It was a first; it was a gamble but it paid off!


Manchester Food and Drinks festival is now in its 14th year, but this is the first year that the Jewish Museum has had any part in it.


It was our Curator who first came up with the idea of presenting samples of Jewish food to a mainly non-Jewish audience.  With this in mind she set about researching our festival foods, our Shabbat foods and our daily staple foods.  Which countries did these foods originate from and how did they fit into our laws of kashrut?


It was decided that the format of the presentation should be an informal evening of chat, questions and answers and food sampling with about 30 guests seated at tables of 6 to 8 people.  We enlisted the services of two local caterers, one specializing in Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish food and one specializing in Sephardi (Middle Eastern) Jewish food.


A date was set and menus sorted. Our very knowledgeable Learning Officer had agreed to be the presenter for the night. With him at the helm, we were confident that all questions would be met with satisfying answers.   We then proceeded to publicize the event.


So it was all planned…………….. Now we could relax.


Not surprisingly however, there was a last minute panic. With only one week to go we had taken bookings for only two people and our Learning Officer was called away to attend the bris of his new grandson. 


 With hardly any guests and no presenter would the event have to be called off?


We all put our heads together and the CEO suggested we send out a mass Email to all visitors who had supplied their Email addresses. Then one of our volunteers stepped in to take the Learning Officer’s place as presenter.


Next morning the phone started ringing and ringing and ringing.  Soon we had filled every place at the tables and there was even a waiting list.  Success!!


On the night a cross section of people from acrossManchesterenjoyed 10 sample courses.  Everyone declared themselves to be very well fed by the end.  As one guest said: “There was much more food than I expected. Thank you!”  Another guest even said: “Fabulous evening – it exceeded all expectations”. 


Finally the Sephardi chef (Tracey Kingsley) came out from the make-shift kitchen in our general office for a lively chat with the guests about the significance of Jewish food for her family.


We had started at 7.00pm and nobody left until well after 10.30pm.  We are all delighted with the success of our new venture and, maybe we can do it all again next year!


“It’s a Family Affair”

After the recent and very successful opening of our latest exhibition “It’s a Family Affair”, I decided to have a chat with our Curator, who was of course the driving force behind it, and see how she felt now that it is up and running.

Alex explained to me that she wanted to demonstrate the diversity of the Jewish community in this exhibition.  After all, the community is made up of individual families and individual people.  This is of course true of all minority community groups. 

With this in mind, she chose nine families (who are referred to in our collections or archives) to represent different parts of the Jewish story.  Each family came from a different part of the world, for a different reason to settle in Manchester. They had various levels of religious observance, different political beliefs and did not all share the same social standing.

Wherever possible contact was made with members of the families either still living in Manchester or in other parts of Britain. This made it possible to find out more details and even to borrow or acquire objects to use in the exhibition.  Our Curator found this was a really enjoyable exercise as she was truly engaging with the community, as these families as much a part of the present they are of the past.

On the opening night Friends, Volunteers and supporters were joined by individuals and families who had helped with the research. The Alliance family were not only represented by members living in Manchester, but also by relatives who happened to be visiting from Los Angeles. It was a very lively crowd.

Our Curator normally tries to avoid making public speeches but as our new CEO had only just joined us, she had no choice but to introduce the exhibition herself. She overcame her nerves, and delivered the introduction with great authority and charm, and would now be willing to tackle such a challenge again.

Refreshments were served once the exhibition was declared open.  To celebrate the first appearance of summer we supplied fruity jugs of Pimms and lemonade and cream cakes. We threw open the doors to the exhibition room and let the evening summer air circulate around.

The curator felt that the exhibition was very well received and hopes it will translate into positive visitor figures over the next 6 months.





Our new CEO, Max Dunbar has been with us for a few weeks now.  I let him settle in for a while, before interviewing him for the benefit of people reading this blog.

I was curious to know who or what had inspired him to follow a career in museums and archives. It turns out that he always had an interest in history and it was while studying for a history degree that he went on a trip to the British Museum. There he noticed one of the curators installing objects in display cases, and he thought “I could do that.” So, after completing his first degree, he embarked on a post graduate degree in Museum Studies at the University of East Anglia.

I then asked Max what had made the biggest impressions on him since taking up his position here. He said it was the commitment and dedication of the staff and volunteers, particularly after the difficulties the Museum had experienced over the last year. (I think we are going to like him!)

“What immediate improvements would you make to the Museum if you had a magic wand to wave?” I asked Max.  His response was that he would straightaway refresh and modernize the permanent gallery.  I think we would all agree with that.

Max told me that at the Liverpool Records Office where he used to work  bringing audiences and collections together was logistically a different experience to the one we have here.   Whereas, we have the Museum building itself and we have our display areas and we encourage people in to see our collections, at the Liverpool Records office there was no museum building and no display area and the collections were not housed where the offices were.  So, it was the job of the staff to take out the collections and to find the audiences to show them to.

Max also explained that he is used to working with a small staff and large band of trusty volunteers. At the Liverpool Records Office he managed an archivist and an education officer and 30 volunteers, and at his job before that at the Twickenham Rugby Museum he managed a collections officer, learning officer, stadium tour manager and 30 volunteers.

Knowing that Max has a background in sports memorabilia, I asked him if he had ever come across a really exciting piece of memorabilia. He told me that at the Christies Auction house he came across an FA cup trophy which sold for half a million pounds.  I don’t think we can compete with that.

Neither do I think the Museum will be sending Max on any business class flights to Rio, like he once went on to value Pele’s football shirt, which was eventually sold for £50,000. Can we offer such excitement? I know we once sent our Education Officer to Macclesfield………

To round off our interview, I had put together a short test to find out what Max had learned about the Museum so far.  I am pleased and impressed to report that he could name two volunteers without hesitation, he had no trouble remembering that we had just celebrated Shavuot, he knew who drank the most tea in the office, had already worked out the fastest selling book in the shop, and after a brief pause was able to tell me the exact location of the Altaras window. So one hundred per cent accuracy!

So we are pleased to welcome Max to the Museum and look forward to him taking it from strength to strength.


Museum People 18.5.11


Joe came to us as a temporary member of staff and is now about to leave to seek his fortune in London and pursue a career in Law.  We are really going to miss him.  As a recent law graduate from Leeds University, he approached the Job Centre when he could not find immediate employment and was seconded to us through the “Future Jobs scheme”.  As an office assistant he has been willing, reliable and able. As a colleague he is helpful, sociable and makes an excellent cup of tea!  As an extra pair of hands when it came to the important job of “schlepping” he has been invaluable!!  Our loss is London’s gain.

Joe told me that he really enjoyed meeting and dealing with so many different kinds of people at the Museum. Joe, who is not Jewish himself, now jokes that he probably knows more about Judaism than Christianity. He was also intrigued by the Yiddish words he heard and has found himself adopting “schlep” into his own conversations. What has impressed him the most here? The Education officer’s in depth knowledge of Judaism and Local Jewish History, as well as all the Chelsea fixtures since 1978.

After the untimely death of our Director last year, it was decided to create a garden in the grounds of the Museum in his memory. This is a particularly fitting tribute to Stuart who was the driving force behind many improvements made to the Museum grounds during his directorship.  One of our volunteers is a gardening enthusiast and has been overseeing the creation of this garden. There will be an official opening in July, to which Stuart’s family and the volunteers will be invited.

The preliminary work was carried out by our Caretaker/Gardener who removed the turf from the site. I am told that this is going to be a winter garden.  Last week the flower beds were turned over and bags of rubble removed.  Trees were planted, a Prunus Serrula and five Cornus Siberica (or Dogwood). The latter have bright red stems in winter and variegated leaves and pale flowers in summer.  Daffodil bulbs have now been planted in the garden ready for next spring. These bulbs had been left in pots in the courtyard off the main office, until the garden was ready for them, and they flowered in these pots during an unusually glorious northern spring this year, making it fleetingly, an absolute delight to walk through the courtyard to the office.

March and April were unusually dry and sunny in Cheetham Hill. Janice our gardening enthusiast volunteer expressed her anxiety about the dry conditions and how it would adversely affect the progress of the memorial garden.  Ever since then it hasn’t stopped raining and raining and raining…………….Please Janice come back and say how much we now need sunshine.


Demonstration Seders

It’s that time of the year again!! PASSOVER.  If you are Jewish this means spring cleaning, not merely to make your home clean and fresh, but also to rid your home of every particle of bread (chometz) or anything associated with chometz in readiness for the festival of Passover (Pesach). Passover which celebrates the exodus of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, is marked by Jewish families by one or two “Seder” meals, when symbolic food (including unleavened bread/matzo) is eaten during the retelling of the story of the escape from Egypt.

At the Museum we offer the opportunity for the wider community to experience a little bit of Passover in our demonstration Seders.  This has always been popular and this year has been no exception.  This week we were delighted to welcome 86 pupils on Monday and 50 pupils on Tuesday.  Next week looks equally busy with 60 pupils expected on Monday and 46 adults expected on Tuesday.

As usual we rely on our small army of volunteers to help us organize these demonstrations Seders. The fact is we could not manage without them.  Every visitor to the Seder is provided with a small glass of grape juice and a little plate filled with tastes of the symbolic foods. The volunteers willingly give up their own time to arrange the plates, serve them to visitors and clear away after they have finished.  These dedicated people have been helping us year after year and all have strong opinions on how it should be done.

This year, as in previous years, pupils were excitedly anticipating listening to the story of the Exodus.  Often, it can be difficult for them to understand the concept of slavery. Our Education officer starts by asking for suggestions as to the meaning of the word “slave” or “slavery”.  One pupil raised his hand and said “A slave is not paid”.  With a flash of inspiration, our education officer pointed to a the volunteers standing over in the corner and asked everyone “Are they slaves?”.   All the volunteers nodded in unison and chorused “Yes!”, which caused a great roar of laughter!!


Moroccan connection

Is a trip to Morocco on the cards? Looking out at the grey clouds which usually hover above the streets of Cheetham Hill, it is hard to imagine that there could be a connection between Manchester Jewish Museum and a Mediterranean town called Magador in Morocco.

Recently however our Curator took a call from Mr Martin Rose of the British Council in Morocco. He said that Mr Azoulay, Councillor to the King of Morocco and President of the Anne Lind Foundation would be coming to Manchester to give a lecture at the University. While in Manchester he wanted to come to the Museum. Doesn’t everybody? But this was more than just a passing interest in one of the ethnic groups of Cheetham Hill. It turns out that Mr Azoulay has a strong personal interest in the history of the Jews of Magador (now known as Essaouira), a coastal town in Morocco.

Long ago when this Museum was a thriving synagogue with a vibrant congregation, some of the members, originally from Morocco, had supported the foundation of a synagogue in Magador. Mr Azoulay believes that the designs for that synagogue were in fact based on the designs for this synagogue. Our Curator is going to search through the minute books going back to 1870 to see if she can find any reference to this. Mr Azoulay hopes to create a Museum at the Synagogue in Magador/Essaouira and that he might get some ideas by looking around our Museum. Our creator is wondering if he might need an advisor to go out to Morocco as a consultant …

Manchester Jewish Museum

Portraits for Posterity opening

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.

Manchester Jewish Museum

Manchester Jewish Museum in danger of closing

2011 marks 27 years since Manchester Jewish Museum first opened its doors. Our fascinating journey through Jewish history in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities has thrilled tens of thousands of visitors. Our home in Cheetham Hill is a stunning former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, a cultural and architectural gem in its own right.
However, it costs £150,000 per year to cover all the running costs of this much- loved small museum, the only one of its kind outside London. For many businesses this may seem like a small overhead, but for us it is becoming a crippling amount!

If we carry on without help trying to cover our costs we estimate that the Museum has only 18 months left before it will have to finally close its doors. The Trustees and Staff have not been profligate in the use of Museum funds and we have had to economise by shedding staff and stopping marketing and advertising this year, neither of which makes our task any easier.

We continue to teach about all aspects of Jewish Life and Faith, including developing a holocaust awareness project, through our exciting educational programmes, whilst always promoting a wider message to all communities of tolerance and understanding, fighting racism and xenophobia. Again recognition has come to us this year with a ‘Marque of Excellence’ from the NW Faith Tourism Association, “the Government’s Learning Outside the Classroom quality badge” and the presentation of another Sandford Education Award for the quality of our work.

We have fantastic collections, including photographic and sound archives, all expertly managed, and we are starting to digitise these so that they can be accessed from around the world. We also have a large team of dedicated volunteers, without which the museum could not function and we are led by a strong, focussed work ethic.  We desperately need YOUR help and support.

Donate FormPlease P(L)AY your part in making certain that the Museum doors stay open. All we are asking is for you to covenant £5.00 a month, although any donation is welcome, large or small! We also want you to ask all your friends if they will assist us. This small amount could make such an enormous difference to us and you would be playing such an important part in keeping this landmark building open for the next 25 years, at least!

Please download the forms by clicking on the PDF icon, and help us any way you can.

Manchester Jewish Museum

The Chain Gang visit Manchester Jewish Museum

The Chain GangOn the 11th November 2009, Manchester Jewish Museum was honoured when the civic heads of the ten districts of Greater Manchester, the Chain Gang as they call themselves, came together for what was a unique occasion. The mayors and the mayoresses and consorts began their visit by listening to a short presentation about the history of the beautifully restored Spanish and Portuguese synagogue at Cheetham Hill Road that has housed the Museum since 1984.

They heard about the work of the Museum and its plans for the future before being given guided tours of the building and the exhibitions. As well as the permanent display they also viewed Albert Einstein exhibition ‘Man of the Century’ which depicts the life and work of the most iconic physicist of modern times.
Later the dignitaries were able to speak to staff, Trustees and volunteers whilst enjoying a typical Jewish buffet.

This is the Fourth occasion on which twenty two civic representatives had gathered together for one function.

MJM Events, News