Having enjoyed your Erev Shabat services and also your afternoon lunches, I mentioned to Angela and Rodney that I was a guide at the Manchester Jewish Museum and they asked me if I would write a few words about it for your magazine.
The museum was built in 1874 and was called the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue and at that time was the only one practicing the Sephardi Minchag. The first thing you learn as a guide is the story of the immigrants who first started arriving in 1784 and the places where they settled, some were merchants or shopkeepers but later at the turn of the century the next influx fled from the pogroms in Russia and Poland and by 1912 there were 30.000 immigrants, many of them living in squalor in the Red Bank area of Manchester
There were Ashkenazi Synagogues in Manchester in those days ranging from Ultra Orthodox to reform but most of them have now been converted into warehouse’s or have been pulled down. We are fortunate that when the congregation moved to North Manchester in 1982 the building was listed and preserved and turned into a Museum in 1984. (This Synagogue is very close to my heart as my father & mother were married there, and I had my Bar Mitzva here.)
In our tours round the MJM we give a social history of the Manchester Jewish community and the important part that it played in the development of the City and explore the cultural and religious evolution of the Jewish community. In the main the Sephardi Jews who came here were from the area around the Mediterranean and the Middle East and they came here to take advantage of the cotton and textile trade and were very successful and Manchester soon became a thriving city. One of the founder members who started the Synagogue in 1874 was Chaim Besso who was born in Corfu.
Manchester houses the largest Jewish community outside London our galleries reveal the political and industrial legacies of this community on a local, regional, national and international scale.
We also give an insight to the many non Jewish visitors who visit the museum of what takes place in our services and answer any questions about our religion and give them information on Kashrut and what we can and cannot eat.
This is the only UK museum housed inside an original Synagogue and is Manchester’s oldest surviving Synagogue building. The building provides a unique and powerful learning space for all ages, from schoolchildren to adult learners and helps over 15,000 people a year discover, explore and celebrate Jewish faith and culture.
The biggest problem is that although we have 30,000 items in our collection we are unable to show them all due to limited space. The downstairs is kept in its original form, more or less, whilst the upstairs (which was the ladies gallery) has been converted so as to demonstrate the way in which the early immigrants lived their lives and fought for survival. However it also demonstrated how the community help to set up their own social welfare in the building of The Home for the Sick Old and Incurable Jews, The Jewish School, The Jewish Lads Brigade, The Jewish Hospital and the Soup Kitchens. The hospital and soup kitchens were available for all in need, Jew or non Jew.
The MJM did have some lottery funding but in the main it is the friends and patrons and contributions that enable us to continue to keep the MJM going.
If ever you are in Manchester please give us a visit, I am sure you will find it most interesting, we often have exhibitions on various subjects and you can be sure of a warm welcome.