In north London, every summer, the Maccabi Community Fun Run brings members of the community together in a physical space, to champion charitable chosen causes, create awareness and cheer on their runners and walkers as they brave the course. Last year, because of the pandemic, the event was cancelled but this year it is back with new Covid safe measures in place and options to also run or walk remotely. We are delighted that our very own Michelle Rose, our in-house foodie (have you checked out this month’s delicious pear recipes by the way?) our Digital Media Coordinator, Hannah Ryder, and her boyfriend Patrick Halpin will be running for us on August 29th at StoneX Stadium in Barnet, North London.
Historically, Maccabi, a Zionist organization that utilizes sports as a means to bring Jewish people of all ages closer to Judaism and Israel (pre-1948 it would have been Palestine), played an active role in many Jewish communities. Today, sadly Maccabi is not active in Belarus – although there is some interest to make a return – however, on August 29th, the day of the run in the UK, a team of non-Jewish runners in Minsk have volunteered to run to raise awareness and support for The Together Plan’s projects in Belarus. They have become aware of the charity’s work in the country and it has gripped their interest. In Belarus today, there are many ‘tough mudder’-type challenge events that people enter for recreation and personal challenge. None of these events are used as opportunities for people to champion charitable causes. It is just not a part of the culture. So for a team to be participating with a new mantra of supporting charity is truly unique.
So here comes the next plot twist!
For the last seven months, we have been running a Holocaust Education programme called Making History Together. In the UK seventeen Jewish children going through their bar and bat mitzvah have participated, and in Belarus, a parallel programme has been running, with slightly older non-Jewish teenagers at a College in Minsk. The programme curriculum has focused on the Holocaust in Belarus and the Soviet Union. What happened to the Jews in this part of the world? It has been an extraordinary journey for both groups as everyone has discovered so much hidden history. Certainly for the cohort in Belarus, as there is no official Holocaust history there, and the narrative is that everyone suffered as Soviet citizens, this learning experience was extremely eye-opening for them and it certainly got their attention. These students are all studying vocational skills – to be craftsmen; working with wood and metal and other media. As a result of their participation in the programme, they have expressed a wish to do something to contribute to the telling of this history in Minsk.
They have already been to the park area near their college building and planted trees. This was originally the Jewish cemetery and it was within the territory of the Minsk Ghetto. Their college stands on the territory adjacent to the area that was the Minsk Ghetto. The Principal of the college has taken it upon himself to commemorate the ghetto and placed a memorial plaque on the wall of the college stating the physical proximity of the college to the ghetto and to honour the 100,000 Jews who perished there. In Belarus, very few memorials such as this exist.
The students have expressed a wish to create something using their skills. The idea that has developed is that they build a metal bench that will be installed in the cemetery park in honour of one of the Minsk Ghetto survivors. It is hoped that this will be one of many that could follow so that the story of the Minsk Ghetto becomes much more visible in the city. To raise the funds that will pay for the materials, the runners in Belarus have made this their cause in the Maccabi Fun Run.
There are so many ways you can be a part of this.
Together we are collectively making a real and powerful difference to the lives of other people – inspiring change and championing community engagement across borders. Collaboration is key. Be part of it.