Final International Film Festival screening a huge success

The Together Plan International Film Festival wrapped up with its final screening of 2017, Labyrinth of Lies.  This deeply thought-provoking German film, based on a true story, explores the troubled, problematic and often conflicting relationship with the Nazi atrocities in the post-war German judicial system.

At a time when, shockingly, many Germans had never heard of Auschwitz, with fewer still wanting to learn about the Holocaust, one man takes it upon himself to pursue ‘justice’ for the victims, however impossible this may be to attain.  Yet he comes to realise that enthusiastic perpetrators of the Holocaust, as well as passive yet complicit bystanders, are everywhere in the Germany of his day.

The film immediately precipitated a deeply personal and insightful discussion, during which attendees shared their own family stories and experiences, and explored the highly relevant and difficult questions of redress, Holocaust education and trauma.

Both the film and the ensuing discussion were truly eye-opening, raising many of the difficult issues which The Together Plan works to tackle across the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

The legacy of persecution and Holocaust is far from easy to deal with.  That is why the work of The Together Plan in rebuilding Jewish communities is more needed now than ever.  We work with Holocaust survivors, their families and the wider Jewish and non-Jewish community towards an acknowledgement and working through of trauma, often for the first time.  As Frida Reisman, chair of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association and a longstanding partner of The Together Plan, put it on her visit to London last week: ‘we, the Minsk Ghetto survivors, no longer feel forgotten thanks to The Together Plan.’

Farewell to Aid Together project coordinator Lucille Baker 

It is with sadness and deep gratitude that we say farewell for now to our aid project coordinator Lucille Baker.  Lucille has been working with The Together Plan as coordinator of our Aid Together project for three years, and she has made an immense contribution to the development of the programme.

We are opening up the position of Volunteer Coordinator to a dedicated individual wishing to take on this responsibility.  Anybody interested should email london@thetogetherplan.com.  Equally for more information or to get involved as a volunteer packing and sorting our humanitarian aid, email london@thetogetherplan.com or call 020 3375 0656.  Any contribution of time is greatly appreciated.

Listen: The Together Plan London office interviewed on radio! 

SOAS Radio interviewed The Together Plan’s co-director Debra Brunner, as well as communications officer Jake Goldman, project coordinator Sonia Richardson and development coordinator Jonathan Clingman, for its ‘Lost in the Wider Picture’ series.

The series, conceived and developed by Giacomo Paoloni for SOAS Radio, explores the diversity of Jewish social action initiatives in the UK, Israel and around the world.  The episode dedicated to The Together Plan explores questions of identity and belonging in eastern Europe, in a space where being part of a Jewish community is not always easy yet which is being impacted greatly by the Jewish communal provision that The Together Plan brings.  Debra, Jake, Sonia and Jonathan delved into the complex question of their own multifaceted identities and outlooks, as well as their experiences in the former Soviet Union and the uniqueness of The Together Plan’s model.  It is a truly fascinating listen!

Donations held at our London warehouse packed onto our lorry headed to Belarus! 

Around fifteen volunteers gathered on a cold Sunday in London to pack the generous donations of humanitarian aid that has been collected by The Together Plan throughout the year onto a forty-foot long lorry.

These items, which include much-needed clothing, electrical equipment, Judaica, welfare supplies, educational resources and toys, have been collected throughout the year and meticulously sorted for The Together Plan by a team based at Pinner United Synagogue.  This Sunday our volunteers crammed hundreds of the sorted bags onto a ten-tonne lorry currently on its way across the continent of Europe to help disadvantaged communities in Belarus!

In attendance at the lorry loading day was 82-year-old Frida Reisman from Belarus, chair of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association, who gave the other packers a run for their money in her enthusiasm and strength.  We were also lucky enough to be joined by some of our regular sorters and by Matthew Lloyd-Winder, as well as by Neil Clowes and his team from Apt & Able removers and handymen, who once again generously donated their time, resources and expertise.  A number of our Youth for Youth volunteers worked with Frida, Neil, Matthew and others on this fun and productive project to load the lorry.

Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association chair Frida Reisman comes to London  

The Together Plan invited and facilitated the visit of Frida Reisman, chair of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association, to London this week.  At 82 years, this was Frida’s first visit to the UK, and it has been a delight for our London office team and volunteers to spend time with her.

We have been working with Frida and the Association for around four years, during which time we have worked to ease the loneliness of many individuals who still live on the territory that was once the ghetto, bringing the Yiddish music and culture of their youth to them once again and putting on special Shabbat services connecting the younger generation with this most treasured and important group.  Our 2017 Mitzvah Day programme in Belarus involved bringing challot, and company, to survivors living on their own.  We have also provided a significant quantity of humanitarian aid to many of the survivors and their families, many of whom are economically vulnerable.  Ours is the only project of its kind, as we involve the survivors we work with in the distribution of the aid.  This grants them agency and ensures they feel valued as facilitators rather than just beneficiaries.

We are extremely grateful that Frida took the time and made such an effort to come to London and speak at our Friends’ Scheme launch.  Frida also attended synagogue and a special Friday night dinner at The Together Plan’s London headquarters, where she thanked The Together Plan for creating Jewish life (and Jewish food!) both in the UK and in Belarus.  She affirmed that ‘we, the Minsk Ghetto survivors, no longer feel forgotten, thanks to The Together Plan.’

The Together Plan launches new Friends’ Scheme at exclusive Camden event

Around fifty people gathered for the launch reception of our new Friends’ Scheme.  The scheme will enable our supporters and followers to keep up to date with our varied projects, coming at a crucial time of development and expansion for the charity as we work with more communities and partner organisations than ever before.  Guests enjoyed a nibbles and drinks reception, including herring and vodka brought all the way from Belarus, and heard from The Together Plan’s co-directors about our upcoming and ongoing projects.

The keynote address was given by Frida Reisman, chair of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association and a longstanding partner of The Together Plan.  Ms Reisman, who The Together Plan brought to London especially for this event, effortlessly yet meticulously detailed the trauma that she experienced as a child of the notorious Minsk ghetto, and spoke of her subsequent life on its territory.  The event will be remembered for a long time by all in attendance.

As a Friend of The Together Plan you will receive exclusive perks, including access to our rare books library, priority booking for events and trips, access to our Friends newsletter, invitations to our annual Friends event, and much more!  Learn more and sign up to become a Friend at thetogetherplan.com/friends.

Thank you to the Pinner Community for supporting our aid project

Pinner United Synagogue kindly hosts The Together Plan’s Aid Together project, with volunteers assembling there each week to pack and sort donations of humanitarian aid in preparation for the transportation of our lorries to Belarus.

We are extremely grateful to the community and the volunteers.  For more information about how to get involved or volunteer with this project, contact Lucille Baker at lucille@thetogetherplan.com, or call The Together Plan office on 0203 375 0656.

inaugural belarusian cultural evening a resounding success!

Around fifty people gathered last Sunday for The Together Plan’s inaugural Belarusian Cultural Evening, which celebrated Belarusian music, art, literature and food, showcasing the very best that The Together Plan has to offer.

The evening was put together by The Together Plan’s London development and projects team, and presented by Sonia Richardson, Jonathan Clingman and Jake Goldman.  With the bimah of Finchley Reform Synagogue transformed into ‘Babushka’s living room’, enraptured audience members were transplanted from leafy north London into the forested and magical landscape of Belarus, on the other side of the European continent.

Copious amounts of Belarusian treats were available.  Our guests sampled pickled herring, home-made pickled cucumbers and beans, black bread, vodka-infused mulled wine, sharlotka (Belarusian apple cake) and many more delicacies.  Meanwhile Jake, Jonathan and Sonia presented a carefully put together programme of informative and engaging content, which included haunting renditions of landmark Yiddish, Belarusian and Russian-language songs and poetry.  Belarusian art was exhibited and its key protagonists explored, and audience members heard first-hand the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, to be included in our upcoming translation of a book of memories, We Remember.  We took audience members on a journey through Belarus’ varied and troubled history, introducing some of our most vital and needed projects which protect and preserve a proud and endangered heritage.

We hope to put on similar events at various locations, bringing the fascinating world of Belarusian culture to an even wider audience.  If your organisation is interested in hosting one such event, contact london@thetogetherplan.com for more information.

Youth for Youth expands with trip to Manchester

Some of our London-based Youth for Youth volunteers also travelled to Manchester last week to connect with their peers and expand the vital work of The Together Plan’s flagship programme for young people, Youth for Youth.

This project empowers young adults to revive Judaism and community life, not only in Belarus but across the UK, USA, Israel, Germany, Ukraine, the Netherlands and elsewhere, and includes an annual residential summer programme in Belarus.  The event, which was was hosted by Manchester Menorah Synagogue (Cheshire Reform Congregation) and facilitated by youth worker Joel Stokes, also included vital contributions from the community’s Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky.  This was an eye-opening and insightful experience for all involved, and the start of an exciting new chapter in the life of Youth for Youth.

The Together Plan Co-Director gives Manchester Menorah talk

Debra Brunner, London Co-Director of The Together Plan, was received warmly and attentively by around twenty members of the Jewish community of Manchester last week.

The event, which took place at Manchester Menorah Synagogue (Cheshire Reform Congregation), included many insightful questions from community members.  Some of those in attendance have visited Belarus with The Together Plan and its forerunner in the past, and many expressed their excitement to get more involved in supporting The Together Plan, for instance by collecting humanitarian aid items and arranging for their transportation to our London warehouse.

Debra spoke about her personal journey towards advocacy and activism for the revival of Jewish life in Belarus.  She also outlined her efforts alongside our Minsk co-director Artur Livshyts to establish The Together Plan as a dominant force in the achievement of communal self-sufficiency across Belarus, as well as in international philanthropic enterprise in the former Soviet Union more generally.

The attendees then heard about some of the much-needed projects currently being undertaken by The Together Plan, including our heritage project to restore the Grand Synagogue of Slonim, as well as humanitarian aid provision, work with Minsk Ghetto survivors, and more.  Also in attendance were our Development and Project Coordinators Jonathan Clingman and Jake Goldman, and the community Rabbi at Menorah, Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky.