BELARUS SHTETL: VR TOUR AND RECONSTRUCTION OF THE GREAT CHORAL SYNAGOGUE IN SLONIM

Belarusian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Center

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Belarus Shtetl is a multimedia project aimed at actualization and raising awareness of the architectural and cultural Jewish heritage of Belarus and at rethinking the history of Belarusian Jews with the help of new technologies and modern means of communication.

The exposition becomes one of the significant components in creating a possible for the Jewish Museum in Belarus. The result of almost a year's work of the team is a 15-minute virtual tour of the Slonim Synagogue during its heyday (17-19th centuries).

The VR-reconstruction of the Slonim Great Synagogue became the pilot of Belarus Shtetl project. First-of-a-kind project brought together the efforts of researchers, historians, restorers, artists, 3D designers, IT engineers and combined information from archives with high-tech modeling to recreate and preserve one of the oldest existing synagogues in Belarus and one of the most important monuments of architectural Jewish heritage in the world in need of restoration. Using a VR headset, you can plunge into the past getting a real immersive experience: the tour includes an overview of Jewish history and culture, the history of the synagogue and a "visit" to the building in its original form with recreated unique wall paintings, architectural elements and archival audio recordings where you can interact with the elements. Combination of historical archival information and high technology helped to create an interactive visualization solution that allows users to view interesting details of the interior and exterior and to get more detailed information about separate elements while listening about the interpretation and meaning of all the murals. The tour follows a certain scenario. Background sound was specially created to provide for the necessary atmosphere (sound volume changes as the user moves). Soundtrack is made of archival records of the sounds that could be heard in this very synagogue more than 100 years ago. For a stronger emotional impact, at the end of the session, you can switch to the present days' reality and compare the version of the synagogue after the virtual restoration with its current, neglected state. The tour is available in Russian and English.

Virtual reconstruction of the Slonim Synagogue is a unique experience immersing you in a cultural context where historical heritage and new technologies are combined into a single solution. Project embeds user into the context of cultural and social life of the Jews in Eastern Europe by means of history illustrations shown in a virtual environment. By means of the tour, the project authors give an idea of the community's rich cultural and spiritual life, immerse you in the history of Slonim and the place itself, show that the whole life and all its important milestones were connected with the synagogue - it was more than a house for prayer. A lot of work was done to collect materials for the synagogue restoration: documents, drawings, photographs, memoirs and some priceless manuscripts describing architectural details. Unseen photographs dated 1930s were discovered and carefully studied making it possible to restore the lost fragments of murals and furniture decor. Large-scale virtual reconstruction work can be used for the physical restoration of the Slonim Synagogue. Project organizer: Belarusian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Center Project curator: Grigory Kheifets Reconstruction of the synagogue interior: Bastalia creative workshop IT-developer: Exposit company Sound production: Radio Plato Project partners: Goethe-Institute in Belarus and German Federal Foreign Office as part of the Eastern Partnership program

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