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.

The Together Plan attends the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre opening

The Together Plan's London co-director Debra Brunner was invited to attend the opening of the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre at Highgate Synagogue.  The Centre was officially opened by former UK prime minister Sir John Major.

Sir Martin Gilbert was the foremost Anglo-Jewish historian of his generation, and was a thoroughly respected and ubiquitous figure in both Jewish and academic circles.  The official biographer of Churchill, Sir Martin passionately advocated for the plight of the Jews of the Soviet Union, championing the refusenik cause.

The Together Plan believes that the legacy of Sir Martin's work around the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe must be maintained, and that we must reconnect with those Jews still living in the region, encouraging them to engage with their Judaism.  The Together Plan will be featured permanently in the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre, a new space from which we can engage people with the compelling Jewish story of the former Soviet Union. 

Mitzvah Day in Belarus a resounding success!

The Together Plan once again brought Mitzvah Day International, the UK Jewish social action and tzedakah day, to our partner communities in Belarus.

This year we facilitated our largest ever number of social action initiatives, with activities happening simultaneously in Polotsk, Brest, Minsk, Slonim, Slutsk and Mogilev.  In Slonim the communities laid flowers at the memorial to the victims of the Slonim Ghetto liquidation, and cleared rubbish and leaves from around the ruins of the Slonim Synagogue, alongside medical students from the city as well as our office team from Minsk, with the Israeli ambassador in attendance.  In addition, The Together Plan visited the most vulnerable members of our communities, the elderly and infirm, delivering challot and other items.

At The Together Plan we believe that it is not enough simply to describe our UK annual social action day to communities in Belarus.  Instead it is incumbent on us to empower our partner communities to feel independent and active, participate in tikkun olam (repairing the world) and do mitzvot in their own communities.  This is a transformative process to witness, especially after the years of reliance on external agencies which fostered a culture of dependance.  In their newly found self-sustainability, these communities are now encouraging their members to be a part of the community capacity building that is so sorely needed.

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.