As 2022 draws to a close – we would like to take a moment to look back at what we have achieved together over the last twelve months and to acknowledge those who helped us to reach this point. As a small, dedicated and agile charity, we highly value our partners, our supporters and our donors beyond words and we feel it is only right to show how we have progressed and to acknowledge the vital part they have played in helping to bring us to this point. So grab a festive drink or a cup of tea to take a few minutes as we look back in preparation for moving forward.
Let’s start in Belarus, where so much of our work is focused.
Community heritage clubs
This year we successfully supported the development and growth of two Jewish youth heritage clubs in Polotsk and Gomel with a third club now starting in Minsk. There has been a great deal of activity in these two clubs and we are delighted with the level of interest, attendance, involvement and connection between the groups. We would like to thank the UK charity Jewish Child’s Day for their continued support in helping to bring these clubs to life.
Saving art and Holocaust education
Our team in Minsk successfully breathed new life into a discarded collection of paintings that were about to be disposed of. During the Soviet times, all Soviet citizens were deemed to have suffered and the terrible stories of the Jews, those who survived the horrors of being hunted, as their families were being shot, were suppressed until the Soviet Union came to an end. In 1999, after the fall of Communism, young artists in Belarus were invited to participate in an art competition – the theme was ‘the Holocaust’. The resulting artworks were displayed for the competition, and then discarded.
Recently they were discovered in a warehouse and our country Director in Belarus, Artur Livshyts, organised for 27 of the paintings to be restored and framed so that they could be exhibited. A beautiful catalogue was produced to accompany the exhibition. This powerful exhibition, entitled ‘Through the Eyes of the Artist’ has already travelled to Polotsk in the north of Belarus, where it was seen by over 4000 students from local schools. In July, the exhibition was presented at the Presidential Library at the Belarusian Parliament. Our Country Director, Artur Livshyts spoke about the significance of the paintings and how crucially they are an immensely valuable educational tool to help people learn about the Holocaust in Belarus. Frida Reizman, a child escapee of the Minsk Ghetto, and who has lived all her life in Minsk, attended and spoke at the event. The exhibition has continued to travel around Belarus, with huge interest from educators, students and members of the public.
Making History Together
Our Holocaust Education programme for young learners has seeded Holocaust education in Belarus with a college in Minsk taking an active role to help pilot the programme. The impact on the students has been quite remarkable. With no prior access to this Belarusian history – the participants expressed a wish to do some hands-on volunteering to help bring this history more into the public eye. This year they helped to plant trees in a park that stands close to their college. This park was once the Jewish cemetery – but nothing there marks it as such. They created an alley of the trees in memory of survivors of the Minsk Ghetto. This student community is raring to do more and a more in-depth curriculum for this academic year has been prepared to take the college students deeper into the history of the Jews of Belarus 1941 – 44.
With support and training facilitated by the AEPJ by the Jewish Heritage Network in the Netherlands – communities in Belarus have learned new skills in how to research and create audio tours. This has been a very important community building experience, and has facilitated collaboration across borders. Two audio tours have been published so far with two more nearing completion. Click here for the Jewish Streets of Polotsk and here for the Jewish Streets of Minsk.
We have also begun a training programme for the Jewish Heritage Clubs in association with the Jewish History Association of South Wales who are delivering the training based on their experience of building a Jewish heritage route in South Wales, collecting archival materials and recording oral histories.
Our project to memorialise the Brest-Litovsk Jewish cemetery in the south of Belarus has been ongoing throughout the year. Every headstone, or piece, that was salvaged, that we photographed in 2021, has now been read and translated and a database has now been created. This can be accessed here. It will soon be available on the Europeana heritage website. A design for the memorial, which will incorporate every headstone that has been found to date, has been in development for the last six months and 2023 will see the memorial construction come to life. This is an immensely exciting and important project for the Brest Jewish community, as it is for the Belarus Jewish community, and we are delighted to be playing our part. All of the updates for this project can be found here.
And here is a short montage video showing the site where the memorial will be built and the headstones that are currently in storage.
We are working on two other memorial sites – one at the Bobinichi Jewish Cemetery in the Vitebsk region and the second at the site of the Nesvizh Jewish Cemetery in the Minsk region.
A personal achievement
We are incredibly proud that our co-founder and country Director Artur Livshyts became the Vice Chair of the Belarus Jewish Religious Union in November. It has been a long road for Artur to reach this point and we know how much it means to him personally. This is also a very exciting development for the work of The Together Plan in being able to support the communities in the country. You can read the extraordinary story of a religious Jewish journey here.
What has been happening during 2022 outside of Belarus
All of the programming and development work in Belarus is planned in the UK office alongside the team in Belarus as it all the monitoring and evaluation tracked between the two country offices. Our fundraising and business development, strategising for growth and governance work takes place in the UK office and our events are also planned from there.
The Making History Together Holocaust education programme and journey of self-development for young teenagers in the UK and the USA was run in 2022 and the accompanying exhibition was written, designed and produced. It is with thanks to the Jewish Child’s Day charity that we have been able to produce this programme and thank you to Jewish Chronicle who are the programme’s media sponsor. The exhibition was unveiled in November and is now available to schools, synagogues and public spaces. We are now working on the second exhibition which will be sent to Belarus in 2023.
We have also been working to promote the 2023 Making History Together programme. There are up to 25 places available for teenagers aged 13 and 14. Distance is no object as the six sessions are virtual and all the materials are sent by post. This informal programme is really packing a punch, as one of the 2022 programme participants said himself:
‘Now that I have done the Making History Together programme – I am more aware about how truth can be hidden and controlled and how important that can be. I am more aware of the roles people can play when there is suffering. At school I’ve been re-evaluating how people are acting, allowing myself to be more aware of places where people are unkind to one aother. And I am feeling more power now, in knowing what behaviour doesn’t feel acceptable to me, wherever I see it. This programme is about creating the kind of future we want to make together.’
Ori, Making History Together 2022
Read this month’s article about the programme here.
More information about the Making History Together Programme can be found here.
Travel and overseas collaborations
Debra Brunner has been travelling this year. In September she was in the USA to launch Jewish Tapestry Project, sister charity to The Together Plan and in November she attended the AEPJ Incubator Conference in Izmir, Turkey. Click here to watch the film.
Being a valued member of the AEPJ (based in Barcelona) working alongside heritage professionals and practitioners throughout Europe – this network is of enormous importance to our work in building the Jewish Heritage Route in Belarus as part of the European Route of Jewish Heritage. Through the AEPJ we also have a strong link to the National Library of Israel who are an immensely important source of information for our route as it grows.
We gave numerous in-person and online talks and collaborated with Qesher in Budapest who regularly feature our talks and help to promote our work in Belarus.
Archive Services, Aid Together, book tranlsating and volunteers
Our fantastic volunteers have been working full pelt in all of our different virtual departments across the world! Our Archive Service team is doing an amazing job alongside our team in Minsk – helping more people access their ancestral records in Belarus. Our Aid Together team of volunteers have tirelessly worked all year to collect, sort and pack donations of clothes, shoes, toys, arts and crafts materials, baby equipment, Judaica and more. These donations will shortly be sent to communities in Belarus as humanitarian aid.
Many volunteers have played a part in the translation of our next book about the Minsk Ghetto. An enormous amount of work has been devoted to this project and we are almost at the finishing line. It is hoped that in the next few months we will be able to bring the book to publication.
So many of our volunteers come to us through the Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN) and we are therefore incredibly grateful to them and the work that they do. We are also very excited that we have two nominations in the upcoming JVN Volunteering Awards which will take place in January!
On February 24th, when the Russian assault on Ukraine began – we launched a campaign to raise funds to help community efforts in support of fleeing Ukrainians. We were delighted to be able to seed a project in Poland under the care of FestivALT in support of Ukrainian seniors. We were also able to support the Agudath Israel community in Moldova who helped thousands of Ukrainians who flooded across the border. We collected and sent humanitarian aid and a generator with the support of the BNI Chipping north London business network and we helped to edit a book of stories told by Ukrainians fleeing from different parts of the country.
The events team
Our amazing small team of volunteers ensure that all of our events are planned and run smoothly. This is a vitally important front facing part of our work as a charity and we couldn’t do it without the team that we have. An enormous amount of work goes into ensuring that our events are well planned, professional, enjoyable and of course help us to reach our goals. This year’s events included two film nights, a networking event, a stunning lunch and speaker event hosted in a beautiful home in Elstree, the launch of our exhibition and a fabulous garden party for our valued volunteers. Lots of exciting events are now in the planning for 2023 including our 10th anniversary celebrations!
In the USA
After two and a half years of preparations we finally launched the Jewish Tapestry Project – our sister charity in the USA. We are extremely excited about this development as it means that we can reach more people in the United States and build our brand there. We have volunteers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida, California and Seattle, Washington. In September Debra Brunner gave talks in North Carolina, Philadelphia, New York and Connecticut and is planning to be back in the USA in 2023. Our wonderful and valued team in North Carolina is now on board and playing their part as we go on this next exciting part of the journey to support more communities in the former Soviet Union, mark more heritage sites and build Jewish heritage trails.
We have wonderful volunteers in Canada including British Columbia and we are enormously grateful to all the support we receive from our fantastic patron Lady Esther Gilbert who is now permanently based in Canada.
All of the work that we do could not be done without our incredible supporters, followers and donors to whom we are incredibly grateful. We love that together we are making a real and positive difference to the lives of other people, connecting people to their ancestry, supporting community growth, educating and training and positively impacting social change.
Wishing you all a very happy and healthy new year and we look forward to continuing the journey together in 2023.