FRS Belarus Project

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The Belarus Project – March 2014

2014 has already been exciting for the FRS Belarus Project. In January Debra Brunner, the Belarus Project Coordinator went to Polotsk to meet with the community, to discuss progress and to talk about developments. In Polotsk, there is now a Sunday School which teaches Hebrew, English, music, tradition and festivals, and there is a b’nei Mitzvah class. There are two young people in  the class at the moment working hard to learn using the bar Mitzvah study book that was written in Russian by FRS’s Jonathan Clingman (age 18 and now at Oxford University). Jonathan, who is a product of FRS training and youth involvement is now using all the skills he had the privilege of learning at FRS and is sharing them with the community in Polotsk so that they too can develop their own skills. Several other members of FRS, who have also been through the FRS youth development program are now actively involved with the Belarus Project. They have their Youth 4 Youth Group and this year 13 members of the FRS Youth 4 Youth group will be running youth training and a summer camp in Bobruisk in Belarus. 8 of them are from London, 3 are from Polotsk and 2 from Bobruisk. This helps to build bridges between communities in Belarus and between the UK and Belarus. Some very strong friendships are being forged, proving that distance and language really is not a barrier.

The bar Mitzvah group has also been supported by on-line Skype lessons with Jo-Ann Myers the Director of Jewish Education at the Leo Baeck College in London. Jo-Ann has been a wonderful support in this project.

In April, 17 members of FRS (5 families, a mix of adults and children) will be setting off on a Jewish Journey to Belarus. They will travel to Minsk where they will meet with people from the Minsk Ghetto Survivor’s Association, and they will meet the artist Vladimir Shappo in his studio. They will visit Jewish sights in Minsk and the Khatyn Memorial Village, visit Vitebsk, the birthplace of Marc Chagall and the Chagall family house. They will spend Kabbalat Shabbat with the Polotsk Jewish Community and will discover Polotsk, the oldest city in Belarus. On Shabbat they will attend the bar mitzvahs, and celebrate Havdallah.

This year the Polotsk Jewish Community will be organizing a Jewish Music and Cultural Festival. Funds have been raised by FRS and by The Together Plan Charity, to enable a two day Festival to take place in several venues and on the streets of Polotsk. There will be a Yiddish masterclass by UK performer Hilda Bronstein and accompanist Yair Schleider. There will be a lecture by Jewish Belarusian historian Arkady Shulman with photographs showing Jewish scenes of Belarus. There will be an outdoor event to show a typical Jewish street of 100 years ago and there will be traditional Jewish food to taste. In the evening there will be a special performance by a variety of musicians and actors.

This year the Polotsk Jewish Community will be organizing a Jewish Music and Cultural Festival. Funds have been raised by FRS and by The Together Plan Charity, to enable a two day Festival to take place in several venues and on the streets of Polotsk. There will be a Yiddish masterclass by UK performer Hilda Bronstein and accompanist Yair Schleider. There will be a lecture by Jewish Belarusian historian Arkady Shulman with photographs showing Jewish scenes of Belarus. There will be an outdoor event to show a typical Jewish street of 100 years ago and there will be traditional Jewish food to taste. In the evening there will be a special performance by a variety of musicians and actors.

In August, the Polotsk Community will run their own Family Shabbaton weekend. It will be planned and executed by them. They have never done this before because they didn’t have the skills. Now they do thanks to the training they have received from our FRS youth. Then a group of FRS Youth 4 Youth members will head to Bobruisk, south of Minsk, where they will meet their peers from Polotsk and Bobruisk, and will run a week of youth training and a summer camp for 5-14 year olds.

Back in London, during 2014, FRS will be running some fantastic events to support the Belarus Project. Three FRS members will be power walking a marathon around London on June 1st, so please do show them your support. There will also be two very exciting events at The Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley. One will take place in September the second later in the year. Watch this space for more updates on these. On November 22nd there will be a Belarusian Cultural event at FRS with special visitor from Minsk, the artist Vladimir Shappo.

More information to follow on these exciting events.