It has been amost 10 years since The Together Plan became an officially recognised charity registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales. At the start – we were two founders – Debra Brunner in the UK and Artur Livshyts in Belarus and three trustees.
Over these ten years we have evolved, adapted, developed, professionalised and grown. It has been an incredibly challenging journey. As both founders faced personal traumas and loss along the way, the charity had to navigate through the COVID pandemic and now the complexities borne by a war in Eastern Europe. These very difficult obstacles have presented us with challenges beyond measure but we have never diverted from the cause even at the hardest moments.
The Together Plan is a non-political organisation, working in the former Soviet Union, through the lens of Jewish cultural heritage and our current focus is Belarus. The charity was born out of a twinning between Finchley Reform Synagogue and the Polotsk Jewish community in the north of Belarus. This community project was started by Debra Brunner as a volunteer in 2009 to share skills with community members in Polotsk and in some way help them to learn how to help themselves. There were many challenges and it soon became clear that there were also other communities in Belarus in need of support; some Reform, some Orthodox, some secular and there were many disconnected Jewish people with no community at all. In 2010 the name of the project was changed to the FRS Belarus Project – to enable dialogue to take place with other communities throughout Belarus, but there was a real need to do more. In 2013, Debra Brunner and Artur Livshyts (based in Minsk) registered The Together Plan with the UK Charities Commission and on 10th October 2013, the charity became an official entity. With a charity in place, it became possible to reach out to more communities and develop programmes to engage and support on a wider level.
Today, The Together Plan’s head office can be found in Bushey, UK and has a total international volunteer team of 70 people based in seven different countries. Moreover, our core volunteers have collectively logged over 16,000 hours since January 2020.
On the ground in Belarus, our projects are overseen by our growing and dedicated team in Minsk under the auspices of our partner NGO, Dialog, managed by the charity’s co-founder and Country Director Artur Livshyts. As a charity we have an excellent relationship with the British Embassy in Minsk and the Jewish Religous Union in Belarus, and Dialog maintains strong relationships with local authorities in Belarus. Together with Dialog, we follow strict internal processes to ensure good governance and financial best practice.
Between 2010 and 2019, we took UK youth workers and young adults to Belarus every year to run a summer programme. This was an incredibly exciting time as year on year, we built on our experiences, grew our network and helped more young people in Belarus engage with our programming. It was during these years that we understood that there was a burgeoning need for people from Belarus and beyond to explore their history, heritage and identity.
In September 2019, The Together Plan became a member of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Heritage and Culture (AEPJ) who are leading the network of route managers (institutions, historians, heritage practitioners and NGOs) in the building of the European Route of Jewish Heritage which is one of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe. The Together Plan is building the Jewish Route through Belarus.
Our cultural heritage programmes encourage community capacity building and self-determination through research, exploration, cultural events and dialogue. We help communities discover what can be achieved collectively, working alongside community members to develop skills and knowledge while providing the necessary training to build a sustainable future.
Today – The Together Plan has five growing departments; the Belarus Heritage Route, Book Translations, Aid Together (humanitarian aid), Archive Services (helping people all over the world who are looking for ancestral records in the Belarus archives) and ‘Making History Together’ – a unique introduction to the Holocaust and a character development initiative for 12/13 year olds.
Translating books that shed light on the little known history of the Holocaust in Belarus is a vital part of The Together Plan’s work and we feel privileged to be able to do this work. In 2018, we launched ‘We Remember Lest the World Forget – Memories of the Minsk Ghetto’. This is a book of 27 survivor memories of their time in the Minsk Ghetto as young children. This book took four years to translate, research and edit. This October we are launching our second book ‘Anna Machiz – Testimonies of Tragedy and Resistance in the Minsk Ghetto 1941 – 1943’ – a three and a half year translation project that began at the outset of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
Our successful humanitarian aid project, Aid Together, helps to support the most vulnerable in society as well as to resource the communities that we work with. There are sixteen incredible volunteers in the UK who make this project possible. They collect, sort and pack every donated item. They meticulously check every donation for rips, stains, missing buttons and broken zips. Any sub-standard item is repurposed to other projects ensuring only the best items reach our beneficiaries and through this project we are also able to send Judaica to the communities in Belarus – where it cannot be bought.
Our Making History Together Holocaust programme for 12-13 year olds is a programme we are incredibly proud of. With thanks to the support and belief of UK charity Jewish Child’s Day and the British Embassy in Belarus, we were able to bring this unique programme to life. With beautifully curated and meticulously researched materials and now a travelling exhibition, we are looking at offering this as a parent and child programme in 2024 to make the experience even more impactful. We are also very excited that the exhibition is going to be part of the Holocaust Memorial Day events being run by Newcastle City Council in 2024.
Click here to hear how the Making History Together programme impacted one of our students.
The long term vision for the Belarus Jewish Heritage route is to create an online portal which will map all of the Jewish heritage sites across Belarus, tangible and intangible, and will show the locations of museums, memorials and active communities which can be visited today. Moreover, it will be a place where visitors will be able to discover and learn more, read personal stories, link to audio tours and find help in building travel itineraries to the country. This is a major project for us as a charity which requires significant financial resources but the benefits and outcomes will be undeniably enriching, positive and more importantly will provide a route for sustainable development for the communities in Belarus. Today, as a part of this project we are creating Jewish heritage clubs in Belarus where people are communing around Jewish history and heritage. This is proving to be a very popular initiative as together people are exploring the stories that were suppressed during the Soviet period, which is bringing people together in very powerful ways.
Today, the charity has a sister non-profit in the USA Jewish Tapestry Project to help amplify our voice, reach more people and together mark, and where possible restore Jewish heritage sites in Belarus such as the Brest-Litovsk Jewish cemetery project.
On October 10th we will officially be a 10 year old charity! We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far as a small, passionate, determined and resilient organisation but we have so much more to do. We are immensely grateful for the support we receive from our donors and followers. We cannot thank you enough and we look forward to our next steps with you by our side.
To read the article published by the Jewish News, UK on Friday 22nd September, click here