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.
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.
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.
Jack has been a volunteer and member of The Together Plan team since 2017, helping with IT and office development. 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.
Joanne volunteers at The Together Plan as the HR Advisor. She has previously worked for a software company overseeing the people management both for the UK and overseas offices. Having decided to take a career break at the beginning of 2020, she will be embarking on a Master’s degree in October, and felt that she wanted to give something back to the Jewish community and volunteer her services to a worthy cause.
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.
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.
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 Business Systems Manager. 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.
Rachel is an experienced Project Officer working for an International Development Think-Tank. She is keen to use her skillset as part of an organisation promoting history and heritage of Jewish culture whilst using this opportunity to continue to improve her coordination and communication skills. She is very excited to be a part of The Together Plan’s embracing family.
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.
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.
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.
Victor lives in Minsk and has been a valued member of The Together Plan team for 4 years. He works closely with Artur Livshyts and is staunchly reliable and well-loved by everyone, especially the Youth for Youth UK team who look forward to seeing him year on year. Victor loves the work that The Together Plan does because it fills him with hope for renewed Jewish community life in Belarus.
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.
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.
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, highly acclaimed book, We Remember, Lest the World Forget – Memories of The Minsk Ghetto, was launched in Belarus.
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.
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
David has recently become involved in the Together Plan in the last 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.
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 organizations.
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.
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.
Vlad was born in Bobruisk and was an active member of a local Jewish community when he was growing up. Since 2012 he has been involved in The Together Plan’s projects. In 2014 Vlad moved to England where he lived almost for a year. At the moment he is a member of The Together Plan Minsk team. He is proud and excited to be working as part of a charity that is helping to renew Jewish community life in Belarus.
AEPJ route through Belarus
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.
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.”
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.
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 Belarussian delegation was headed by Vladimir as he was the head of the Belarusian branch of the Avoda party and the dead on 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 a detached historian, writer, journalist and publicist. In addition, he leads a scientific research division at International program of Judeo-Christian dialogue “Shomer International” in Belarus.
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.
Two years ago I 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.
Lady (Esther) Gilbert, wife of the late Sir Martin Gilbert, editor of his website and creator of his monthly newsletters.
As Esther Goldberg, Creator and Editor of the three volumes of Holocaust Memoir Digest, published by Vallentine Mitchell