Alan Milavetz and Larry Chiat never lived in Virginia, Minnesota, but their family ties to the Iron Range city run deep. Chiat’s wife, Elayne (Deutsch) Chiat was born and raised in Virginia, and Milavetz’s great-grandfather and his great-grandfather’s brothers helped establish the town’s B’nai Abraham Synagogue in the early 1900s.
Thus, the two attorneys’ pro bono work over more than a decade with Friends of B’nai Abraham, a nonprofit organization that worked to renovate the synagogue and preserve its historical value, was a labor of love. That effort culminated in March 2020 with the transfer of the B’nai Abraham Museum and Cultural Center to the Northern Lights Music Festival. Northern Lights stages performances in the building as part of its Iron Range summer classical music school and concert program.
Over time, the Jewish population in Virginia and surrounding communities moved away, and the synagogue was shuttered in the late 1990s because it lacked a large enough congregation to support it. As it fell into disrepair, a group of longtime residents recognized the importance of retaining the historical building and keep its story alive. B’nai Abraham Friends of B’nai Abraham was born.
Founded in 1909, B’nai Abraham is the oldest standing synagogue in Northern Minnesota, and is recognized on the National Historic Register. Chiat says more than $500,000 in renovations were completed between 2004 and 2018. That includes a permanent museum in the back of the building to display artifacts from the synagogue’s history. In addition to the Northern Lights Music Festival performances, the building will be available to the community throughout the year.
Milavetz, a partner at Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A., and Chiat, a Minneapolis-based real estate lawyer, handled the legal work for Friends of B’nai Abraham to acquire the building from B’nai Abraham Synagogue, and steered the nonprofit through a series of legal issues that came up as restoration was completed.
“It was important to preserve the heritage of the Virginia Jewish community and the building itself. It’s a wonderful feeling of achievement to have it all accomplished,” Chiat says.
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.
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