The Together Plan’s mission is the revival of communities in the former Soviet Union and through our pioneering work, we help communities discover what can be achieved collectively. In Brest, the Jewish community of today needs help. They want to grow, to thrive and they want to tell their story – a story which is tragic, powerful and vitally important to the Jewish world at large. For the last eight years, The Together Plan has worked tirelessly to bring the story of the lost Brest-Litovsk Jewish cemetery into focus and in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, we launched a campaign to mark the site of the cemetery with a memorial, using the headstones that had been surfacing all over the Brest region in recent years. This is a site that has immense heritage value and was at risk of being lost forever. Until now.
Last week, on June 17th, after years of campaigning and many, many conversations with the Belarusian authorities, we finally made a historic step forward. Click here for the story.
Hand-built by our talented youth volunteers, Zoymen 2020 burst onto the scene last July as a direct result of the challenges presented by COVID-19. All big ideas start with a seed and ‘Zoymen’ is the Yiddish word for ‘seed’. This brave, inaugural event devised, planned and run by The Together Plan’s Youth for Youth members (our 17-30’s cohort) reached such overwhelming success, ideas for this year are even more ambitious and we can’t wait to share the finished article. This year, Zoymen online will run over two Sundays on the 10th and 17th October and is open to everyone. The programme on both days will start at midday and end at 19.00 GMT offering an exciting array of international speakers from the UK, Israel, the USA and Belarus, a film screening, VIP guests, a cookery demo and live Klezmer from Minsk. There will be 32 sessions across the two days, some in English, some in Russian and some in both languages.
This year, Zoymen will be part of the European Days of Jewish Culture Festival – run by the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Heritage and Culture. Partner organisations this year will be NOA – Networks Overcoming Antisemitism and the National Library of Israel.
Zoymen perfectly demonstrates the unity that can be found between global communities and, through important dialogue, allows us to build resilience, focus and power to influence positive change. Communication, online and otherwise, is the bedrock of everything we do and can achieve, together.
As an early sneak peek, we are excited to reveal that Gil Hovav (Israeli author and chef) will be speaking about his great grandfather Eliezer Ben Yehuda, lexicographer and newspaper editor, who was born in Luzhki, Belarus in 1858, and was the driving force behind the revival of the Hebrew language in the modern era.
Our cinema screening at Zoymen will be ‘The Mystery of the Black Book’ with a Q&A with the film Director Boris Maftsir.
Stalin wanted to prevent this book from being published. Why was he so dangerous in his eyes? Boris’s Maftsir new film explores the story of the Black Book, which, if it had been published, would have changed for all of us the way we perceive the Holocaust, modern antisemitism and Jewish life in the Soviet Union.
Click here to watch the trailer.
For more information about Zoymen, click here
We are delighted and excited to be welcoming a cohort of new volunteers to The Together Plan – a team of talented university students with Russian language skills who will be helping us with book translations, online dual-language workshops, our heritage route through Belarus and so much more. Hailing from universities from across the UK; Exeter, UCL, Warwick and Glasgow, this is an exciting step for us at The Together Plan enabling us to do more in the scope of our projects, which will enable us to help more communities and connect to more people both in Belarus and beyond. To learn more about our new translators, click here.
We are now into our 5th and penultimate month of the Making History Together Programme, our unique Holocaust Education Programme in its inaugural year. The programme focuses on the hidden history of the Holocaust in the former Soviet Union and specifically Belarus. This month’s session theme was Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and we looked at some little known stories of courage and bravery of Jewish and non-Jewish Belarusians during the darkest of times. Using these stories and the history, we explored a number of themes including language and unity. L.L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, believed that the world would be a better place if we all spoke the same language. He believed it would foster harmony between people of different cultures. Hitler banned Esperanto, after he specifically claimed in his infamous book Mein Kampf, that Esperanto was the language that could be used by an international Jewish conspiracy once they achieved world domination. In Nazi Germany, there was a motivation to ban Esperanto because Zamenhof was Jewish, and due to the internationalist nature of Esperanto, which was perceived as “Bolshevist“. Bolshevists was the nickname for Soviet communists throughout the world. Hitler associated Bloshevists with Jews, which is why he hated both so much. Esperantists were targeted in the Holocaust, especially Zamenhof’s family (Zamenhof himself had died in 1917) – all three of his children were killed by Nazis.
Hitler and Stalin banned Esperanto because they believed it was a part of a wider Jewish conspiracy for world domination. They effectively stopped the language from gaining the popularity it was gathering before the war, and Esperanto fell into obscurity. Today, there has been a resurgence of people learning Esperanto, thanks to the internet. Tools like language apps have contributed to this, and today there are around a hundred thousand Esperanto speakers in the world. While they share a language through which they can communicate and understand each other, this month’s Making History Programme concluded that language is not everything one needs to truly be together. If anything, history has shown that common language may impede unity. The German and Austrian Jews in the Minsk Ghetto (who were transported from western Europe), trusted the German soldiers more than the Soviet Jews because the soldiers and Hamburg Jews both spoke German. In the end, those who they trusted murdered them. It was concluded that it is our humanity that brings us together and that our differences should be celebrated.
In every culture, it is the experience of gathering around food that defines who we are. Family gatherings around the kitchen table will always be places where memories are made. In Judaism, kiddish in the synagogue, the bar mitzvahs, the weddings and even the funerals, are all punctuated with food and often many dishes will be characteristically familiar wherever you are in the world. Albeit with regional variations; gefilte fish, herring, chicken soup, and an apple dish of some sort will be a reliably common theme in Jewish gatherings across the world.
So what could be more precious than a family recipe that has been handed down through the generations? In so many instances, those recipes found new life in new countries and had to adapt, since the ingredients from the ‘heym’ were no longer available in the new surroundings in which the immigrants found themselves. Where people have passed on, their recipes have endured and are a lasting legacy. For that reason, we have created ‘Recipes from the heym’ a project where we are collecting and curating recipes from people from around the world along with their stories. Read the Times of Israel article about the great-grandma’s recipes that recall sweet stories of pre-Holocaust life in Germany and this fascinating article about a cookbook written during the Holocaust which tells the story of how food, memory and tradition are at the heart of survival.
This month apples are our feature ingredient and we are excited to share Sharon Rottman and Joy Grossman’s family apple cake recipe. Click here to hear how a search for documents about their maternal grandfather Chaim Orshansky’s family line from Vitebsk, Belarus, led them to The Together Plan and us to their recipe. Also sharing Carl Kaplan’s Forshmak recipe with a story of how Carl’s genealogy search led him to The Together Plan, who helped him discover a past he thought was long lost and forgotten. His unexpected discovery also led him to relatives he would likely never have found and to this wonderful recipe that we can now share here. A derivation of ‘chopped herring’? You decide!
If you have a recipe and a family story that you would like to share, please click here.