Like all communities, it’s our wonderful team that make us special. We’d love you to meet them!
the UK office
Debra has been working in Belarus for over ten years and is a passionate advocate for Jewish community, history, heritage and identity. Debra has worked tirelessly to grow The Together Plan in order to give agency to Jewish people coming out of a traumatic past, to empower them and give them skills and self-belief to rebuild and revive. It is Debra’s mantra that together we can make a real and positive difference for a better, stronger and more cohesive Jewish landscape in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Jack has been a volunteer and member of The Together Plan team since 2017, helping with IT and office development. He has recently taken on the role as Operations Manager, ensuring that The Together Plan is able to run smoothly and as efficiently as possible. He is an invested member of the Youth for Youth programme and has been to Belarus to run training there for young adults. Jack is a chemistry student at the University of York and strongly believes that with the power of “Togetherness”, Jewish communities can be supported, grow and thrive.
Clare is delighted to join The Together Plan as Fundraising Coordinator; bringing with her a wealth of experience from a career in the public sector. Over some twenty years, Clare has worked in senior roles for The Science Museum, The Royal Institution and The British Film Institute, where she was an Associate Director for more than twelve years.
As a parent of two autistic children, Clare is a passionate advocate and spokesperson for inclusion and research which, more recently, led to a year’s work as Senior Consultant with The National Autistic Society coupled with consulting with scientific leaders at Weizmann UK around their philanthropic giving programmes. Clare is very excited to be embarking on this journey to support and empower Jewish communities at the heart of The Together Plan vision.
Leo has been involved as a volunteer at The Together Plan since 2018, having taken part in the first Zoymen as well as traveling across Belarus to pave the way for the Jewish Heritage Trail. Majoring in History and Politics at Bowdoin College, USA and more recently receiving his Masters in History from McGill University, Canada, Leo’s dissertation focused on the Soviet and post-Soviet history education on the Great Patriotic War. He believes history education is intrinsic to national collective memory, and is working with The Together Plan to raise awareness of the history of the Holocaust during the occupation of Belarus. His grandparents currently live in Brest, Belarus which adds a personal note to his interest in the history of ex-Soviet countries.
Evelina is a solicitor with substantial experience working in the UK and abroad. In addition to her legal qualifications, she also gained a Masters degree in Russian Studies at University College London. Born in Israel to Russian émigré parents, Evelina has always been interested in maintaining strong links with Jewish communities around the world to help preserve their rich heritage and identity. Evelina is very excited to be joining The Together Plan’ Book Translations project to help document and raise awareness of the Holocaust in Belarus.
Simon recently joined The Together Plan as our new Community Coordinator. Simon has had a long career in publishing, marketing and advertising and is a very active member of Barnet synagogue. He has a passion for the revivification of Jewish communities around the globe. His previous charity involvement saw him develop the brand and strategy for an anti-FGM organisation operating in Islamic African nations.
Simon holds an MBA in Strategy & Leadership although during lockdown has mainly focused on baking sourdough bread, for which the qualification has not proved that useful.
Michelle is a retired Food Product Developer from Marks and Spencer, having spent over 20 years in the corporate world. Today she is a part-time cookery teacher and full-time obsessed foodie. Michelle is now also using her skills from her past life volunteering as an Events Coordinator at The Together Plan. This role has enabled her to meet a great new team of people and pushed open new doors to enable her to learn new skills. Because of The Together Plan, Michelle is now researching her own family who she has discovered originated from Minsk.
Elaine Collins volunteers in the Together Plan office as the Office Administrator. She began her journey by volunteering at Pinner helping to sort aid and she was inspired by Debra Brunner’s story and her endless energy and enthusiasm! Since Elaine has many years of office work, she felt that lending her time to helping the charity with admin would be the best position for her and was certainly something that the charity needed. Elaine says that she learns more about The Together Plan every day and loves being a valued member of the team.
Suzanne used to be a part of the volunteer team at World Jewish Relief when they ran their Gifts in Kind project. When that project closed, she found The Together Plan and was delighted to be able to offer her services and experience to the Aid Together project – which sends humanitarian aid and resources to community centres in Belarus.
In 2018, Suzanne took on the role of Project Coordinator and now manages a dedicated team of 12 volunteers who meet weekly at Pinner United Synagogue.
Joe De Oliveira
Joe was born in South Africa and moved to Houston, Texas to pursue his career as a professional footballer (Soccer). “Luckily that didn’t work out” he says. Joe’s unique career path has resulted in a tenacious work ethic manifested in the chaotic world of entrepreneurship. He founded his marketing agency while still in High School, and fast forward 5 years, he founded his second company – a Salesforce consultancy. Joe is also currently pursuing his MBA.
Joe recently joined The Together Plan after he was Introduced by Paul Ginsberg – his mentor & fellow Salesforce Consultant. Joe’s curiosity in The Together Plan was sparked by his family’s lost Jewish heritage as well as his intrigue in culture and history.
Paul has had a non-traditional career path, after dropping out of university after one year. He was a secretary and office manager but eventually found his calling as a Salesforce Consultant. He’s a firm believer that the right IT can be used to help unlock organisations’ and individuals’ potential.
Paul first encountered The Together Plan in 2015 at a synagogue community day and hasn’t looked back. He happily acknowledges that The Together Plan has benefited him hugely too. In 2016 he went to Belarus to see our work in action, a transformative experience.
Paul moved from London to Amsterdam in 2017 but still helps out behind the scenes, helping keep our systems running smoothly.
Hannah is an undergraduate studying chemistry at the University of York. She has recently become involved in The Together Plan as she believes the work we do is incredibly important and valuable to the communities involved. Hannah is very excited to get involved and join the team and she is ready to help in any way she can!
Stephen has had a long career in commercial estate agency and valuation surveying, focusing on the creative industries in the West End of London. He has been actively involved in fundraising, community work and volunteering throughout his working life and now seeks to make a difference with The Together Plan.
Yelena currently works as a freelance Russian-English translator and Russian Language tutor. She holds an MSc degree in Mechanical Engineering from Moscow Power Engineering Institute and has many years of administrative work experience. Literary translation is her dream and passion. She has been an active volunteer for The Cambridge Russian-Speaking Society (CamRuSS) since 2007 and the Cambridge Russian school (2003-2015). She has recently become involved in The Together Plan and is keen to apply her knowledge and experience to help with translation.
Having graduated from the University of Edinburgh studying Economics with Environmental Studies, Joey has gathered a real passion for NGO work. After experiencing charitable excursions across the world, Joey is excited to harness, expand and apply his experiences within The Together Plan by offering a hand with the charity’s grant researching and applications.
In his personal life Joey is a novice chess player and throughout the Covid-19 Lockdown, developed his culinary skills, which, although not necessarily applicable to his work with The Together Plan, is valuable and well received by his family and friends.
Vesta was born in Pinsk, Belarus and spent her formative years in Brest, eventually moving to New Orleans, USA, where she acquired a Bachelor of Arts in political science, business, and Russian language and literature at Tulane University. She currently lives in North Carolina. Vesta unearthed her Jewish heritage thanks to a genetic test, and was pushed to explore Judaism religiously following a visit to Brest and Bronnaya Gora in 2019.
Through The Together Plan, Vesta hopes to further her understanding of Belarusian Jewry and to assist in preserving Belarusian history and heritage for future generations. She facilitates for her eldest son’s budding ballet career and her younger children’s Russian language acquisition, sharpening her own piano technique when she can.
Gillian is an experienced Events Coordinator having fulfilled a similar role for the last 20 years with an Israel-focused charity. She is delighted to be volunteering for The Together Plan which is a truly inspirational organisation. Gillian is genuinely enthusiastic to use her skills and experience to contribute to this wonderful venture.
Vasily is a very active person and has been volunteering for years; making a difference in a large variety of campaigns. He only recently met The Together Plan and has now joined Artur, our Belarus Country Director, in the Minsk office, immediately becoming a part of it all. Openhearted, thoughtful and eager to help, Vasily is proud to be a member of a charity and is looking forward to making our world better.
Mike retired from a long career in I.T. Management in 2015. Since then he has been helping a number of charities in a variety of voluntary roles. Mike has a special interest in genealogy after researching his own family roots in Belarus.
Carl became interested in The Together Plan while successfully enlisting them to trace his family roots in Minsk. As Carl learned more about The Together Plan he wanted a way to get more involved and support our work. As a result Carl has recently joined The Together Plan volunteer team as a new Archive Services Case Worker, helping to share his genealogy knowledge and passion with others. Carl retired from a long career at IBM in 2012. Since then, he has volunteered for a diverse group of non-profits, including several Israel advocacy groups, and a walking tour group in Boston. His other hobbies include cycling, travel and hiking with his dog Buster.
Maeve has been a member of The Together Plan since the beginning of 2019 and through her experiences in and out of the office, has become passionately interested in Belarus and its Jewish communities. She was inspired by the ethos of the charity and the people who keep it going. She joined The Together Plan to learn about the behind-the-scenes of how a charity operates and to gain potential career experience. After learning more and more she knew that she had to be a part of it!
Maeve works in the Together Plan London office as the Youth for Youth Coordinator and one of her roles is running the Facebook page. She also worked on the 2019 Belarus trip information booklet and discovered so much more about its sad yet strong history. She is so thankful to be part of such a strong team, full of people who really make a difference and she is looking forward to seeing where The Together Plan leads her next.
Anna is excited to be involved with the Archive Services as she has a strong personal interest in Jewish heritage in the former Soviet Union. She has a master’s degree in Russian Studies and has worked as a researcher and private investigator. Naturally inquisitive, Anna enjoys helping people explore their family history, bringing them closer to their roots.
the Belarus office
Artur was born in Minsk and spent two years living with a relative in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there, as a child of the Soviet Union, that he discovered Judaism; he studied Hebrew and had a bar mitzvah. It was his first foray into Jewish life. He spent a year living in a boarding school in Israel before returning to Belarus where he completed his education in Minsk, studying Human Rights Law. Having had a taste of Jewish life, he has made it his life’s work to strive for a revival of the Jewish community in Belarus. He met Debra Brunner in 2009 and together, since that time, they have worked to build and grow The Together Plan.
Sonya is a very inquisitive and active person. Even as a child she was interested in learning foreign languages and is now in her fourth year at the College for Linguistics and Humanity in Belarus. She has especially enjoyed studying the peculiarities of the development of history and culture. Recently Sonya ‘found herself’ and now understands what she wants to do in the future – contribute to the research, preservation and popularisation of cultures of different countries and their historical and cultural heritage. This led her to The Together Plan. It is here that Sonya hopes to explore this further and gain experience for her personal development. She is excited to be a part of the team and believes that together we will be able to preserve our history and heritage for the successful creation of our future!
Dmitriy became involved with The Together Plan as a volunteer in 2020. He has taken part in several marathons for the The Together Plan team in Belarus, helping to raise support and awareness for the charity. Dmitriy is a very active and communicative person and he loves helping people and developing his skills. He is the father of 3 boys and enjoys the opportunity to set an example of kindness through volunteering. In 2021, Dmitriy was invited to join the team in Minsk as logistics administrator.
Nastya is 25 years old and was born in Novopolotsk. It is a small, modern town next to the historical Jewish city of Polotsk. She first joined the Polotsk community in 2010 to find out more about the history and traditions of my heritage. Through this community she has met a lot of her current friends and colleagues. Since then she graduated from university with a degree in Tourism and currently lives in Kiev, Ukraine.
Nastya joined the the Together Plan in 2013 and enjoys being part of this team because she is inspired by all the members. She says: “together we have fun, together we solve problems and together we build Jewish history.”
Tamara is a passionate Holocaust researcher with many years of experience. Previous roles include the position of Director of the Novogrudok Museum of History and Regional Studies. She played a key role in the establishment of the Jewish Resistance Museum, a memorial exhibition on the former ghetto site dedicated to the tunnel escape and the Bielski partisans.
Tamara has written many publications for both the Russian and American Holocaust Encyclopaedias and was a translator for the book of memoirs Surviving the Holocaust with the Russian Jewish partisans by Jack Kagan and Dov Cohen. Her research into Jewish resistance in Novogrudok and in other parts of Belarus have resulted in numerous scientific publications and a book, Pain and Anger – Holocaust and Resistance in Novogrudok, published in 2019 by the Belarusian Encyclopaedia.
Tamara has organized many conferences and educational seminars on Jewish heritage for secondary school teachers throughout Belarus on the subject of the Holocaust. She also collaborated with Jewish heritage professionals in Poland in a cross-border project entitled “Shtetl routes. Vestiges of Jewish Cultural Heritage in Cross-Border Tourism” (2013-2015).
Currently, Efim is Head of the Brest Jewish Charitable Center “Hesed-David”. He is the author of the book A Brief Guide to Jewish Brest as well as many publications on the history of the Jews of Brest. He works in the Brest Regional Archives, exploring the many unique documents available there and he is currently developing a complete list of the victims of the Nazis among the Jews of Brest – It includes about 18 thousand names! Some of them not even included in the database of Yad Vashem.
Vladimir was born in Starie Dorogi in the Minsk region. After failing to be accepted to study history at the Belarusian Statue University, he started working at the age of 16. Initially he was a miller assistant and later worked as a test-engineer of KAMAZ at a factory in Borisov. He later graduated from the High military-political academy in Lvov and now has a degree in History from BSU, Geography from the Pedagogical University in Smolensk and has a degree of Candidate of Science in the military.
After the Soviet Union broke up, Vladimir worked in a variety of Jewish organisations in Belarus: As a vice-editor at “Berega” newspaper; as a chief at “Aviv” newspaper; as a public and media affairs coordinator at Jewish Agency for Israel “Sohnut” in Belarus; as a chief editor at “Sohnut” newspaper in Belarus – “Bezavta”.
During the 34th Zionist congress which was held in 2002, the Belarusian delegation was headed by Vladimir as he was the head of the Belarusian branch of the Avoda party and the head of the Israel Institute named by Moshe Sharet in Belarus.
Vladimir has been studying the history of the Holocaust in Belarus since 1979 and completed the course “Jewish identity” at Bar-Ilansk University in Ramat-Gann, Israel.
Currently he is an independent historian, writer, journalist and publicist. In addition, he leads a scientific research division at International program of Judeo-Christian dialogue “Shomer International” in Belarus.
Rina Freidinzon, having studied at the Belarusian State University, is a Social Rehabilitation Therapist by profession and is now the Director of Polotsk Jewish Educational Cultural Centre, having been a member of the Jewish community for 14 years. She also works as an Hebrew teacher in the children’s Sunday school, one of many projects which were developed in partnership with Finchley Reform Synagogue since 2012.
In Rina’s many years of experience as a youth leader, she has helped to foster a positive developmental environment and has inspired and directly prepared many young members of the community to become youth leaders themselves. Having become a mother in April 2019 to Sofia, Rina understands the importance of ensuring that every child at the Sunday school receives an engaging and creative Jewish education and always feels comfortable within the community.
Vadim first discovered Judaism when he met his future wife at the age of 18 and began to explore her religion. They have since been together for 7 years and married for 3. He is now a Krav Maga (Israeli hand-to-hand combat) coach and has spent time volunteering for the Minsk Children’s Hospice. Highly organised and responsible, Vadim would like to “preserve the history that our present generation is forgetting. [He] wants the next generation to be able to learn about history and culture in an interesting way”. Alongside The Together Plan, he hopes to achieve his goals of exploring “heritage” and finding an important meaning for all involved.
Paul has worked with The Together Plan since its inception and today, together with fellow trustees, provides guidance, governance and advice to The Together Plan’s employees and volunteers. He visited Belarus travelling to different communities in 2018 to gain a first-hand knowledge of how the charity functions in the country. At the same time, the highly acclaimed book, “We Remember, Lest the World Forget – Memories of The Minsk Ghetto” was launched in Belarus. This was made possible because of The Together Plan.
Paul has had previous involvement with other charities and has experience of being a School Governor as well as Treasurer and Council Member for Finchley Reform Synagogue, for which he is now involved in the synagogue’s rebuilding programme. Before retiring in September 2018, Paul was the Finance Director for a major financial service outsourcing joint venture.
Paul has been married for 31 years to Bett Demby, a fellow volunteer of The Together Plan, and has two sons now in their 20s.
Michael was a practising chartered accountant for 40 years. He built up his own practice and eventually became one of 10 partners in a very successful accountancy firm. Michael specialised in advising start-up businesses and small and medium-sized companies. His advice involved the development of growth strategies, mergers and acquisitions, raising funds, and successful exit planning.
He was also involved with forensic accounting. He helped organisations devise business plans and develop their teams to take their companies to the next level. Since leaving general practice Michael has continued his career as a business coach. Michael is also a school governor of a primary school in North London.
Gelena was born in Odessa, Ukraine, known for its vibrant Jewish community which was once among the largest in Eastern Europe. That changed as the countless Jewish families from across the former Soviet Union left in the last decades before country’s break-up, and she established new roots in New York. After studying economics, Gelena joined a global financial institution focusing on change management and product development; a role which took her to London in 2006, where she now lives.
A native Russian speaker, Gelena first learned about The Together Plan through a Jewish Volunteering Network ad looking for an English/Russian translator. Through that advert, she became a part of a volunteer team on an exciting project preparing a boy in Belarus, through distance learning, for his Bar Mitzvah.
Trish has been involved with The Together Plan as a volunteer and supporter since 2012. In 2014 she travelled to Belarus spending time in Minsk and Polotsk experiencing first-hand the charity’s community work in its early years.
Trish has over 25 years of experience as a media lawyer working for global media companies with much of her transactional career centred in the Central and Eastern European markets. As a senior leader she has guided legal and business strategy and developed expertise in corporate compliance and regulation. She is an experienced change management agent having advised on and steered companies through several corporate restructurings. With strong people skills she has driven various talent development initiatives and is also an accredited career and business coach.
Most recently her charity work has included a lead role providing governance and policy advice for the set up of a new secondary academy school, London Screen Academy, which opened its doors in 2019.
Youth for Youth: office
Abi is a recent Film Music graduate, and has incorporated ideas around Jewish heritage into her composition and daily musical practices. Having volunteered for The Together Plan and Youth for Youth since 2014, Abi has recently joined the Youth for Youth team as the Youth for Youth Development Coordinator and hopes to act as a port of call for the Youth of the charity, and develop the cohort into a desirable and exciting movement!
Sam has been involved with The Together Plan since 2015 and has helped run four successive Youth for Youth summer camps in Belarus. His involvement with the charity has also taken him to Poland, to build connections with the Jewish community there, as well as to the London office to assist with the day to day running of The Together Plan. Sam is currently training to become a barrister.
Sam has been involved with The Together Plan for 9 years and headed up the Youth for Youth arm from 2014 to 2019. She has now taken on the role of Young Adult Development Coordinator. Sam has planned camps and taught leadership skills to multiple communities in Belarus; helped to sort and pack humanitarian aid; planned and participated in a plethora of fundraisers, and now heads up the young adult engagement side of the charity.
In her professional life, she is Head of Programming at Alyth Synagogue, London and in her personal life, she is an avid Arsenal fan and an incredibly competitive Scrabble player.
Sophie has been to Belarus four times, taking a lead role in Youth for Youth annual summer programmes; training young Belarusian adults skills to work in a community setting, planning and running a youth symposium and travelling through Belarus exploring the potential for the development of a Jewish heritage trail. When Sophie is not working in her professional capacity as an Educator at Alyth Synagogue, Sophie volunteers as the Activities Officer for The Together Plan’s Youth for Youth programme.
Ulyana was born in Polotsk and has been a member of the Polotsk Jewish community since 2016, taking an active leadership role and helping to coordinate Friday Night Shabbat services. She became a member of The Together Plan in 2017 and has attended many of our summer programmes, both as a participant and now as a presenter. She recently moved to Minsk to study History at the Belarusian State University. She speaks both Russian and English fluently and is keen to lend her translating skills to enable Youth for Youth to operate globally.
Madison joined the Youth for Youth team in 2020. Her interest in The Together Plan and the Youth for Youth movement stems from her passion for learning about contemporary Jewish life in Europe. This passion began in 2014 when Madison attended the Szarvas International Jewish Youth Camp in Hungary. She then spent a summer living in Warsaw, Poland, interning for the American Jewish Committee Central Europe office. In Warsaw, Madison met with a genealogist and discovered that part of her family originated from a town called Vysokaye (Wysokie Litewskie), in present day Belarus. She was inspired by this newfound knowledge to learn more specifically about Jewish Belarus and connect with the present day Belarussian Jewish communities.
Madison lives in Cleveland, Ohio, USA and graduated from university in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Judaic Studies and English. In her professional life, she is the Founder of the Global Jewish Pen Pal Program and she freelance writes for various organisations.
Sonia has been involved with The Together Plan as a Project Coordinator since 2015. She loved assisting with the 2016 Summer Symposium in Belarus and working with such a passionate team of volunteers. Sonia continues to work as a Project Coordinator in the non profit sector, and is thrilled to be involved with planning this year’s Zoymen.
Youth for Youth: translators
Amelia is currently a languages undergraduate with experience in journalism, insurance, recruitment, hospitality, and teaching. Working and studying in an international environment means that she eagerly follows global political issues. Amelia is excited to use her skillset to join the mission of The Together Plan and engage more with the culture and history of Eastern Europe.
Billy is a History and Russian student at the University of Exeter and has studied the Russian language since he was 14. He plans to spend the next academic year in Russia. He has recently become involved with The Together Plan due to his passion for Soviet history and hopes that his language skills and knowledge will be of benefit to the organisation. In his spare time Billy is an avid rugby player and is currently Social Secretary of the Exeter University Rugby League Club.
Charlie is a recent graduate of the University of Warwick, where she studied Modern Languages, one of which was Russian. She uses her Russian language skills to translate documents, educational booklets and historical books for the Together Plan. Having studied Russian and Soviet history at school and university, and having spent time in Russia, Charlie has a keen interest in the countries of the former Soviet bloc and their present and future development. As such, she is excited to volunteer for, and be a part of, a charity that empowers communities to rebuild themselves.
Cicely is a new translator with The Together Plan. She studies languages at the University of Cambridge. Her main passion is for Russia and the Russian language, hence her involvement and interest in the charity. She is excited to start translating The Together Plan’s important work, so that it is more accessible to those who benefit from it.
Cooper is a 4th year student of International Relations and Russian at the University of Exeter. He has a deep interest in the countries of the former Soviet Union and has joined The Together Plan as a volunteer translator to help the youth of Belarus to find a voice whilst improving his Russian translation and communication skills.
David has become involved in the Together Plan in the past year. He is fluent in both English and Russian and as such, helps The Together Plan with translation of key documents and during activities. He is interested in the Jewish history of Eastern Europe and connecting with Russian speakers to share their stories and heritage. David is a second-year student at Imperial College London studying Medical Biosciences.
Eleanor is an undergraduate studying French and Russian at the University of Exeter. She has recently joined the Together Plan team and is excited to use her language skills to help translate valuable resources and get involved as much as possible! She was inspired by the charity’s ethos of helping communities to empower themselves, and is looking forward to working with the team in developing their projects.
Illy is an undergraduate studying French and Russian at the University of Exeter. She has recently joined The Together Plan, as she is very passionate about the work we do, as well as the importance of supporting communities in the Former Soviet Union. Illy is excited to start helping the team and get involved with our charity where she can.
Isabel started learning Russian when she was thirteen. She is currently studying English and Russian as a Joint Honours degree at the University of Exeter. She has always had a love for Russian and believes in the power that languages have to bring people together. Originally, Isabel wanted to join The Together Plan as a way to speak more Russian but was inspired by the way the charity is a perfect example of how languages can unite people all across the world.
Kalina was born in Ruse, Bulgaria but has lived in different parts of the world since the age of 15. She has recently graduated with a degree in Russian and Politics at the University of Glasgow. Her academic interests include memory studies, narratology and translation studies, which has drawn her to become part of The Together Plan. Kalina is looking forward to using her knowledge and skills to make a contribution to this wonderful cause in many different ways.
Martin is a Russian Language and Central Eastern European Studies graduate of the University of Glasgow. A recent inductee to The Together Plan team, Martin believes passionately that our history needs to be remembered and kept alive at the grass roots and feels honoured to be able to lend his translating abilities to the process. In his spare time, Martin enjoys reading the works of Vasily Grossman and Touring Cycling.
Naomi is a student of French and Russian at University College London. She has recently joined the Together Plan as a volunteer translator, and hopes to help make Jewish and Eastern European history more accessible.
Yelena is half Russian and currently studies languages at University College London. She is passionate about translation and hopes to help The Together Plan in continuing to make their important work accessible to more people. She is also excited to discover more about her heritage and the Jewish history of Eastern Europe.
Lady Esther Gilbert
I am lucky to have relatives – a few in Canada, in Israel, in the United States. If not for the Holocaust I would also have relatives in Belarus and Ukraine – and these are just the ones I know about. Most of the close relatives I grew up ‘with’ were dead already, but I know (and carry) some of their names, have some photographs and have stood in some of the villages where they lived and the fields and forests where they are buried. Their memory is part of how I look at the world and hopefully has been transmitted to my children. Memory is also a part of the Jews who live in our ancestral homeland today. Their journey back to Jewish life after the Holocaust and the deprivations of the Soviet regime is due in no small measure to the work of Debra Brunner and The Together Plan.
I first met Debra and Artur Livshyts at a film they presented. I brought Artur a copy of my late husband Sir Martin Gilbert’s book Atlas of Jewish History, to take back to Belarus with him for the community there. In hearing about the work The Together Plan is doing in rekindling Jewish life and culture in the very places where our ancestors put Yiddishkeit on the map, I was in awe.
The Jews of Belarus that The Together Plan are reaching are not the embers of the vibrant Jewish life of the Pale of Settlement. We, the descendants of Jews who came West before or during the last century, we are the embers of that life that have kept the flame going. The Jews in these eastern lands have survived Soviet, Nazi, and again Soviet occupation, have had their families, their religion, and their culture ripped from them, and have seen so many take advantage of open borders to move to Israel and the West. But their communities in Belarus are being reinvigorated and reconnected with Jewish life, their communities are taking shape and gaining strength. The Together Plan is playing an important role in memorialising Jewish history in Belarus and helping to create vibrant Jewish communities there, while at the same time connecting communities in the UK and lending expertise and energy. ‘Together’ the flame of Jewish life will burn even brighter.
With her Lady (Esther) Gilbert hat on, and as the wife of the later Sir Martin Gilbert, she edits his website and creates his monthly newsletters. As Esther Goldberg, she is the creator and editor of the three volumes of Holocaust Memoir Digest, published by Vallentine Mitchell.