While in Slutsk we stopped to visit the reclaimed headstones that were collected around the town of Slutsk last year. Headstones that long ago were removed from the Jewish cemetery and used as building materials. The headstones are now in safe storage and will be the subject of a memorial once the snow thaws. Whilst on our trip, we saw them in their heavy snow overcoats, a powerful remnant reminder of the rich Jewish community that once lived and thrived in Slutsk.
Over the weekend, seven members of the UK and Belarus TTP team visited the Slutsk Jewish Community, and met with the children of the Sunday School and the Slutsk community leaders. In minus 17 degrees the team drove through the snow across the country and were met with smiling faces and warm tea. Much was discussed. The community in Slutsk is in need of support. TTP’s Youth for Youth ambassadors from Polotsk, Bobruisk and UK will be creating new programmes for the youth in Slutsk. The TTP team will be building new growth strategies for community development. Exciting future for Slutsk and we will be looking for support partners to help this community to develop.
The survivors of the Minsk Ghetto had a special event organised by The Together Plan to mark this special day in the Belarusian calendar. Our Youth for Youth ambassadors led a special Kabbalat Shabbat service, followed by supper and entertainment by a professional Belarusian singer and performer who serenaded the community and sent everyone off into the cold night with smiles, song and laughter in their hearts.
Humanitarian aid collected and sorted in the UK was distributed in Belarus. The Together Plan team spent several days in the warehouse in Minsk selecting donations from the most recent consignment of aid. These were transported to a distribution centre and recipients were invited to select items. Minsk Ghetto survivors and family members were among the recipients. In sub-zero weather, warm coats, boots, scarves, hats and knitted blankets were much needed and gratefully received.
Our charity partner Foundation for Jewish Heritage launched its research mapping the historic Synagogues of Europe at the House of Commons last night. Opening words came from speaker of the House John Bercow, and speeches from the Chair of the Foundation Dame Helen Hyde and trustees Simon Schama CBE, Natasha Kaplinsky OBE, and Jim Murphy MP. One of the flagship projects is the Great Synagogue in Slonim, where we are already doing investigative initial surveys.
This week is a big week for The Together Plan!
We are looking forward to the launch reception at the House of Commons to celebrate the unique research project mapping the historic synagogues of Europe, with special guests Simon Schama CBE and Natasha Kaplinsky OBE. This is an initiative of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage in association with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Together Plan is partnering with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage on the restoration project of the Great Synagogue of Slonim, Belarus.
Read the article in the Guardian about the launch at the House of Commons on February 7th.
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.’
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 email@example.com. Equally for more information or to get involved as a volunteer packing and sorting our humanitarian aid, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3375 0656. Any contribution of time is greatly appreciated.
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!
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.