A Jewish Heritage Route through Belarus

Introduction

A Jewish heritage route through Belarus is a much-needed initiative in its early development stages. It is a community capacity building initiative of The Together Plan to support revival of Jewish community life, wider civil society and attract interest from outside of Belarus.

It will involve Jewish communities and representatives from the wider non-Jewish community in researching and building the route. The route will highlight sites of heritage and cultural interest to visitors while giving communities ownership of their local Jewish heritage, and will give visitors, tourists and Jewish people in the diaspora an opportunity to find a way back to their past / ancestral homes. The route will show visitors that there is Jewish life in Belarus, and one of the key aims of the route is to develop responsible Jewish heritage tourism, credibly researched and approved.

Belarus plays a vital role in Jewish history with many stories to tell and which at this stage remain buried secrets. Equally, there are still many Jewish people in Belarus who do identify with Jewish community but who express a desire to explore their heritage. There is enormous potential for a Jewish heritage route to be developed by the community, for the community which could benefit the wider diaspora. Belarus is a challenging country and currently its Jewish history and heritage is being neglected and forgotten along with the Jewish people who still remain there. The building of this route is an opportunity to shed light on this much forgotten part of the world and to support the revival of Judaism at the same time.

The Jewish Route through Belarus will develop in phases as the project grows. Initially, the route will be represented in: Brest, in the south of the country on the border with Poland; Slonim, Slutsk, Minsk, Novogroduk, Polotsk and Vitebsk in the north of the country. These centres are being featured in phase one of the project, as The Together Plan has a presence in these areas with local representation who will play a role in developing the route on a local level. This in itself is going to be challenging and demanding, but it gives ownership of the route at a grassroots community level. We know that through this methodology, local people will help us to access the information required to make the route authentic and will have ownership and empowerment as a result.

Jews have lived on the Belarusian lands for 600 years, developing their own culture, different from other nations; contributing to the overall development of the economy and culture of Belarus; naturally influencing and changing the face of the country. They were an integral part of the cultural landscape of Belarus.

Explore the cities on this route

Debra Brunner

Debra Brunner, co-founder and CEO of The Together Plan, is seen here inside the Great Synagogue of Slonim, Belarus. The Synagogue was built 1635-42 and is now the focus of a restoration campaign. A stunning building with hidden secrets, it is a vital heritage asset to the Jewish community of Belarus and the wider Jewish world. In 2018, The Together Plan facilitated the first bar mitzvah of a Belarusian boy, on the territory of the synagogue, since before the Second World War. Approximately 22,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis between 1941 and 1943. Only 200 survived as Partisans fighting in the dense forests. The Jewish route through Belarus will reveal hidden history and stories that have not yet been heard.

Artur Livshyts

Artur was born in Minsk and spent two years living with a relative in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there, as a child of the Soviet Union, that he discovered Judaism; he studied Hebrew and had a bar mitzvah. It was his first foray into Jewish life. He spent a year living in a boarding school in Israel before returning to Belarus where he completed his education in Minsk, studying Human Rights Law.

Having had a taste of Jewish life, he has made it his life’s work to strive for a revival of the Jewish community in Belarus. He met Debra Brunner in 2009 and together, since that time, they have worked to build and grow The Together Plan.

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