‘My Kiev twin and I live very different lives,’ writes Annie Swimer, 12, in her travel diary. “For my batmitzvah, I celebrated in shul and had a party. For my twin’s batmitzvah, she went to the cinema with 10 friends! I was a bit surprised.”
There were plenty more revelations to come for Annie and her fellow members of the ORT UK Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme, when they spent a long weekend visiting the Jewish community in Kiev. The first shock being that despite living 1,500 miles outside of north-west London, it’s still possible to live an active Jewish life.
Much of this, the children learned, is thanks to World ORT –the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training charity. The non-governmental organisation, which operates in 37 countries, specialises in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and provides much-longed for Jewish education in their network of 16 schools throughout the former Soviet Union – two of which are in Kiev.
It was ‘twinned’ students from these two schools – The ORT Educational Complex #141 and The Jewish State Educational Complex ‘Simha’ – that the UK children had come to meet. Together with World ORT’s Shoshana Kandel, ORT UK’s Frankie Stubbs and Muswell Hill Synagogue’s Rabbi David Mason, the children and their families bonded with their twins, explored Kiev’s turbulent Jewish history and strengthened their connection to Judaism.
Annie: Here we are in the airport. I can’t wait to land in Kiev and meet girls just like me living in a different place and compare our lives, although I’m a bit worried I may freeze!
Cosmo: This is the Motherland Memorial outside the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. In the museum, they displayed pictures representing people who died and empty frames for the people killed who we didn’t know. It was moving seeing how few people survived.
Saul: There were lots of real artefacts, which were very interesting. I learnt a lot
about propaganda and we had some great discussions.
Edith: We toured the Podol Synagogue – the oldest in Kiev. After learning about our past in the Second World War Museum, it made me happy and proud to know the Jewish people are carrying on. It makes me realise how resilient we are.
Saul: This is the ORT Educational Complex #141 – I thought the building was really impressive and the work they’re doing on robotics was really cool.
Edith: The children were very advanced. We made robots with partners from Ukraine who I really bonded with. It was a fun experience.
Annie: I really enjoyed meeting my twin, Nastya, at the Jewish State Educational Complex Simha School. We baked challah together and we’re going to eat it for Shabbat!
Saul: I liked seeing the school where our twins go every day. My twin, Illia, is really nice and we have a lot in common. The boys all made tzitzit together.
Ethan: We spent Shabbat at the Brodsky Synagogue. Havdallah was my favourite part as I loved all the singing.
Annie: After shul, we did fun activities with our twins – we had eight minutes to get to know each other and then competed boys against girls to see who knew the most. Girls won!
Maisy: After Shabbat, all the families went for dinner together at Mendi’s kosher restaurant and made loads of friendship bracelets. It was a really fun evening, but also sad as it’s the last time we’ll see our twins.
Maisy: The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Park was really sad. We did our own memorial service, where we lit candles in memory of children our age who had died.
Annie: The service was really meaningful and I felt I learnt a lot. It’s awful how many people died and I felt it was important to honour them.
What makes the ORT UK Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme Unique?
- World ORT’s network of schools across the former Soviet Union benefit more than 10,000 students. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme connects and strengthens the ties between our UK children and the wider Jewish community.
- In addition to the trip, the UK children meet monthly to explore their Jewish heritage and identity through fun, interactive sessions and take part in a social action and fundraising project.
- The trip provides an opportunity to delve into the past, tour historical landmarks and take part in a Holocaust memorial, as well as experiencing Shabbat.
- For more information on the ORT UK Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme contact Anthea Jackson on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7446 8525.
- Frankie Stubbs
- Shoshana Kandel
- Jewish community in Kiev
- The Jewish State Educational Complex ‘Simha’
- ORT Educational Complex #141
- Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Park
- ORT UK Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme
- ORT UK
- World ORT
- Brodsky Synagogue
- Former Soviet Union
- Rabbi David Mason
- Muswell Hill Synagogue