Bright lights of Chanukah

The Jewish community are getting ready to celebrate the festival of Chanukah.

This year Chanukah begins on the night of Tuesday 16th December and finishes on the night of Wednesday 24th December ……(just as Christmas begins.)
What is Chanukah all about? It’s a festival of light and celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and of spirituality over materialism. For eight consecutive days Jewish people light flames on a Chanukiah (like a candelabra with nine branches) – one on the first night, two on the second night etc.

This commemorates the time when the Greeks were driven out of the Holy Temple by the Jewish Maccabees. When the Jews wanted to relight the Menorah in the Temple with pure olive oil, (so that the Temple could be rededicated to the service of God) they could only find enough uncontaminated oil to last for one night but miraculously it lasted for eight nights.





Chanukiahs come in all shapes and sizes but you can see this one in our Home life display cabinet as part of our social history exhibition. This permanent exhibition tells the stories of 5 individuals who were part of the Jewish community in Manchester around 100 years ago. The Home Life cabinet illustrates the life of Cheena Livshin a young widow whose husband died on the Titanic.
Come and enjoy the “Jewish Manchester in 1912” tour of this exhibition at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Sundays to Thursdays and Fridays 11am only.


Remembrance Day and a very special Yartzeit Candle

yartzeit candleGoldsmith


This Yartzeit candle originally belonged to the Manchester Great Synagogue. Its purpose was to honour “soldier members of the synagogue who fell in the Great War”.
A few months ago the museum sent it off for some much needed conservation work and we were delighted when it was returned last Friday just in time for Remembrance Day.

Each of the 14 candles honours a different soldier. There is a plaque under each candle holder with the name and rank of a soldier and the date of his death according to the Hebrew calendar. A candle would be lit each year to honour each soldier on the anniversary of the date of his death.
This Yartzeit candle memorial will now be on display for the duration of the Centenary commemorations.


Catering for the Jewish Community


Did Filson’s cater your bar mitzvah or wedding?  I was thinking about this yesterday during a reminiscence training day organised by Age Exchange UK for staff and volunteers of Manchester Jewish Museum and The Fed.

MJM in partnership with The Fed have created themed reminiscence boxes using objects and photos from the museum’s collections for the “Sharing Stories” project. Now  staff and volunteers are being trained to take them out and run reminiscence sessions in care homes and day centres. 

At the workshop we were encouraged to do a bit of reminiscing ourselves.  When I started to tell a story connected with my grandparents who ran Filson’s Catering there were murmurs of recognition around the room.  One volunteer remembered that my grandparents had catered her wedding.

The session made me remember a funny incident at my grandparents’ home.  They lived and ran the business from a big old house in Broughton Park.  The living quarters were in a flat on the first floor. On the ground floor was the ballroom and in the cellars they had huge kitchens where food for simchas was prepared. I went to primary school in the building next door which meant that some days I could go straight there after school.  

On one particular day I ran out of school as the bell rang, raced over to their house, through the back door which was always open and dived down the stairs to the cellar/kitchens where I knew my grandma, grandpa and uncle would be busy preparing for the next “do”. Before I reached the bottom step I stopped dead at the sight of two large cows tongues waiting to be pickled. I was horrified and disgusted. I spun round and flew back up the stairs.  It was only then that I realised that the delicacy that I had regularly enjoyed known as “tongue” was actually made from real cow tongue and not just something with a similar sounding name.

After that I refused to touch tongue and would only go down to the cellars when they were baking cakes and desserts!




What kind of person wakes up one morning and decides to cover their kitchen worktops in plastic, their oven hobs in tinfoil and kitchen shelves with paper? Are they following a crazy new trend in interior design?  No, like me they’re preparing for the Jewish festival of Passover.

During the 8 days of Passover Jewish people must not eat bread or have bread in their houses or any products that might have come into contact with bread.  We can eat matzo which is a kind of flat bread. 

Preparing for Passover

·         To make absolutely sure that there is no bread in the house we check every nook and cranny for traces of it.  This is a good excuse for a bit of spring cleaning and most people start about a month before the festival.  In the kitchen where the food is prepared for Passover we have to be even more particular.  That is why even after cleaning, we’ll cover our worktops, oven hobs and shelving.  

·         At the same time as the cleaning, there is the Passover shopping frenzy.  Owners of shops serving the Jewish community have to create special bread free sections.  All the processed food we buy has to be certified “Kosher for Pesach”.  We need to stock up on meat, chicken, fish and fruit and vegetables as there will be very little opportunity to shop or cook during the festival. The Jewish shops are heaving as the entire community stocks up for the week.

·         When the shopping is done and the kitchen is ready it’s time to cook.  I’ve booked days off work so I can fill my freezer with” Pesadich” dishes for my family.

Why is this night different?

It’s very satisfying and exhausting but once the cleaning, shopping and cooking is done I can think about enjoying the festival.

On the first two nights, families gather together around the table to retell the story of the Exodus. This is called a Seder. We want the children to be able to pass the story on to the next generation.  At my Seder there will be several grandchildren. We keep them interested by doing everything a bit differently.  We tell the story while eating symbolic food to represent various stages of the story. We encourage the children to ask questions.  At many Seders each plague is represented by appropriate toys. Children are sent on a treasure hunt around the house to look for a piece of matzo.  In the middle of all this we eat a really tasty Passover meal.

Each year I see Passover as a huge mountain to climb but once I get started I start to enjoy it.  There is a sense of the whole community doing the same thing at the same time.  There is camaraderie among the shoppers negotiating trolleys up and down the narrow aisles in local shops.  We are all heading for the same goal.  We want to make Pesach an enriching experience for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.


Names from the past: The Laski Family


I’ve been racking my brains this week trying to remember why a certain name rings a bell with me. It all started when the Curator at MJM said she was about to retrieve some portraits of important Jewish Mancunians from GMCRO where they are stored. The family name Laski occurred twice in her list of portraits. As a child I heard this name often and had some vague idea that it was associated with communal leaders from the past. The internet is a great tool and it didn’t take me long to do a bit of research on the Laski family of Manchester.

This is what I found out:

·         NATHAN LASKI (1863–1941:  long before my time!) was a businessman and communal leader. Born in Russia and brought up in Middlesbrough, he settled in Manchester establishing himself as a successful cotton merchant with extensive connections in India. In 1906 he became a city magistrate. At various periods he was president of the Manchester Great Synagogue, Jewish Board of Guardians, Jewish Hospital, and Council of Manchester and Salford Jews. He was honorary president of the local Zionist Central Council and for a time treasurer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He became recognized as the head of the Manchester Jewish community. (So that’s why I’ve heard of him but he died long before I was born!)

·         His wife, SARAH (1869–1948), was a member of the Manchester city council for many years.

·         NEVILLE JONAS LASKI (1890–1969: I’ll admit I was around in the 50’s and 60’s) son of Nathan and Sarah achieved distinction as a lawyer. He became successively recorder of Burnley, judge of appeal in the Isle of Man, and recorder and judge of the crown court of Liverpool. Within the Jewish community he held many offices, rising to greatest prominence as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (1933–39). This meant he was president of the Board during the dark years of ascendant Nazi power and has been criticized for being insufficiently pro-Zionist.

Anyone else know anything interesting about the Laski family and their association with Manchester Jewish community?


Teaching for first time in 6 years (and they give me a class of 49 pupils!)


Six years ago I gave up teaching English in a secondary school for a quiet life working in a museum.  We are a bit short of volunteer teachers at the moment so I said I would dust off my teaching skills and take a class.  The office manager was pleased and then she casually said there would be 49 pupils!

The pupils were 3 classes of nine year olds who had travelled with their teachers on a two hour coach journey from Shrewsbury.  And yet they arrived eager to learn about the Synagogue and Sacred Objects.

There was to be a fair bit of interactive activity and just that afternoon we had no spare volunteers to help.  So I enlisted the help of the school’s teaching staff to divide the pupils into groups and help them change from one activity to the next.

I was nervous and my voice sounded a bit strained to begin with. But they were great pupils who had been well prepared for the session by their teachers.  They were excited to learn about the sacred objects used in the synagogue and to try on or handle the kippahs, tephilin, tallis and mezzuzahs we keep for teaching.  They enjoyed searching for the “lost” sacred objects upstairs in the gallery.  They happily joined in or watched as we ceremoniously took the mini Torah Scroll from the Ark and opened it up and then paraded it back again.  Many of them loved trying to write their names in Hebrew.  A boy called Adam was thrilled when I told him that Adam was the very first man and so his name would appear near the start of the Torah.

The pupils and staff seemed to have enjoyed the session. I certainly enjoyed finding my inner teacher again.



Installing a new exhibition: Encounter with the Holocaust – Personal Reflections by Gary Spicer


We are in the process of installing Gary Spicer’s exhibition “Encounter with the Holocaust”. Stark white walls spattered with black and red are the first things to see right now.  The black and the red are writing. Some of the writing is clear print to explain the exhibits. Other writing is Gary’s poetry reproduced in black in his own personal scrawl, dashed with streaks of red like blood.

On one side of the room the installers have lined up squares of artwork ready for hanging. Watch towers, railway lines and distorted hand drawn figures contrast oddly with boxes of tools, a spirit level and two sizes of ladders.

A recurring symbol of the line drawings is a human head hanging in despair.  The most compelling piece is a line drawing of grossly distorted human figures each one crammed into a tiny space, like a battery hen in a cage.  Some photographs appear to show only peaceful countryside, but the artist has retouched the hills in dark purple showing the permanent imprint of the horrors they witnessed.

This is going to be a powerful exhibition.  I challenge any visitor to come and see this and not be moved.  It opens on January 26 and runs until 9th March.


Don’t Leave the Best for Last


This is my first New Year’s resolution: I will use the inverted pyramid structure in everything I write for the museum.  I already knew this but it was last week’s writing workshop with TextWorkshop which convinced me to put it into practice..

Last Tuesday museum staff gathered in the exhibition room with Rebecca Mileham of TextWorkshop. We were eager to learn how to make our exhibition panels, website information, press releases, tweets and Facebook posts as effective as possible.

Rebecca used images, flip charts, video clips, discussions, writing sessions, Top Tips and quirky postcards in her lively presentation. She had a wealth of ideas to share.  As requested we had each chosen an object from the museum collection and brought along a photo of it.  All writing activities during the sessions focused on these.

 For me these are the most memorable ideas:

 Writing for visitors looking around the museum:

  • Agree first on the focus of your museum’s story. Make sure all the team have it in mind when writing. For us it would be that we are about the social history ofManchester’s Jewish community.
  • Define your audience and then immerse yourself in their language.
  • Use language that isn’t too academic. So use simple language but not simple ideas.
  • Writing for displays should start with a hook like an amazing fact, question, unexpected phrase etc.
  • If you are writing a panel to explain an object, look amongst all the material you have for one intriguing idea about it and use it at the start of the writing.
  • Make writing enticing or challenging so that a visitor’s response would be “I didn’t realize that……..” or even “I don’t agree that …..”
  •  Keep the tone light by having fun with the words, using rhyme and rhythm etc
  • Writing around the museums should be short so keep editing down.  Extra information can be given through “layering” for example the most important stuff can be on the walls but more details can be available in drawers that visitors are invited to open.

Writing for websites, twitter and Facebook

  • Keep it short because readers scan screens rather than read every word.
  • Put the most important points first.
  • Mix up long and short sentences
  • Use sensory language which brings our story to life.
  • Use images

We are following this up with our own staff workshop.  We’ll bring along our own writing for a “constructive criticism” session. Oh help!

Here is a selection of the postcards we were given to remind us of the Top Tips.


Museum acquires rare silver plate uniting two Manchester families and Pope Pius IX.

 The Museum has recently acquired an engraved silver plate with a fascinating history connecting two Manchester Sephardi families and Pope Pius IX!

The story of this plate starts inJerusalemin 1846. The Chief Rabbi of Palestine was one Hayim Avraham Gaguin. One of his friends was Moshe Israel Hazan who as admired and respected in Jerusalemas a great scholar.

Meanwhile in Rome Pope Pius IX needed a learned Hebrew scholar to be the guardian of his library of Hebrew books and manuscripts. He asked Moshe Israel Hazan to take up this position and even allowed him to bring nine or ten Jewish families along to live in the Vatican and form a little Jewish community there.

Chief Rabbi Gaguin was so pleased for his friend that he presented him with a silver plate to mark the appointment. He had the plate engraved in Hebrew explaining the circumstances of the gift.

The Hazan family remained in Rome for a while but their descendants moved to Egypt and then Morocco. The silver plate travelled with them.

A lady from Manchester who had moved to Casablanca Morocco to marry a member of the Hazan family decided to return to Manchester when her husband died. So she and her son moved back to Manchester taking the plate with them, unaware of its history.

By 1946 the son Victor Hazan was married and he and his wife had just had a baby boy.  They belonged to a Manchester synagogue whose rabbi was Rabbi Maurice Gaguine (great-grandson of Hayim Avraham Gaguin). Rabbi Gaguine was present at the circumcision ceremony for the baby and the silver plate was being used to hold the wine cup during the ceremony. The baby’s grandmother approached Rabbi Gaguine, explained that the plate had been in the family for generations and had some Hebrew writing on it. She asked him to translate it.

Rabbi Gaguine read the Hebrew inscription and immediately asked to keep the silver plate but the grandmother who had brought it from Morocco flatly refused to part with it and Rabbi Gaguine left empty handed.

Eventually Victor Hazan and his wife Evelyn decided to give the silver plate to Rabbi Gaguine on his 70th birthday and it remained with the Gaguine family until recently.

It has now been kindly donated to the Museum by Rabbi Gaguine’s daughter.





Chagall, Soutine and friends draw the crowds

My office opens onto our temporary exhibition space. I’ve got to walk through that space before I can get anywhere else in the museum.  Normally I can stride straight through with a polite nod to one or two visitors. Since the summer I’ve had to negotiate a careful route across the room to avoid getting between art lovers and the works of art they are enjoying. Staff, volunteers, business contacts, colleagues from other museums and all who come here on are regular basis have commented on how much busier we are. It’s all thanks to the exhibition we’ve been showing since June – “Chagall, Soutine and the School of Paris”.  Due to its popularity we have even decided to extend the exhibition for a while longer.


It’s obvious that visitor numbers are up but we have been delighted to record an 80% rise in visitors from the age group 35-55. We accept that in general the 55 plus age group have more leisure time to visit museums. When we see an increase from a younger group with restricted free time, we know they made a special effort to come. We hope that once here they’ll be so impressed with both the temporary and permanent displays and our tours, they’ll want to come back and bring their friends.


Events organized around the exhibition have also brought in visitors. With the Tate Liverpool we were involved in a programme called “Chagall: In the North West”. Many events for that were held at the museum, for example Rabbi Anthony Walker talked about the role of Judaism in the lives of Chagall and his contemporaries. Gavin Delahunty, Curator at the Tate Modern spoke about the development and influences of Chagall’s unique style.   Working with the MMU we hosted a conference back in September on “Jews and Modern Visual Culture” which attracted visitors both nationally and internationally. At the start of the academic year schools brought in art classes who viewed the exhibition and then produced sketches based on what they had seen. During the autumn half-term we ran a Family Friendly workshop where we got primary school age children creating and crafting. 


The final day for viewing is December 8th.