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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