Twin­ning up in Vilnius deepens con­nec­tions

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

RE­BECCA IS in the fi­nal year of her chem­istry de­gree and has been ac­cepted to com­plete a PhD at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. But her life would have been very dif­fer­ent with­out Nor­wood’s sup­port.

Ad­dress­ing more than 500 guests at the Young Nor­wood Prop­erty Awards, Re­becca re­called a trou­bled child­hood.

With her par­ents strug­gling to look af­ter her and her two sib­lings, she had lived in 16 homes —“from coun­cil es­tates to bed and break­fasts” — when, with Nor­wood’s sup­port, she moved in with her aunt and un­cle at the age of 14. A Nor­wood so­cial worker pro­vided coun­selling.

Af­ter A-lev­els, she des­per­ately wanted to con­tinue her ed­u­ca­tion but the max­i­mum gov­ern­ment sup­port barely cov­ered her rent. Nor­wood put her in con­tact with char­i­ties of­fer­ing schol­ar­ships and grants to stu­dents. It also gave her money to buy pots, pans, bed­ding and other stu­dent es­sen­tials.

“Nor­wood was there for me through­out my whole life,” she said. “Dur­ing my dif­fi­cult child­hood, they helped me feel like a nor­mal child, then helped me to achieve my dream of go­ing to univer­sity. They never gave up on me.”

The din­ner raised £170,000-plus to help vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

ANOUSKA ORNSTEIN did not want her up­com­ing bat­mitz­vah to be about “me and the presents and the party”.

Keen to de­velop a deeper con­nec­tion to her Jewish­ness, the 12-year-old Chan­ning School, High­gate, pupil joined a group of bar- and bat­mitz­vah cel­e­brants on an Ort UK trip to meet Lithua­nian coun­ter­parts in Vilnius.

“I wanted to do some­thing mean­ing­ful that would form part of my dvar To­rah,” ex­plained Anouska, whose fam­ily are Muswell Hill Syn­a­gogue mem­bers.

The 10 par­tic­i­pants were matched with a “twin” from Ort’s Sholom Ale­ichem School, with whom they swapped in­for­ma­tion about their lives, their com­mu­ni­ties and their tra­di­tions.

“It was in­cred­i­ble to see how other young Jewish peo­ple’s lives are,” Anouska said. “They were so proud to be Jewish and happy to have some­one to tell it to. I’m look­ing for­ward to talk­ing about what I learnt and sharing it with my friends.”

The young group’s itin­er­ary also in­cluded the wood at Ponary, where Nazi and Lithua­nian col­lab­o­ra­tors mur­dered 70,000 Jews, as well as 30,000 Poles, Rus­sians and oth­ers. “It was re­ally moving and eye open­ing.”

Real twin Ari Wil­son, 12, was part­nered with an­other. “It was great to share in­for­ma­tion about our fam­i­lies,” he said. “And in­ter­est­ing to see how the coun­try was quite dif­fer­ent and how the Jewish com­mu­nity there was very small.

“I felt lucky we have such a big and wel­com­ing com­mu­nity in Lon­don.”

For Al­gis Davi­davi­cius, whose son Si­mon was one of the Vilnius par­tic­i­pants, the ex­change rep­re­sented “a great op­por­tu­nity. It pro­vides a good frame­work for young peo­ple from our com­mu­ni­ties to build an in­ter­na­tional bridge of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

The Bri­tish chil­dren pre­sented €500 they had raised by pack­ing bags at the Tem­ple For­tune Marks & Spencer to the school and trees were planted to cel­e­brate the project.

Re­becca ad­dress­ing din­ers at the cen­tral Lon­don venue

Mak­ing friends and (top) Anouska Ornstein and “twin” Ela Lichti­sain

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