Unpacking the Synagogue in a Box by Dara Laughlin

The Synagogue in a Box workshop is a unique and practical session that has been really popular with schools in Greater Manchester. Having just started as the new Outreach Coordinator at the museum in September, it has been immensely exciting to start delivering these sessions.

The session itself is lovely – an open and engaging investigation into Judaism led by the children, who work together, share their knowledge and experiences, and then come together to create their own Synagogue.

The class first explore some ‘mystery artefacts’ from the museum collections, discussing what they think they are and what they are used for, before getting their curator hats on to decide how they want to arrange them, as if they were curating their own Manchester Jewish Museum. The artefacts all relate to the stories and experiences of Jewish people in Manchester, and include objects such as a mezuzah, a kippah, and a football league handbook from the 50s – obviously football has always been a big part of Manchester’s history!

Looking at these objects lets children really feel connected to the artefacts, and in turn to Jewish history in Manchester. In my opinion being able to see and touch the ‘real thing’ brings these stories much closer to the children, and helps them to make connections between their own lives and experiences, and those of other people, something that is important now more than ever.

After they have seen the objects, the class lets their creativity run wild and working together, make their very own Synagogue right within their classroom. They learn about the importance of the Torah Scroll, the Ark and the Reading table, and set about making sure their Synagogue has these and more. This has resulted in some wonderful creations, allowing the children to apply the knowledge they have gained in a creative and engaging way.

The biggest challenge for me was learning as much as I could about Judaism as quickly as I could – children’s questions always have the ability to take you by surprise! And of course, I learn from the children as much as they learn from me.

This workshop allows the museum to reach audiences far and wide, and is an invaluable experience, helping children to engage in culture, and to experience museums – in many cases this is their first experience with one! It is also a great opportunity to create relationships with schools in the community during this period where the main museum is closed, and to keep the conversation happening.

My first few months in this job have been such a whirlwind – meeting a new team, exploring a whole new collection and learning about all kinds of different things – at first the idea might have seemed daunting but I have felt at home right away; it has been such a fantastic journey, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!

If you think your class might enjoy the Synagogue in a Box Session, please don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more.

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Research and Scratch Artists’ Residencies are a go go at the Museum!

This week is exciting, not least because we welcome artist Gemma Parker for the first Research and Scratch Residency at the museum. We wanted to create space and time for delving into our archives, thinking through how the stories we are custodians of are evermore relevant to contemporary culture and chatting through how the arts can bring these stories to life in unexpected ways. Gemma is particularly interested by items within our textile collection produced by women as acts of devotion. The highlight of today was finding the jewelled embroidery on a red velvet Ark curtain.

Gemma will be blogging throughout the week so you can follow her journey here https://gemma-parker.blogspot.com/2019/12/manchester-jewish-museum-day-1.html and she will share her initial thoughts with our Artists’ Network on Friday.

Artists' Network, Manchester Jewish Museum, MJM Events, Research and Scratch, Textile Group, Women's work

Ilse’s Story

Our music project has been going since the summer, with opera singer extraordinaire Peter Brathwaite and the seemly ever creative composer Joe Steele. We’re also privileged to be working with opera composer Na’ama Zisser. Our community song-writing group has now got to know each other on a personal and creative level. They have used stories of Jewish refugees coming to Cheetham in the 1930s and 1940s as inspiration for songs about arriving, assimilation and belonging. I thought we’d focus this blog entry on Ilse’s story which is in our oral history collection.

When 17-year old Ilse first arrived in Manchester, her father was being held in Huyton internment camp and her sister was in hospital in Liverpool. Ilse joined her mother in a refugee hostel in Great Clewes Street, Cheetham and worked as a domestic, a waterproofing factory in Blackfriars Road in Salford and later as a dental technician. Many of the factories got bombed in the war, so the workers had to deal with broken windows, bombed sites and had to go to work during the blackouts.  

She felt misunderstood and found it hard to assimilate with British people when she arrived. “. Little things seemed to matter very much and made you feel very sore.” As time went on, however, she had lots of friends who were refugees. “When you have lost everyone, you stick together.” The sense of being an outsider remained to some degree throughout her life in Manchester:

“if you go somewhere somebody knows your parents, family, school friends, I am just somebody the wind blew in , a nobody, you won’t understand it, you couldn’t possibly, you know but I wouldn’t say I feel jealous when people say oh I’m going to my relatives here or there to a party to heavens know where – I wish I had them.”

Eventually Ilse met Herbert who worked on a farm in Wiltshire to prepare for going to Israel. He was then interned in the Isle of Man then Canada then back to the Isle of Man. They kept in touch while he was interned through writing letters and she bumped into him by chance in London later. They then got married, he learnt to be a baker and came to Manchester. They got married 4th November 1943 in Cheetham Hill with her parents and sister and his uncle in attendance. At first they lived in an upstairs flat of Herd’s Bakery in Chorlton then started a partnership and they moved back to Cheetham.

Our community song-writing group thought about Ilse’s 1940s experience in relation to contemporary stories of arriving in Cheetham. The creative combination of Michael’s talents in lyric writing, Andy and Aaron taking those lyrics and jamming together to set them to a tune and Philip’s skills in listening and editing the material came to the fore. Discussions between the group about how to represent Ilse’s voice, choice of words and empathy for hers and many others’ situations profoundly resonated with me. The choice to focus on the phrase ‘I am just a somebody the wind blew in’ was the glue to the structure of the song. I hope we’ve done Ilse proud!

Ilse’s Song

Bought here by a wind from the east

That wind that also brings the snow

Driven out with nowhere safe to go

I’m just someone the wind blew in

I’ve left behind the country I called home

Yet even now I cannot cease to roam

Father interned, mother in a mill

And even worse my sister’s ill

I’m just someone the wind blew in


If you go somewhere, someone knows your family

You won’t understand it, you never could

People go to parties, heaven knows where

So many friends I wish were mine

When all seems lost you have to look around

Until at last new happiness is found

You make new friends with who you stick together

Where once was cold, I found some calmer weather

But I’ll always be the one the wind blew in

We always welcome new members to our group who like making music or story-writing, just email our Creative Producer Laura to find out details of the next session: laura@manchesterjewishmuseum.com

Fabulous music-making, Manchester Jewish Museum, Music, Opera

Food, objects, action…

Our friends at the Lalley Centre Foodbank bravely signed up to be guinea-pigs for our micro food-chat, where we explore museum objects using the medium of taste. A small band of friendly and curious participants from the Friday club sat down to hear food stories from the Museum’s collection and tell their own, proving that food really does transcend cultural experience.

For amuse-bouche – a conversation about Jewish children being evacuated from Manchester in WW2 and attempting to eat vegetarian if not kosher.

Alexander Altmann was Manchester’s only communal Rabbi from the late 1930s to the late 1950s. A job offer enabled him and his family to escape Berlin and he was influential in Manchester until he went on to a Philosophy lectureship in the US in 1958. Here he wrote instructions to Jewish evacuees on how to behave and how to eat!

For starters – a mystery implement and a tabbouleh salad

After many unsuccessful guesses about the use of this object (including our own – we thought it was a herb chopper…) our fabulous curator reminded us it would have been used to chop herring. Often brought with Jewish migrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, this particular chopper was made in Manchester in the late 19th/early twentieth century and marketed to the Jewish community. Having thought that it was used to chop parsley, we tucked into tabbouleh while discussing a possible Chinese connection, fish stew in Nigeria and false assumptions about museum objects!

For the main course – a story of identity and borekas

This photo of Annie Conway in the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (which is now Manchester Jewish Museum) shows her holding a plate of borekas. Annie married into a Jewish family and became a stalwart of the synagogue community using her sewing skills to make cushions and beautifully upholster the doors of the Ark. These pastries for the Sephardi tradition caused us full tummies and lively debate on triangular pastries in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition but also in cultures around the world.

Thanks to Sam and Julia – we’ll definitely come back!


An adventure in the wonderful (sticky) world of ‘teiglach’.

When we started working with our food artist Leo Burtin and Liverpool-based artists The Venus Collective, we all had no clue what teiglach even were. We knew we wanted to provide a unique theatrical experience for the Cheetham Cultural Festival (19th-22nd September) which reflected Cheetham’s Jewish food cultures and would give Cheetham a positive energy during the festival. With Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) starting just after the festival, the sticky sweet treats that are teiglach that are traditionally eaten at this time seemed an intriguingly natural choice. We all started on a journey that would feature culinary disasters, movingly heartfelt messages of kindness and a lot of honey!

Teiglachs apparently come from Lithuania but are particularly popular with Jewish communities in New York (where you have to order them 2 weeks in advance of Rosh Hashanah), Ireland and South Africa. It seems like Manchester is yet to fall in love with these little dough balls dipped in honey, ginger and cinnamon but we decided to make it our mission to change that!

Below is a link to the best recipe we have found so far. Why not give them a go? https://jamiegeller.com/recipes/how-to-make-teiglach/

Still feeling a bit confused about teiglach, we decided to have a practice over a September weekend. I much prefer savoury tastes, so I am bracing myself for something overly sweet but have no idea what to expect from these. We used a recipe from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food which involves making a satisfyingly stretchy dough. Rolling it into small spheres and boiling in honey, ginger and lemon rind starts to feel a bit wrong but we go with it. The kitchen fills with a perfumed scent that smells slightly medicinal and I’m hopeful they might end up yummy…

They don’t.

The weirdly unsweet dough is an unsettling contrast to the syrup and is also really hard. We feel down about it and with no frame of reference it is difficult to tell whether they are meant to be like this or whether we should try again.

We put them in the oven for 30 mins. This improves the situation as they go crispy but the dough is still needing something.

We keep them for 5 days and they improve steadily…interesting but still not perfection.

Some expert help was needed – we called in our amazing museum volunteers for a teiglach-making workshop at the Welcome Centre in Cheetham. An afternoon of laughter and serious teiglach perfection ensued. Tasmin and Naomi from the Venus Collective, as well as Naomi’s amazing mum had been practising industrial volumes of teiglach making at their shul in Liverpool. So they brought their experience and increasing passion (possibly obsession) for teiglach perfection to the group.

Culmination of teiglach shenanigans!

The Cheetham festival arrives and we set up camp at the Fort Shopping Centre in Cheetham Hill. The steady stream of shoppers are offered free gifts of teiglach and messages of kindness we have collected from residents at Heathlands and Tracy’s fabulous art group at the Nicky. Conversations are had with Cheetham shoppers from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. We especially enjoy taking to guys from India about the history of Jewish communities in Asia, local children about how they cheer up their friends and members of the Mancunian Jewish communities about plans for the new museum. We all went home wiser, stickier and hopefully kinder.

Special thanks to Lilian, Filis, Julian


Award-Winning Design Team Appointed

The museum has appointed Citizens Design Bureau (CDB) as the architects for its major development project. The lead architect will be CDB founder, Katy Marks, who was a Project Architect for the Stirling Prize winning ‘Liverpool Everyman Theatre’ and was recently nominated as emerging Woman Architect of the Year 2015. Working alongside Katy will be architect Ursula McGeoch, who previously worked on the Jewish Museum London. CDB will be leading a design team consortium, comprising BuroHappold, an award winning Structural and Services engineering company, and Bristow Johnson, an experienced company of Chartered Quantity Surveyors. This newly appointed team will progress the museum’s development plans thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund who last year awarded the museum a development grant of £426,900. The project will result in a major museum extension with new galleries and new learning and event spaces. The museum’s Grade II* listed synagogue building will also be fully restored.

The museum has also appointed exhibition designers All Things Studio to design new galleries telling the story of Manchester’s Jewish community. Led by Matt Schwab, All Things specialise in creating compelling and distinctive visitor experiences and have designed permanent and temporary exhibition spaces at institutions such as the Science Museum and Museum of London. The team also includes interpretation consultant Catherine Morton, graphic designers Kellenberger–White, lighting designers DHA Designs and Digital designers Clay Interactive.

Museum CEO, Max Dunbar, commented: “We’re delighted to announce the appointment of our design team. We’ve selected a creative team of architects and designers with valuable experience working on major cultural projects, both nationally and internationally. We’re particularly excited by this combination of creativity and experience and are confident this team will help us realise our vision to create a celebratory, vibrant and inspirational museum, bringing people of all faiths, backgrounds and ages together.”

Katy Marks, Director of CDB, commented: “We’re really looking forward to working on such a fascinating project – engaging imaginatively with issues of immigration, innovation and respectful diversity. By creating a new building as well as renovating the existing Grade II* Listed synagogue, there is enormous scope for a really special destination on the Manchester cultural scene. Credit also to the clients for selecting the team based on our approach rather than asking for completed designs up front.”

Matt Schwab, Director of All Things Studio, commented: “We are thrilled to be working with the Manchester Jewish Museum and Citizens Design Bureau on this unique project. There is huge potential in the museum’s historic Synagogue and collections and we will work with the team and local communities to create a world-class contemporary museum for the people of Manchester and beyond”.

About the Design Team

Citizens Design Bureau (CDB) was established by Katy Marks as a co-operative company of architects. CDB aims to make good design accessible, humane and sensitively sustainable and their work covers a range of scales from public buildings to products and digital interfaces.

Lead architect, Katy Marks, studied at Glasgow School of Art, ETSA Madrid and Cambridge and has a Masters in Environmental Design. Katy was a founder of Somoho – an arts, culture and environment centre in Soweto, South Africa before returning to London as co-founder of the ImpactHub network. She then joined Haworth Tompkins architects where she was a project architect for the refurbishment of the National Theatre Studios as well the Young Vic Theatre and the Everyman Theatre. Katy established Citizens Design Bureau in 2012, working on community housing, creative workspace, theatre and arts buildings. Katy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and sits on the Hackney Design Review Panel. www.citizensdesignbureau.net

All Things is a London-based studio focused on the planning and design of museum and exhibition spaces. All Things specialise in 3D narrative design and collaborate with leading graphic and lighting designers to deliver clear, compelling and distinctively designed visitor experiences. The studio was founded in 2014 by Matt Schwab, a designer with many years’ experience leading international projects for well-known design studios in the UK and Europe. Matt is also Associate Lecturer in the Interior and Spatial Design Program at Chelsea College of Arts in London.

Working alongside Matt will be interpretation consultant, Catherine Morton, who has over 17 years’ experience developing exhibitions and interpretation that engage audiences in relevant, fresh and compelling ways. Catherine has worked on numerous exhibition and interpretation projects at institutions including the Natural History Museum, Horniman Museum and National Museums of Scotland.


Kellenberger–White specialises in the creation of identity and visual language, delivered across all points of communication – digital, print and environmental. Established in 2009, Kellenberger–White was jointly founded by Eva Kellenberger and Sebastian White after graduating from the Royal College of Art. Recent projects include: the graphic identity for public organisations such as Bonner Kunstverein, Glasgow International, Create and Open School East; way-finding and signage for Turner Contemporary; books for MIT Press; as well as identity schemes for major exhibitions at the Design Museum, British Library, and Science Museum.


Dha Designs is a UK-based lighting design consultancy who work internationally, and specialise in museum and architectural lighting. They are lighting consultants to the British Museum and V&A, and have previously designed the Jewish Museum, London and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.


BuroHappold is an international, integrated engineering consultancy operating in 23 locations worldwide, with over 50 partners and 1,500 staff including some of the world’s leading consulting engineers. For 40 years BuroHappold has been delivering creative, value led building and city solutions for an ever changing world.

In 2016 BurroHappold helped the Whitworth Art Gallery secure the prestigious Museum of the Year award, achieved through it’s innovative “slow conservation” design, utilising passive and mixed mode ventilation to ensure perfect conditions for art without the conventional energy demand of conditioned spaces.


Bristow Johnson are a team of Quantity Surveyors experienced working on capital and refurbishment projects. Clients include Battersea Arts Centre, English National Opera and the Royal National Theatre Studios.



Cheetham Hill Road: A People Panorama

Cheetham Hill Road in North Manchester is, according to data from the 2011 census, the most diverse street in Britain. Almost half of the people who live and work along this 8-mile stretch of road speak English as a second or other language and the area has been the first port of call for new Mancunians arriving from all over the globe for well over a hundred years.

One of the most impressive surviving buildings on this road is the former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue which opened in 1874 and is now home to Manchester Jewish Museum where I am employed as Learning Manager. One of the things I love most about my job is being able to work closely with such a diverse community in order to ensure that we are living up to our commitment to be a museum for everyone and to help people appreciate our multicultural world. The museum is currently involved in a major development project to renovate the synagogue building and to build a new museum alongside it.

With this in mind I have been working with a local photographer called Jan Chlebik on the museum’s most recent exhibition – Cheetham Hill Road: A People Panorama. The exhibition is centred around twenty-nine enormous panoramic photographs which showcase the incredible diversity found along the road. Groups featured range from those which you might expect; such as schools, shops and places of worship right through to more unexpected hidden gems like climbing centres, trampolining clubs and even a cage-fighting gym.

The first stage of the project involved drawing up a “most wanted” list of groups we felt would make a great picture and really show off the diversity of the area. Once we had this list I set about the task of approaching people and inviting them to take part. Incredibly, every single group that we approached said yes and we actually ended up taking more pictures than we had planned as we kept meeting people who we felt we couldn’t possibly leave out.

The most difficult part of this project proved to be finding the right location for each picture. You need A LOT of space for each one. Every person in every picture is exactly 18-feet from the camera. So for the largest gatherings of people, which involved shooting a full 360-degree image, we needed at least a 36-foot circular area to work with. When you combine the fact that many of the venues we visited are what you might call “cosey” and the fact that most of the pictures had to be taken in the dead of winter, so outdoor shoots weren’t always an option, you can imagine that things didn’t always go to plan and there was a fair bit of creative thinking required to ensure we captured an image that both ourselves and the participants would be proud of.

The most rewarding part of this project for myself and Jan has been meeting the people that make up this amazing community. Without exception we were met with a warmth and affection that we had not expected at the start of the project. The best thing of all was getting to sample foods from all over the world, from the most amazing Ukrainian comfort food to the best onion bhajis you have ever tasted.

The idea behind the exhibition is a simple one but the fact that each person is given the opportunity to be seen clearly and nobody is given higher importance than anybody else makes it the perfect way to encapsulate the greatest lesson I think we can take from this most diverse of communities. Every single one of the 1500 people featured in the exhibition is unique, we met some incredible characters covering every faith, culture, age and background, but in every way that really matters they are the same. They told us they just want to get on with their lives and get on with their neighbours.

Since we took the photographs there are two messages which have stayed with me and will continue to shape my work at the museum. They are the mottos of schools featured in the exhibition (Abraham Moss Community School and Temple Primary School) and they put into words what I have learned from this project far better than I can. “Strength comes from diversity” and “All different. All equal.”

Words: Gareth Redston

Cheetham Hill: A People Panorama is open to view from 21st March 2016.




Heritage Lottery to Fund Museum Development Project

It was announced today that the museum will receive initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a major development project. The project will result in a new museum extension that will house new galleries, learning and event spaces. The museum’s historic synagogue building will also be fully restored.

Development funding of £426,900 has also been awarded to help the museum progress their plans to apply for a full grant of £2.8million at a later date.

The museum plans to create a new visitor experience, exploring themes in its collection, such as immigration, integration and identity. New galleries will tell the story of Manchester’s Jewish community, including a dedicated gallery about the many Holocaust survivors that settled in Manchester. Volunteers will help catalogue and digitise the museum’s collection in a new archive room and new spaces will be developed with local Cheetham Hill communities to explore and celebrate Manchester’s diverse cultural heritage.

The museum is housed inside a former synagogue building – the oldest synagogue in Manchester. Built in 1874 by wealthy Jewish textile merchants, the museum now plans to fully restore the building’s architectural splendour to create a stunning new visitor experience.

Commenting on the award, Museum Chief Executive Max Dunbar said:

“We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. Over the past 30 years we’ve welcomed thousands of visitors, educating them about Jewish faith, heritage and culture. With today’s announcement, we can now build on this to create a new 21st Century Jewish Museum, showcasing more of our collections, educating more people and working with more communities to ensure Manchester’s Jewish heritage is preserved for generations to come”.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, Head of HLF North West Sara Hilton said:

“With a collection of national significance and set in a city celebrated for its cultural diversity, the Manchester Jewish Museum is uniquely placed to bring to life the story of one of our country’s oldest communities for people from a huge range of backgrounds. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we’re delighted to offer our support to the next exciting chapter in the story of the Manchester Jewish Museum and we look forward to seeing the plans develop”.



On Holocaust Memorial Day we launched new Holocaust workshop for Secondary Schools

Tuesday 27th January was Holocaust Memorial Day and 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. It was heartening to see so much media coverage of the commemorative events which took place both here and in Europe. David Cameron announced that there will be a National Memorial to remember the Holocaust and a Holocaust Learning Centre in London.
At Manchester Jewish Museum we have been teaching about the Holocaust for many years. Our Learning Officer recently developed a new workshop session for pupils in secondary schools. The session is based on the stories of four Holocaust survivors who settled in Manchester after the war.
We decided to launch the new session on Holocaust Memorial Day itself and were very pleased to have pupils from different faiths with us for the session. Twenty pupils came from King David High School and ten came from Abraham Moss Community School.
During the workshop pupils find out about the different stories of survival of Chaim Ferster, Peter Kurer, Gina Bauer and Helen Taichner. They work together in groups completing activities based on resources relating to each individual. They could be listening to a survivor interview on an ipad, unpacking an old suitcase filled with family photos, reading an old diary or discussing the responsibility of ordinary Austrian people for the fate of one of the survivors. During this particular session pupils were privileged to be able to talk to the daughter of Helen Taichner.
Within no time pupils from both schools were getting to know each other as they got involved with the activities. All the pupils approached the workshop with a positive attitude, determined to get as much out of the session as they could. There were plenty of staff and volunteers from the schools and the museum around to help them, whenever they needed some extra input.
At the end of the session to mark Holocaust Memorial Day we invited one pupil from each school to light together a commemorative candle provided by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. A museum volunteer read out the Kaddish prayer in memory of all those who perished during the Holocaust.
Everyone involved was very satisfied with how the launch had gone. We will probably tweak and polish the session a little here and there. Schools who want to make a booking for the workshop can do so on http://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/ks-34Both schools working with resources


Internationally renowned professor will visit us to talk about illustrated religious Hebrew books.

schrijver 1 webAsk the average Jewish person to name a religious Jewish text printed in Hebrew and with illustrations and they will probably mention the Haggadah. This is the book used on the first two nights of Passover to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

But you can also find illustrated versions of the Book of Esther which is read aloud on the festival of Purim and many illustrated marriage contracts (ketubahs).

I found this out while reading up on the renowned Professor Emile Schrijver who will be giving a fascinating talk here at the museum on Thursday 15 Jan at 7pm.
Professor Schrijver works at the University of Amsterdam where he is Professor of Jewish Book History and curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana. He is also one of the curators of the private Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books in Zurich, Switzerland.

For his talk Professor Schrijver has selected a range of examples from the 15th to the 19th century. He will tell his audience the stories behind the creation of these books and documents and about the lives of the artists who created them.
Incidentally, Judaism generally disapproves of the presentation of the human form in art – it could be considered a form of idolatry! However in practice, it is considered acceptable on a small scale such as in a book illustration, but large scale presentations such as sculptures are best avoided.

You can book for this talk by phoning 0161 834 9879.  Tickets are £5.