Thursday, 29 August 2013

Absent.

Salutations, FYFT Followers,

So, I wanted to tell you a little bit about an amazing project that I have recently come across called ABSENT


ABSENT is a film following a Jewish film maker, Matthew Mishory's journey back to his father's home after it suffered destruction at the hands of the Holocaust. His father's family were born in the Jewish agricultural village of Marculesti in north-East Romania, now a part of modern day Moldova. Matthew's father lived there with his family until 1935, when they fled to the British Mandate of Palestine. Sadly, in a mere handful of years, the village and its community had been completely destroyed. Today, Matthew intends to be the first member of his family to return to Marculesti in 75 years.


This is a particularly interesting study as the loss of Jewish life and Jewish culture in that part of Europe is so often ignored or overlooked. Due to the infamy of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Holocaust study often focuses solely on the lost Jewish communities in Poland and communities in Western Europe. However, the communities in the region Matthew intends to visit (known as Bessarabia) were among some of the most culturally significant Jewish communities in the world. For example, they were responsible for the creation of the incredible traditional Jewish music known as Klezmer music. However, there is almost no trace that this richly cultured community ever existed. 


Klezmer music in Eastern Europe 

This is an issue that also extends to mostly all of Eastern Europe, where there existed an array of large, culturally rich and significant Jewish communities. Now, for the most part, nothing remains. 

It is also interesting to note that, much like the majority of Eastern European governments and societies, the role that the Moldovan government played in the extermination of all aspects of Jewish life has been denied. Dialogue is vital for the world to begin healing (which may appear a strange to say as the Holocaust ended 68 years ago, but the trauma still resonates within individuals and their surrounding communities) and in order to move productively & healthily forward, accountability is an issue that must be truthfully addressed.

This project is also significant due to the timing of its creation; filmed against a backdrop of growing anti-Semitism, Romaphobia and other kinds of prejudice in Europe. Matthew himself points out that in just the past three years 'tens of thousands of Roma people have been expelled from France alone.' FYFT agree with ABSENT team's intended message & support their important social & cultural project. It is reassuring to find others that share our quest to help individuals understand what good and bad we each are capable of. Only through gaining this societal understanding and acceptance can we ensure that prejudice will eventually become a social issue of the past. 

The ABSENT team are currently fundraising for the project on Indigogo; we urge you to support them in any way you can:



Ben

Friday, 23 August 2013

Россия.

Hey everyone,

On June 30th, Russia (Россия) passed a bill into law banning the 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors'. This law essentially means that it is illegal to publicly discuss homosexuality. It has led to gay men and women being openly harassed, attacked and in some cases tortured with little or no intervention from the police. Gay pride has been banned and homosexuality has been equated with pedophilia. The wording of President Putin's law has been left fairly vague. It means that we are unsure where 'Putin's war on Gay people' will lead. It is already being used to legally justify the hounding and oppression of gay men and women all over Russia. 

Russian police arresting gay pride protesters 

What makes matters in Russia, perhaps, even worse is that they are hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. This is tantamount to the international community (regardless to other protestations) saying that Russia can do whatever it wants. Although we don't always agree with prejudices being compared to the Holocaust, it is worth noting that Nazi Germany, despite strong protestations and multiple boycotts (by Spain, the USSR & many individual athletes) kept their place as the host of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. In hindsight it's obviously unacceptable the Nazis were allowed this honour; not just because of how they were persecuting Jewish people (and other minorities) at the time, but also due to the events that followed.


Sign for the 1936 Nazi Olympic Games 

Now, we are not implying that the Russians are going to perpetrate a 'Holocaust', but if we look at how the story of prejudice works then surely it's understandable that without outside intervention the current situation will continue to worsen. Life for gay people in Russia has become steadily more dangerous and oppressed over the past few years; the current federal anti-gay law has been based on other, previously passed state laws implemented in individual Russian states.


Sign for the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics

Unfortunately the situation in Russia is not necessarily that unique. There are 78 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal. There are only 16 countries out of 190 that have legalised gay marriage. Gay people occupy a unique position in the world; there are few minorities who have been persecuted so much over such a vast period of time and over such a wide geographical spread. The situation in Russia is horrendous and we implore the International Olympic Committee to ban Russia from hosting the Winter Olympics. However, when focusing our attention on Russia we must not forget all the other countries (including our own, where over 40 schools 'stress in their sex-education guidelines that governors will not allow teachers to 'promote' homosexuality') where gay people experience daily prejudice. When directing our outrage at Russia we must remember that other countries are treating their gay citizens (and other minorities) the same way or in some cases, even worse.


Homophobic marches in Uganda

The difficult task that we as individual upstanders and as a societal whole face is trying to address both the situation at home and abroad. When the world stands by and lets prejudice exist, it creates a stain on humanity; almost as much as the perpetrators do themselves. We may not have personally witnessed the results of unchecked prejudice ourselves, but we all possess an awareness of the evils of it. We cannot let such evil purvey. Join us in using your voice and making a difference!

Thanks,
Ben

Monday, 12 August 2013

Yad-Vashem.


Hey everyone! 

My name is Grant and this is my first blog for FYFT. I'm in second year of university studying business and I composed the soundtrack for FYFT's first documentary. I also sit on the board of Trustees for FYFT so I get to do lots of cool and interesting things with the FYFTeam!  


Me!

I’ve just returned from a month’s trip to Israel with Ben and Janine and during our trip, we visited Yad Vashem World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration.  It was such a wonderful museum so I would like to tell you guys about my experiences, thoughts and feelings.


Yad Vashem's symbol

We arrived at the museum very early on Thursday 18th July to meet with Richelle Caplan and Yiftach Meiri from the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.  We discussed FYFT’s approach to Holocaust education and the possibility of attending the prestigious Yad Vashem educators seminar the next year. This is an extremely exciting opportunity for us as we will get to learn from the best Holocaust educators in the world.  


(l-r) Me, Janine and Ben outside Yad Vashem

After our meeting, we swiftly moved off to go and see the museum, so as to avoid the thousands of tourists (it's a VERY busy museum)! We started our tour at the Garden of the Righteous, a garden that is dedicated to the 24,000 non-Jewish people who have had the honour of receiving the title “Righteous Among the Nations” because they risked their lives saving Jewish people during the Holocaust. The garden was filled with plaques showing the names of these people and where they came from. Walking through this beautiful garden, you think of the bravery of these people who risked everything to help their fellow man.  As a non-Jewish person myself, I feel a great amount of respect for the Righteous Among the Nations, and wish there could have been more people like them during the Holocaust (and in situations today).


Ben with Miss Stefania Wilkosz-Filo and her plaque in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations

After visiting the garden, we made our way to the Toblerone shaped building which houses The Holocaust History Museum. The museum has been designed in a very symbolic way. The museum is structured so that as you learn more about the Holocaust you descend down a slight slope, as you get to the section of the museum which teaches you about the death camps the slope is at its lowest point then the slope rises, as you learn about liberation and life after the Holocaust.


Garden of the Righteous Among the Nation

As you walk into the museum, you are at the far left of the Toblerone shaped building and you are at the start of a descending slope. At the entrance, you are shown that Central & Eastern Europe was the centre of Jewish life before the Holocaust. This is particularly important to know as it is impossible to know what Judaism lost until you know what it had

The entrance to The Holocaust History Museum 

As you descend the slope, the museum then begins to focus on the rise of the Nazi party, the anti-Jewish propaganda used in Germany at the time, what Nazi officers were doing and at what dates etc.  The museum is extremely detailed with a vast amount of information to take in. Both the information and the content are almost overwhelming, even though I have quite a bit of knowledge on the Holocaust I still can't quite believe what people are capable of.  As you continue, you reach the lowest point of the museum where you learn about the mass murder of Europe's Jewish population – The Einsatzgruppen (mobile executions squads in Eastern Europe) and the death centres of Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. Throughout these very emotionally parts of the museum, there are videos of survivors giving their testimonies. It is vitally important that their stories are heard and the museum pays great tribute to these survivors by ensuring that their testimonies are never forgotten. After this, the slope throughout the museum begins to rise and the museum focuses on liberation and what survivors did after the war. The most emotional part for me here was the room of four million names. This room is a ginormous circular room filled with files of names of the Jewish people who died during the Holocaust. The museum is still researching to try as much as possible to commemorate every victim of the Holocaust.  As the slope continues to rise, the walls on each side of the Toblerone shaped building begin to open, and you come out at the top to the most breath taking view over Jerusalem.  There is something very touching about the symbolism of this climb through the museum. It represents hope for not only the Jewish people, but for mankind a like. It made me reflect on the world, my role in it and the actions and what people can do to make a difference. At that point I felt that I understood, more than ever, why we must not allow prejudice to continue to be a part of our world. 

Ben, looking over Jerusalem, at the end of the The Holocaust History Museum

For me, the most amazing thing about Yad Vashem is its ability to make a visitor reflect on their own life.  Its very easy to put a personal attachment to everything you are seeing in the museum, and this is not just the case for Jewish people but for everyone. Yad Vashem is an extremely important place for anyone to visit. Just looking at one testimony from a survivor makes you think: 'how could this have possibly happened?' It makes you want to go into the testimony you're hearing and comfort the survivors, but then you realise that there is very little comfort found after such a horror.  However, there are things we can do today to help these people see that they the crimes committed against them will not be allowed to be repeated.  If we can stand up to persecutors and say no to bigotry we can make sure that something like the Holocaust will never happen again.  And this is why Yad Vashem is important for everyone. It reminds us of what happened and what could still happen today.  I take comfort in the knowledge that Yad Vashem exists, educating thousands of visitors a day on the most horrendous things that can occur when prejudice goes unchecked.


Part of the memorial to the 1.5 million Jewish children that were murdered in the Holocaust

Monday, 5 August 2013

Charity.

Hey,

So back in May, FYFT decided that the best way for us to proceed was to become a charity. How to actually do this we really had no idea; luckily we found a helpful organisation called SCVO who pointed us in the right direction. They advised us that becoming a SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation) - a new kind of Scottish Charity - would be the best route for us - so that's the route we took! 

In Scotland you apply for charity status through an organisation called OSCR, the Office of Scottish Charitable Regulations. It is a very laborious & thorough process involving filling in a lot of forms - which makes sense, as it weeds out those applying on a whim or those not deserving of charity status. You really have to prove that you have charitable aims and purpose for the public good. 

We sent our application away at the end of April and apart from a request to send some extra information in June, we heard nothing. You can imagine how the application dogged us; we felt FYFT's future really hinged us on being granted charity status. However, once our forms were submitted there was nothing we could do, so we just got on with things. We had a very busy few months; Grant (our composer and business adviser) introduced us to a great, up and coming graphic artist called Aidan O'Rourke who is designing our website (coming soon!). We were also lucky enough to meet with two wonderful representatives from Yad Vashem - World Centre for Holocaust Education, Research and Commemoration in Jerusalem, which Grant will fill you in on in our next blog and amongst other administrative bits and piece, we added the finishing touches to our resources. All the while, in the back of our mind, we considered our application, crossing our fingers until they cramped!

Finally, last Friday, Ben, Grant and Aidan were sitting together working on the new site when Ben's phone rang... It was FYFT's case manager for OSCR - who called to tell us, oh so casually, that WE HAD BEEN GRANTED CHARITABLE STATUS!!

We cannot tell you how happy and honoured we are. We know that we have been given a great responsibility in being granted charity status and the hard work is only just beginning, really... 

At this stage we wanted to thank every single one of you who has supported us up to this point and we can't wait to share with you all our future charitable endeavours! ;)





Thanks,
Ben