The Great Synagogue in Slonim Belarus

Introduction

Slonim has been a major centre of Jewish life for centuries producing many scholars, community leaders and Rabbis, and this importance is reflected in the Great Synagogue that the community constructed – a majestic baroque structure that has overlooked the town’s central market since the 1640s. 

The building, with its dramatic gabled roof and imposing exterior, also features an impressive group of paintings and carvings, including a collection of murals depicting musical instruments, scrollwork, and biblical scenes. It remains to this day the best preserved synagogue in all of Belarus.

The Challenge

In 1939, Slonim had a population of 25,000 of which 17,000 were Jewish.  Just 200 survived the Second World War and a Jewish community that had existed and thrived for centuries was extinguished in the most brutal of circumstances.

Communism followed the War and the story of the Jewish community and the Holocaust was something that could not be spoken of.  What remained as the only testament was the Great Synagogue itself, still standing, used initially to store furniture and for the last 19 years left abandoned and derelict.  Its condition has been deteriorating to such an extent that its very future has been in doubt.

The Plan

The Great Synagogue is owned by the Slonim Municipality which is eager to save the building but lacks the resources.  Following discussions, the Foundation, in partnership with the Kaplinsky family who have roots in the town and The Together Plan, has entered into an agreement with the Municipality to work together to find a sustainable solution to restore the building and bring it back into use.

This has begun with the commissioning of a structural survey to include recommendations on what is needed to prevent its further deterioration.  Funding is now being sought to implement these recommendations and stabilise the building.

The long-term vision is for the Great Synagogue to serve as a place of commemoration, celebration and education about Jewish life in Belarus; a place of pilgrimage being once again used for religious services, as well as a cultural centre serving the local community.