All other museums have one, so why shouldn’t we? Yes, it’s about time someone started writing a blog for Manchester Jewish Museum and it might as well be me!
With only four regular members of staff, you could expect it to be a quiet place to work. Not so. A continuous flow of people, including volunteers, classes of pupils and teachers, workmen, temporary staff, researchers and visitors, stops us from ever getting bored.
Take last week: Our curator had been planning and organizing the latest exhibition “Portraits for Posterity”. Volunteers and Friends of the Museum, along with the Survivors featured in the portraits, had been invited to the launch and approximately 50 people had accepted. The order and calm created by our Curator was disturbed when just two days before the opening, workmen arrived to install a long awaited and much needed CCTV system. Suddenly there were plaster, ladders and red wires everywhere. There was drilling and banging and shouting. Our Caretaker was grumbling as layers of plaster dust drfited down from the gallery onto his freshly polished pews. On the afternoon just before the launch itself, our Curator should have been peacefully carrying out last minute checks in the exhibition room. Instead, at the request of the CCTV workmen she was frantically trying to make a space in the over crowded general office for the new CCTV monitor. Here was a great excuse to get rid of files that had been gathering dust for the last twenty years. By the time, the first guests arrived for the launch all was calm again and no-one would ever have guessed that five minutes earlier, our Curator was precariously balanced on one of the pews, trying to hide one of the red wires that had come adrift.
One of the primary functions of our museum is to educate the wider community about Judaism. Every week during term time we welcome groups of children, young people and adults on visits arranged by their schools, colleges, leisure groups etc. Our Education Officer teaches these classes and also trains volunteers to teach them. Most of our classes are from primary schools. However, there is nothing he likes more than the challenge of teaching a variety of groups. He relishes finding new ways to engage people with the subject matter. His creative juices were really put to the test, when in the space of just a few days he made an outreach visit to a primary school in Warrington to talk about the Holocaust, spoke to a group of people (whose second language was English) who were hoping to gain British citizenship, about the history of the community and the synagogue, taught a small group from a special needs school about the synagogue and then he welcomed a class of nursery nurses from Skelmersdale.
On Holocaust Memorial day this week, the main public area of the Museum was packed with college groups and individuals who had come to listen to the very compelling testimony of a Holocaust survivor read by his daughter. It is a rare sight to see standing room only in the main public area. It is inspiring to know that a talk like this can draw peop;le from not only the Jewish community but the wider community as well.