Seventeen youngsters from two Belarus communities are receiving extra bar and batmitzvah tuition at Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue as part of the shul’s twinning arrangement with Grodno and the nearby city of Lida.
The youngsters — descendants of the few hundred Jews who survived the Holocaust from a pre-war population of 60,000 — are being hosted for three weeks. Radlett and Bushey families have taken the majority, with help from members of Radlett United, St Albans Masorti, Northwood Liberal and Kol Chai in Hatch End. Although the fourth annual visit of its kind, this year’s is the first to involve a daily study programme.
There is just one progressive rabbi in Belarus, making it difficult to organise adequate tuition. The opportunity to learn in Britain is particularly appreciated by the Lida children as they prepare for their community’s first bar/batmitzvah services since 1941.
“It’s been my dream to get on a trip like this,” said Lena, one of the Lida participants. “I did not think it would ever happen, but now all my expectations have come true.” Added Dzmity from Grodno: “Everything has been really wonderful – the people are all very kind and hospitable.”
Also participating are three 16-year-olds making a return visit to Radlett. “We have designed a bespoke Netzer leadership training course for them,” explained Paul Janes, chair of the Radlett and Bushey Belarus committee.
“The positive effects of previous visits are still being felt both here and in Grodno. The children experience life in the outside world and gain a sense of belonging and comfort from knowing they are part of a bigger Jewish family that cares. For these children this really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”