On January 9th 1992, a very unusual bar mitzvah took place at Congregation Sherith Israel Synagogue, Nashville, Tennessee – that of Artur Livshyts, a sickly Soviet teen who was ignorant of his Jewish heritage and had never had the opportunity of any interaction with Jewish religious life because the Soviet’s relentlessly banned it. With thanks to distant cousins in Nashville, Noah and Judy Liff, Artur was able to travel to the USA. Miraculously, within 4 months of his arrival, he had learned English and Hebrew and was called to the Torah for his bar mitzvah. Artur was prepared at the Akiva School and Rabbi Zalman Posner z”l called the ceremony little short of a miracle. While Artur was preparing for his bar mitzvah, the Soviet Union collapsed. At his bar mitzvah, Artur said that he hoped one day to make everyone proud. Watch a short film of Artur speaking at his barmitzvah.
So what happened to Artur? From the USA he went to Israel where he lived in a boarding school for 9 months and then he returned to Belarus where he finished his education – graduating in Law and Human Rights at Minsk State University. He remained in Belarus devoting his life to the betterment of the Jewish people of his country which is highly complex and immensely challenging. Today he lives in Minsk.
In 2009 a chance meeting brought Artur and Debra Brunner together. At that time, Debra was establishing a project with a community in Belarus on behalf of Finchley Reform Synagogue (FRS) in north London. For the next 4 years Artur and Debra developed a close working relationship and he became her guide helping her and FRS to navigate Jewish Belarus.
In 2013, Artur and Debra founded The Together Plan, to enable them to do more for vulnerable Jewish communities – send humanitarian aid from the UK, support Holocaust survivors, translate memory books, develop youth programmes, work on restoration projects and help Jewish people reconnect to their lost heritage through archive searches. In 2019, The Together Plan became a member of the AEPJ (European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Heritage and Culture) to build a Jewish Cultural Heritage Route in Belarus as part of the European Route of Jewish Heritage (one of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe).
Artur today plays a key role in the Jewish community in Belarus – helping Jews to discover their lost heritage and Jewish identity. At the end of 2022 Artur was appointed to the position of Vice Chair of the Belarus Jewish Orthodox Union to help implement growth strategies for the orthodox communities across the country.
None of this would have been possible without that first introduction into Jewish religious and community life back in Nashville in 1992. Artur said then that he wanted to make everyone proud and he really is doing that in his words and his actions and his unwavering support of the Jews in Belarus.
In December of last year – we reached out to Sherith Israel Synagogue to tell them what had happened to that Soviet child who came to their community in 1992 and how the Judaism they breathed back into him had nourished his soul and set him on his life path.
The reconnection was incredibly meaningful both for Sherith Israel and for Artur and as a result – a most wonderful article was published in the Nashville Observer on January 4th – read the article here.
It just shows what you can do ‘TOGETHER’.