An Audience with Maureen Lipman

On Thursday March 7th we welcomed Maureen Lipman to the Museum.  Our main hall was jam-packed with visitors all eager to hear what she had to say.

The event was organised to mark the start of our exhibition about the careers of Maureen and her husband Jack Rosenthal – “Jack and Maureen – A Creative Partnership”. Tickets had sold out almost as soon as they became available.

Our audience was not disappointed. Maureen spoke for a good hour and a half (without any notes). She spoke about Jack, about her mother, about Israel and being Jewish. She was in turns hilariously funny (talking about her Mum and telling jokes) and moving (when she spoke about losing Jack).

It really was a pleasure to meet her in person. We were delighted with the success of the evening.




Getting ready for “Jack and Maureen”

It’s an absolutely glorious spring day here in Manchester– which is exactly what you’d expect.

In the exhibition room next door to my office there is a hive of activity. Yesterday the resources and material for our next exhibition were delivered.  This is of course “Jack and Maureen – A Creative Partnership”. It’s about the lives and careers of Jack Rosenthal and Maureen Lipman. 

The walls now display massive screen size posters of Jack’s face and Maureen’s face. Scattered around the room there are empty display cases, toolboxes, spirit levels, scissors, paint pots and tailors’ dummies. Stacked neatly to one side there are framed posters advertising films that Maureen appeared in like “The Pianist”. There is a tailor’s dummy dressed in one of Maureen’s costumes.

Out of this apparent chaos our Curator will create a fascinating and accessible exhibition in time for our opening on March 6th.


Holocaust Education Project photos

Right now in the corner of our exhibition room there’s a screen rotating photos taken by a Year 8 group from a school in Partington.. At first glance these look like a selection of general photos snapped on the school campus.  However the significance becomes clear,  when you learn that the photos were taken as a response to a Holocaust Education project run by the Imperial War Museum North and Manchester Jewish Museum. The windows, buildings and fencing of the campus were used to convey the concentration camps, while the pupils took pictures of each other to recreate the sense of isolation and despair experienced by the people.

These photos show what a powerful effect the Project had on the pupils.


Goodbye Sports Exhibition; Hello Peace Quilt

There is a lot of activity going on in our exhibition room.  It’s time to dismantle “Playing the Game: Sporting Life in Jewish Manchester”. I’m quite sad to see those pictures of sports teams and individuals from past and present being taken down. While it was still up it reminded me of how fabulous 2012 has been for sport in the UK. It kind of kept the Olympics alive in this little corner for a bit longer.

It is coming down for a good reason though.  It will soon be replaced by the Peace Quilt exhibition, which was also inspired by the Olympics. The Olympic ideal is one of building a peaceful and better World.   Children from countries all over the world were invited to create a drawing to represent what peace means to them.  The results were transferred to material and stitched together to form the Peace Quilt.  I have been reading all about it and am looking forward to taking a close look at each individual piece. There is sure to be a lot of variety but also many ideas in common. 

This picture gives an idea of what just one of the peace quilt pieces looks like.



Building Bridges Project

Right now we are really enjoying hosting a group of young volunteers who are in the middle of an exciting 10 week course here. The course is known as the “Building Bridges Project”. The course is being taught by a tutor from Salford College. They are all unemployed at the moment but when the course has finished they will receive a pre-employability diploma from Salford College to help them find employment in the future. Some but not all of them have only recently left further education.


The young volunteers and their tutor are a very lively bunch.  At least two of them are from America and one is from Spain.  It’s nice to hear the different accents. The classes are run in the exhibition room next to the general office on Mondays and Tuesdays. They are all busy chatting and working on various tasks on their lap-tops. Sometimes they seem to be having animated discussions and sometimes one of them is giving a presentation to the rest. One time as I walked through I overheard the tutor telling them a bit of teaching theory as they are going to have a try at teaching one of our visiting classes. I know at some point they are going to “buddy up” with existing volunteers to work in the shop and take visitors around.


I think we are really going to miss having them around when the course finishes.







Marketing Officer joins the paparazzi at launch of new Sports Exhibition.

Jeff Ingber table tennis champion

The launch of the museum’s latest exhibition “Playing the Game: Sporting Life in Jewish Manchester” took place on Thursday night 21st June. 

We were delighted to get table tennis champion Jeff Ingber and Director of the National Football Museum, Kevin Moore to give the opening speeches to the sixty people present. The audience was made up of Volunteers and Friends of the Museum, as well as people who featured in the exhibition or who had helped with research. 

Minutes before the first guests arrived I was handed a very high tech camera belonging to our CEO and asked to take photos of the event. Considering I have never owned my own camera and only take the odd snap using my phone, I wasn’t sure whether this was going to work.  However, I rose to the occasion and found that I was really enjoying myself, approaching people and persuading them to pose in front of photos of themselves when they were younger. One of the pictures even found its way into a local paper!!

As someone who has only a passing interest in sport, I like the way this exhibition focuses on the social history behind the Jewish community’s participation in sport. I like the personal stories behind the athletes and I love the montage showing pictures of local Jewish sporting teams from the past. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours exploring this exhibition.

The summer holidays is the perfect time to view the exhibition, but for families with young children that is easier said than done. At the museum we like to cater for everyone. We are planning some Sport themed craft sessions for children. So families could combine a visit to the exhibition with one of our Family Friendly Craft workshops. For details of our three “Crafty Olympic Sessions” and our three “Perfect Pennants” sessions have a look at the website at




Nearly everyone in the Jewish community, no matter how secular or how orthodox enjoys a good Friday night dinner. At the Museum we have noticed that whenever we put on an event involving food it is always very popular. So when it was suggested that we take part in the national “Museums at Night” project, we decided to throw our doors open on an evening in May and offer all-comers a good Jewish Friday night dinner – but on a Sunday!

First we had a meeting with a local caterer and decided which of the many traditional dishes on offer to have on our menu. Then we had a bit of a panic trying to work out how we would actually keep things hot on the night. The Curator’s grandma came to the rescue with a hostess wagon which she no longer needed. And she said we can keep it for future events.

Then it was decided that the only two Jewish members of staff should be “Shabbos Mummy” and “Shabbos Daddy”. That meant me and the Learning Officer! We made sure to be well informed about the dishes on offer and the customs and traditions associated with Shabbos.

So on Friday night 18th May I ate a hearty shabbos dinner with my family, gained 31bs and then on Sunday night 20th May I had to get ready to eat another hearty shabbos dinner with visitors to the Museum.

The guests arrived, introduced themselves and sat down to an attractively laid table.  The Learning officer gave a background speech about the Sabbath and  its customs, while we were distracted by delicious smells wafting through from the tiny kitchen. I demonstrated lighting the Shabbos candles and saying the blessing. The Learning Officer demonstrated blessing the wine before drinking it. All the guests were fascinated.  But I think they were a little bit alarmed when the Learning Officer cut his finger while slicing the bread after blessing it. That is not a custom, we explained!

Over a delicious five course meal, the guests chatted and got to know each other.  They asked questions and were even brave enough to join in some singing.

All the feedback we got was very positive and we want to do it again!!


Purim Dressing Up Area opens at museum

Purim Dressing Up Area

Purim dressing-up 2  

If you are a frequent museum visitor you may have noticed that many museums have a children’s dressing up area. At the Museum of Liverpool children can dress up as staff or passengers of the Liverpool Overhead railway which used to run through the docks. At the museum in Clitheroe castle children can dress up as lords and ladies, merchants or peasants. What better way could there be to get children interested in History?

MJM decided that we also should have a dressing up area for children but what sort of costumes could we make available? Yom Tov hats throughout the decades? Overalls worn by factory workers in the waterproofing industry?  Finally we came up with the brilliant idea of having a dressing up area to celebrate the great Jewish festival of dressing up, which is Purim.

For those of you who don’t know, Purim celebrates the time when Queen Esther saved the Jewish people in Persia from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. Haman, who had great influence with the King Achashveros, was plotting to kill all the Jewish people. In the end Haman ended up being killed instead. In the story of Purim right up until the last moment it had seemed that God was going to allow the Jewish people to be destroyed. It seemed as if there was going to be a catastrophe but it turned out to be a blessing. This is one of the reasons Jewish people disguise themselves on Purim.

For our dressing up area we decided to have costumes designed for Queen Esther, King Achashveros and the wicked Haman. The outfits are displayed in front of panels explaining the story of Purim.  The bright and colourful outfits are proving to be a big hit with our young visitors. (Even some teenagers have attempted to try them on, although this is not something we want to encourage.)

Queen Esther’s crown came in very useful recently, when it was used by members of staff who were preparing themselves to meet the Queen at a lunch at the Town Hall!!!

The Curator here is really pleased that our latest interactive installation is really engaging our young audiences.


The Anne Frank Rose is planted in the Garden of Manchester Jewish Museum 26th January 2012

During the week leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day, the Curator of Manchester Jewish Museum was putting the final touches to the “The Windermere Boys” exhibition.   In the general office staff concentrated hard, taking phone calls and sending Emails against a wall of drilling and hammering.  After the weekly staff meeting the Curator treated us to a preview of the exhibition.  We had been watching the various elements coming together over the preceding two weeks, and yet we were still thrilled to imagine the reaction of people seeing it for the first time. This exhibition is part of Manchester’s history and one that we can be proud of.


Before the launch on Thursday, 26th January there was to be a ceremony to plant the Anne Frank Rose. There is an interesting story behind the Anne Frank Rose and one which few of us knew about until recently.  After the war a rose was created and named after Anne Frank. Cuttings were taken from it and planted to remember Anne.  At this time in Japan there was a young girl who heard Anne Frank’s story. She was about the same age as Anne would have been at the time she went into hiding. She became fascinated by her and searched until she found the address of Otto Frank, Anne’s father and started to correspond with him.  He sent her cuttings of the Anne Frank rose, but all but one died.  This one bush which did survive was nurtured in Japan and eventually cuttings were taken from it and planted all overJapan to remember people who had died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Imagine this, that cuttings from one rose were being used to remember victims from both sides in the Second World War!!


So early in the afternoon of Thursday, 26th January a variety of groups gathered to participate in the ceremony, including a group wearing red T-shirts with “RAPAR” printed on their chests. These were representatives from a Manchester based human rights organization. Amongst other groups, there were also the pupils from Birchfields school.


While we were waiting for the ceremony to start, our Learning Officer kept the children occupied by teaching them a song in Hebrew called “Shalom Chaverim” which they really enjoyed.


The CEO of the Museum opened the proceedings by emphasizing how appropriate it is to have the Anne Frank Rose planted in our garden, especially as our mission is to counter xenophobia. After thanking people involved in the organization of the ceremony, he introduced Councillor Akbar, a governor of Birchfields school.  Councillor Akbar stated that it is important to educate people about past atrocities and to show children “a path forward to peace, respect and tolerance.”


Rhetta Moran from RAPAR spoke about “resistance” against the evil of the Nazis in the past and in the present. The people who hid Anne Frank during WW2 resisted  the Nazis in the past and by planting the Anne Frank Rose here we were resisting any attempt to reinvent Nazism in the present.


Adam Kirkby from The Anne Frank Trust pointed out that by watching the horse chestnut tree outside her window Anne able to watch the changing seasons whilst in hiding. After the war,this tree became a link to Anne for visitors to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. This special tree fell down a few years ago. Now each time the Anne Frank rose is planted there is a new link to her and the changing seasons.


Elisabeth Mansfield artistic director of Ensemble spoke about the research she did in Japan about the Anne Frank Rose, before she started work on the production “Souvenir D’Anne Frank”, a performance which tells the story of the Anne Frank rose.


During the speeches we were warm and dry inside the museum but we knew that outside it was windy and rainy.  We knew that soon we would need to go outside and actually plant the rose bush in the garden. We pulled our coats tightly around us, opened the door leading to the garden and headed outside.  The rain had stopped and the wind had died down. We gathered around Fahidi, a refugee from Iran who had been chosen to plant the rosebush. He said a few words and his brother read a short poem about peace and freedom. He planted the bush while the press took photos and the pupils placed ribbons on the “ remembering tree”, a wooden carving in the shape of a tree.


Appropriately the ceremony finished with a minute’s silence to remember those who had perished in the Holocaust.


Back inside we were given a taster of the “Souvenir D’Anne Frank” performance.  Elizabeth Mansfield performed a song composed by Colin Decio in which the words of Anne Frank have been set to music.


We are glad to know that we have the Anne Frank rose planted in our garden and hope that it will flourish under the care of our volunteer gardeners (and in spite of the Manchester climate!!!!)


CEO and Learning Officer Visit Auschwitz 3.11.11

Manchester Jewish Museum in association with the Imperial War Museum NW is developing a programme of Holocaust education for young people.   Our Learning Officer and CEO wished to observe other Holocaust educators handling this subject matter.  The Holocaust Education Trust organizes visits to Auschwitz for secondary school students so they decided to accompany one such visit.  Of course, both members of staff had visited Auschwitz previously.


Ten days before the visit, the Holocaust Education Trust holds a briefing session for students, which our Learning Officer attended.  He was impressed with this session which set out to “re-humanize” the victims by discussing the lives of people in the Jewish communities in Europe before 1939, as well as making sure that students had a realistic idea of what to expect when they got to Auschwitz. The testimony of a survivor, Kitty Hart-Moxon helped students to feel a connection with what they were about to experience. Our Learning Officer was very impressed with the session, his only concern being that maybe the educators were relying too much on the students, all volunteers, having read up on the subject before hand.


On November 3rd, the flight left for Poland at 7.30am. As well as students, there were teachers and MPs on the trip. After such an early start, those who thought they could have a little doze on the plane were mistaken.  Each participant was expected to read a little booklet to prepare them further for what they were about to see in Poland.


Arriving in Poland the group was taken directly (and without losing anyone) straight to the village of Auschwitz where there had been a Jewish community before the war.  At a restored synagogue/museum Rabbi Barry Marcus spoke about Jewish practice for the mainly non-Jewish audience. This also put into context the next part of the visit.


At Auschwitz 1 itself the group spent one and half hours looking round the Museum and the barracks. Divided into 10 sub-groups, each was lead by their own guide.  The CEO and Learning officer, drew the short straw, as theirs, although knowledgeable, was very “fierce”, which apparently is not typical.


The Learning Officer said he deliberately did not try to engage with the students, as he thought it was important for them to process what they were experiencing without any subjective input from others.  He observed that they were all very reserved and quiet, but when faced with the piles of shoes and hair, they did produce an emotional response as you would expect.


The Learning officer told me how impressed he was at the tight organization and how there were always people to direct you and tell you which coach to get on. In spite of this he managed to get himself a bit lost during the transfer from Auschwitz 1 toAuschwitz 2.


A further one and a half hours were spent atAuschwitz 2 (Birkenau).  The site is more spread out than Auschwitz 1. There is less to see as the Germans tried to destroy it before the Allies arrived.  Visitors are directed through areas which had been gas chambers and the trail brings them to the former reception centre where people would have been “processed” –  made to give up their possessions, deloused, heads shaved and tattooed. At the end of this process each individual had become a “non-person”.  All this was clearly explained by the guides and by wording on panels. The groups were also shown reconstructions of the barracks, which had been pre-fabricated stables, and a reconstruction of the toilets.


As the afternoon wore on it was getting colder and darker, conditions which fitted in well with the last formal session of the day which was a memorial service lead by Rabbi Marcus.  Some students participated and others just listened respectfully.


Six days later there was a debriefing session.  Again students were divided into groups. They were asked to focus on the two sites at Auschwitz and decide what had made most impression on them.  They were asked to think about what they had learned from the visit.  In order to do this they were presented with a series of cards with statements on. The idea was to choose the ones they felt were the most appropriate.  Our Learning Officer sat in with one of these groups and as before observed that they were very quiet and reserved and it was hard to determine what effect the experience had had on them.  Before, during and after the visit all students had been keeping a log of their thoughts and feelings about the Holocaust.  It would have been interesting to see some of these and to evaluate how attitudes had changed or crystallized over the period. 


Our Learning Officer found it very moving to go to Auschwitz again especially with a group of young people. The Holocaust Education Trust’s organization of the visit was faultless. This is particularly important as when you are dealing with such a serious subject you don’t want people to be distracted by logistical errors.


Once back at school, students would be creating a project and passing on information to fellow students who had not been on the visit.  It has been stressed how reserved and quiet students were throughout this experience.  Maybe the presence of adults inhibited them. Maybe they were inhibited by the presence of students they had not known before. Maybe it was just typical British reserve.  How interesting it would be to find out how these students got on when they went back to their schools to educate others about their experience. I am sure that back in familiar surroundings they would all have plenty to say.