Every summer our Youth for Youth ambassadors head to Belarus to meet with their peers and spend a week immersed in training, workshops, skill-sharing and collaborative programming.
It is a highlight in the charity’s annual calendar, and the outcomes, long after the end of each camp are always exciting and positive, both in Belarus and here among the cohort of Youth for Youth ambassadors who do so much for The Together Plan and who personally develop year on year. This year, however, our plans for the summer camp halted in April, as it became clear that the Coronavirus pandemic was here to stay, for at least the foreseeable future.
To experience a summer with no Youth for Youth activity was simply unthinkable, so we put our heads together to reimagine what might be possible given the circumstances. In 2018, our summer programme had been a residential in Belarus with 40 young adults. We had called it Zoymen, which means ‘seed’ in Yiddish, to symbolise the revival of Jewish life in Belarus. This year, as we were unable to travel to Belarus we set about creating a one-day version of the summer programme in a virtual space, and we called it Zoom into Zoymen 2020.
The event was produced by members of Youth for Youth (in London, Minsk and Cleveland, Ohio) and run and moderated by them on the day. Guest speakers were invited from New York, Los Angeles, Spain, the UK, Vienna and Minsk and the event was opened up to anyone who wanted to participate. We ran a small campaign in the Jewish press, and on social media and the bookings came in. Many sessions in English and in Russian were on offer, demonstrating that language does not have to be a barrier.
The sessions that ran throughout the day were as follows and the recordings can be watched by simply clicking the titles:
- Welcome to Zoymen 2020! Past, present and future – true steps forward – Debra Brunner (UK) Artur Livshyts (Minsk)
- The Belarusians who fought under British command in WWII – Ihar Melnikau (Minsk)
- How The Together Plan empowers and the impact of change – Ulyana Babko and Rina Freidinzon (Polotsk)
- The Jewish Partisan museum in Novogrudok, an ongoing project – Tamara Vershitskaya (Novogroduk)
- Connecting isolated Jewish communities – Panel Discussion with Debra Brunner (UK), Dani Rotstein (Mallorca), Lily Whear (Norwich), Artur Livshyts (Belarus), Marcel Odina (Barcelona)
- Testimonies of Tragedy and Resistance (a book in translation) – Nick Trapp (UK), Vlad Zaiko (Minsk)
- Shul of Rock – Gili Goldberg (London), Leo Levine (Vienna)
- From Chernobyl to COVID-19: An interview with Yan Leyfman (New York), with Kate Samuelson (London)
- From generation to generation: What role can the youth play in community? Sophie Peterman (London), Vlad Zaiko (Minsk)
- Creating a Jewish Heritage Trail in Belarus – Artur Livshyts (Minsk)
- The Survivor Mitzvah Project – Zane Buzby (Los Angeles)
- Chernobyl, Cancer, COVID-19: From Bobruisk to Israel to New York (Russian) – Yan Leyfman (New York)
- Yiddish: The central element of Judaism in Belarus – Arturo Kerbel-Shine (London), Tamara Gleason Freidberg (London), Gleb Rodionov (Minsk)
- Where do we go next? Exploring our current and future projects and how YOU can get involved – The Together Plan team
During the breaks throughout the day, participants were able to enjoy live music from Minsk by talented Klezmer Clarinetist Igor Zhook.
An extraordinary amount of work went into creating this event, which demonstrated how it is possible to bring people together into a virtual forum from across the globe, which in itself has so many exciting possibilities. We were excited that our Youth for Youth members in Belarus were still able to be involved in an alternative collaborative ‘summer event’ taking lead roles alongside their UK and US counterparts, proving that distance and language really do not have to be a barrier.
The day was immensely challenging, having never run anything quite like it before, but our youth team, under the guidance of our Youth for Youth ambassador and Development Coordinator, Jack Baum, were proud and elated that they were able to deliver such a well-run and fascinating programme bringing so many people together from across 10 time zones.
We were delighted to receive such positive feedback the following day:
“I just wanted to thank you, and tell you how much we both enjoyed yesterday afternoon’s event. It really was very moving and very special. It was such a well-put-together event, and you must be very proud of yourself and your team….. and no doubt also a little relieved that it went so well!”
Re the session with Yan Leyfman:
“That was phenomenal. A class of its own. I could sit through it all again right now. Unforgettable.
Re the whole event: Brilliant. Amazing and impressive, and really engaging. It has got to be annual event!!”
“I just wanted to drop you a line to say how much I enjoyed yesterday’s Zoymen event. It was so well organised and it gave me the opportunity to put faces to some of the names I’ve read about in your newsletters. I have certainly increased my knowledge not only about TTP, but also our shared history. I particularly enjoyed the session about the partisans’ museum.
Thank you again for an inspiring few hours.”
“Congratulations for yesterday. An amazing amount of work goes into organising a day like yesterday. The young members created a great day. Their vibrancy and knowledge is wonderful to see.”
If you missed Zoom into Zoymen 2020, click here for the complete Zoom into Zoymen 2020 Playlist on Youtube.
Will it be an annual event?…. Time will tell.