partner, the Finchley Reform Synagogue Belarus Project (supporting the Polotsk Jewish Community, Belarus; Reg’d charity No 1137557), and Butterfly Bridges, a youth-led intercultural initiative by Jewish and Muslim teenagers currently fundraising for War Child (Reg’d charity No 1071659).

  • Finchley Reform Synagogue 101 Fallow Court Avenue, London, N12 0BE
  • Sunday 6th November 4:30-7:30
  • £7 | £5 under-16s

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Interactive! Fiddler on the Roof

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The Together Plan partner the Finchley Reform Synagogue Belarus Project presents a new take on this classic comic yet touching musical about life in a shtetl in the then Russian Empire. Featuring fancy dress, singalongs and a complementary vodka (“L’chaim!”), this interactive film evening promises to be a treat not to be missed. Picnic-style meal and soft drinks are provided, feel free to bring wine if you wish. Please RSVP to secretary@frsonline.org by 30th November.

  • Finchley Reform Synagogue 101 Fallow Court Avenue, London, N12 0BE
  • Sunday 3rd December 6:15-10:30
  • £15 | £12 under-16s

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We Remember! translation hits a new milestone

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The Together Plan is in the process of translating the memories of survivors of the notorious Minsk Ghetto into English. The compilation, titled in Russian “We remember! We bequeath the world to remember…”, provides a powerful and unprecedented window into life in one of the most brutal ghettos in Europe, told through the eyes of a handful of remarkable individuals and never before available in the English-speaking world. This week the translators completed the first draft, and began the lengthy editing process. We hope to be able to release the book very soon – we’ll keep you updated with all new developments! The book will be published by the Jewish Genealogical Society’s Yizkor book project in partnership with The Together Plan.

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Director to speak at Belsize Square Synagogue

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The Together Plan director Debra Brunner will be speaking about her work with communities in the former Soviet Union at an adult education session at Belsize Square Synagogue on the 6th October, 10:00-12:30. This is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness in a new community, and we hope this will be the start of a much greater involvement with Belsize Square. The synagogue’s Rabbi Stuart Altshuler will also be presenting on ‘the Great Philosophers and the Jewish response’. This is an open event; if you would like to attend please RSVP to office@thetogetherplan.com.

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Update from Belarus

After the excitement of summer camp, September brings a return to routine as families return from the country and the school year begins. As such, attendance at community gatherings such as Shabbat, start to increase. The photos below are from the Polotsk community’s Shabbat last week. Next week, director Debra Brunner will be in Belarus leading a trip for The Together Plan supporters, and we expect lots of news to follow.

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