exploring the legacy of Jewish partisans
In a remarkable display of historical exploration and creativity, a group of eight seventh and eighth-grade students from The Jewish Day School in Bellevue, Washington USA embarked on a three-day transformative project that delved into the lives of Jewish partisans during World War II. Guided by Tamara Vershitskaya, The Together Plan’s Jewish heritage specialist in Novogroduk, Belarus, and their teacher, Nance Adler, the students immersed themselves in the stories of the Bielski partisans and sought to understand their experiences. The culmination of their efforts resulted in a powerful composition and a film that captured the essence of this remarkable period in history.
As a way to connect with the Bielski Story, the students spent time exploring in the woods near to their school. Tamara Vershitskaya challenged the students to find an item that resonated with the Bielski story. Each student carefully selected an object that held personal significance, sparking their imagination and empathy for the Jewish partisans. Nance Adler, ever the insightful educator, recorded the students’ explanations in short videos, encouraging them to reflect on their choices and articulate the reasons behind their emotional connections.
The students’ individual reflections formed the basis for a collaborative composition and the creation of a symbol to mark the 80th anniversary of the tunnel escape from the Novgroduk Ghetto and the escaping Jews who joined the Bielski Partisans. As they shared their thoughts and insights, the students engaged in a collective process of creating a film that would authentically tell the story of the Jewish partisans. This collaborative effort fostered teamwork, empathy, and a deep appreciation for the power of collective storytelling.
Adding an even more impactful global dimension to the project, Debra Brunner, CEO of The Together Plan in the UK, joined Tamara Vershitskaya via Zoom to provide additional insights and support. This virtual connection brought fresh ideas and perspectives to the project, enriching the students’ understanding of the historical context and the impact of the Bielski partisans’ actions.
The project reached its pinnacle when the students had the honor of a special call with Aron Bell (Bielski), the last remaining Bielski brother. Aron, who now lives in the USA, in spite of his advanced years at the age of 95, shared vivid memories of life in the forest, recounting the challenges, survival strategies, and the unbreakable bond that formed among the partisans. He spoke of his own experience as a young boy, revealing the weight of responsibility he carried with his gun and how sustenance came in the form of potatoes, highlighting the resourcefulness and resilience of the group.
Through their project, the students at The Jewish Day School not only gained knowledge about Jewish partisans but also developed a deep sense of connection to their history and heritage. Their collaborative composition and film serve as a testament to the courage, sacrifice, and determination of the Bielski partisans, ensuring that their legacy endures and continues to inspire future generations.
The three-day project undertaken by the seventh and eighth-grade students at The Jewish Day School in Bellevue, WA, offers a poignant example of how education can transcend traditional boundaries to engage students deeply in history and empathy. With the guidance of Tamara Vershitskaya, the support of Debra Brunner, and the unique insight shared by Aron Bell (Bielski), these young learners discovered the remarkable story of the Jewish partisans and embraced their roles as custodians of this invaluable legacy. Their final composition, their symbol and film stand as a testament to the power of collaboration and the enduring significance of preserving and retelling stories that shape our understanding of humanity’s collective past.
Click here to watch the film
The students at The Jewish Day School who participated in the project were:
Maya Delcau – 8th grade – 14
Ethan MacDuff – 8th grade – 14
Elle O’Neil – 8th grade – 14
Villia Sacson – 7th grade – 12
Natalie Aronov – 7th grade – 12
Zev Schnitzer – 7th grade – 13
Zev Rushwald – 7th grade – 13
Avi Mezistrano – 7th grade – 13