(JHE) — The long-abandoned 17th century Great Synagogue in Slonim was sold at auction on December 29 to a space exploration-loving musician/writer from Minsk named Ilona Karavaeva, local media report.
It was the fourth attempt to sell the long-derelict building at auction since June, and the starting price had been dropped over the months from 137,000 rubles (around €45,000) to 27,400 rubles (€9,000).
It was known that an individual had purchased the synagogue, but only on Wednesday, after the auction paperwork was completed, did local media identify the purchaser as Karavaeva, who goes by the pen-name Ilona Ioanna Reeves.
In an interview in November 2020, Reeves described herself as “a musician, social activist, teacher and writer” who has specialized in songs and in children’s literature, including fantasy tales and books that teach kids English. On her web site also described herself as a “Fan of Space, NASA, SpaceX.”
She said she was a graduate of the Belorussian Academy of Music and had spent 14 years in the Gulf countries.
See a video of Reeves performing one of her songs (in English):
Built in 1642 in the Baroque style, the synagogue is the best preserved synagogue in Belarus, despite its precarious condition. Its interior preserves frescoes, a decorated Ark, and a four-pillar bimah, as well as other features.
Local reports did not provide any details about the sale or plans that Reeves might have. Belarusian Radio Racyja, which first reported that she had bought the building, called her a “little-known writer” and said “Time will tell what a writer from Minsk will be able to do with the old architectural monument of Slonim.”
JHE has been informed, however, that Reeves has been in contact with heritage experts in Belarus and abroad and has expressed commitment to a “systematic and professional restoration” of the building and its interior decoration and also said she feels confident that work could be completed within the five-year deadline set by the sales terms.
The onerous conditions attached to the sale — including the strict five-year time frame — had stymied potential buyers, including the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which has been lobbying for the restoration of the building and working on plans for a restoration project but did not take part in the auctions.
In June, the Foundation appointed the respected NGO the Belarusian Voluntary Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments as architectural consultants to undertake design studies for the synagogue restoration.
“The problem is still that the conditions of the [sale] are the same, and experts of the Foundation say that much more time is needed for the restoration of the building and for the development of the project and drawing up estimates,” Voluntary Society Deputy Chairman Yuri Meleshkevich told the news site TUT.by after the December 29 sale.