Saving the Building
We have made a start on the challenge of preserving the Great Synagogue building, it will be a long journey!
We remain in regular dialogue with the Slonim Municipality, as we recognise that maintaining a close connection with the City is vital for the project’s future.
A survey has been carried out on the building and this showed that, while the structure was generally stable, there were areas of concern that would have to be addressed immediately. The most urgent was a repair to the roof and, as the photographs below show, this has now been completed.
The survey identified cracks in the walls but was unable to establish how old they were, or if the building was still moving. Photographic monitoring of the cracks over 18 months showed little change but we are nevertheless installing crack monitors which will record even the smallest amount of movement. These will be read at intervals over a year to establish if there is movement and, if so, whether it is related to the seasons. We have instructed their installation which will commence soon.
We are also drawing up plans for more substantive repairs to protect the building against the weather and stop birds entering through holes in the walls, but these cannot be finalised until we have more information on whether the walls are still moving. We have selected the consultants team to design and manage the repairs and, as soon as the results of the crack monitors are available, they will be instructed to finalise the schedule of works and to commence construction.
The Feasibility Study
The Feasibility Study is the important next stage once we have prevented the further deterioration of the building. We have started to prepare for this phase, which will require the appointment of a multidisciplinary team of experts comprising Planners, Architects, Heritage experts, Archaeologists, Cost Consultants and many more.We are looking to appoint a joint team of local consultants supported by international experts. A brief for these consultants is in preparation and we are interviewing potential companies both in Belarus and the UK.
The brief for the feasibilty study is in preparation
The Study will determine the cost of a full repair, the suitability of future uses and how the building will be managed.
It will also identify the scale of funding required. Only then can the full repair and improvement works be determined.
A key aspect of the Study will be talking to local ‘stakeholders’ – the city administration, the local museum, teachers, the culture/arts community etc. testing the different options for the future use of the building, getting their comments and advice as to what they would like to see the building used for.
Developing local connections
Importantly, we are continuing to develop a spirit of co-operation with the City authorities. They are keen to see an early start to the works which is a challenge given the scale and nature of the project which requires time. The discussions are ongoing and we have great hopes for a warm and fruitful collaboration. The Together Plan is itself undertaking community development work reaching out to people with Jewish heritage in the City, and this unprecedented work will complement and support the building project.
A display of Jewish History prepared by students at the local Gymnasium
Paying for the Work
Funds have so far been provided by individuals with family links to Slonim. It is not possible to approach large donors until we have plans and costs for the project, and that will only be available after the Feasibility Study is complete. We are in urgent need of “seed” funding to take us to this point, and finding financial support remains a big challenge. Contributions given at this early stage are therefore especially important to maintaining the momentum of the project.
While the challenges of preserving the Great Synagogue of Slonim and turning the building into a future site of commemoration, celebration and education remain daunting, we also recognise the profound importance of the project and the potential impact it can have both within the Jewish world, within the wider society of Belarus, and indeed within Europe as a whole.
It will be a long process, but we remain committed to saving this remarkable building and to telling its story.