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MJM marks Holocaust Memorial Day with events co-created with ‘Creative Activists’

In January, many people mark Holocaust Memorial Day to commemorate those who perished in The Holocaust, as well as recognising the continued persecution of millions of people from various communities today. Each year Holocaust Memorial Day Trust UK chooses a theme for the commemorative events and this year’s theme is ‘Ordinary People’. This year, Manchester Jewish Museum will mark the international Holocaust Memorial Day with a Museum Open Day involving reflective performances and workshops created with a group of young people called the ‘Creative Activists’.

The ‘Creative Activists’ are a group of people aged 16-30, who are seeking to create powerful acts of sharing and connection with their local communities to help make a positive difference in the world.

Since 2020, they’ve be working at the museum with local artist Becky Prestwich as part of Imperial War Museum’s Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, to explore creative ways of commemorating the Holocaust and connecting lesser heard stories from our collection with local communities.

Creative Activists during a baking session at Manchester Jewish Museum, 2022. Credit: Ryan Croney

The project has been building upon work that began in 2021, which aimed to get young people engaged with Holocaust Memorial Day and explore ways of engaging them with issues facing Manchester’s diverse communities. Manchester Jewish Museum has commissioned local artist Becky Prestwich to work with young people from King David High School and Manchester College to create a public event for Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 that will explore how we commemorate history and make it relevant and connected to people in Manchester today.

Becky Prestwich is a regular writer on Holby City and Doctors. She has written four Afternoon Dramas for BBC Radio 4 (one of which, Just the Three of Us, has been nominated for The Tinniswood Award 2021 for Best Audio Drama), as well as writing for BBC3 and currently has an original crime drama in development with Lime Pictures. As a playwright, she specialises in work with community casts and in non-traditional theatre spaces, including Chip Shop Chips (Box of Tricks Theatre) and Under the Market Roof (Junction 8 Theatre). Her community play for the reopening of the Bolton Octagon has now been reimagined as an audio piece and recorded by the Young Octagon actors. In the last months, she has been working with the Creative Activists to help them gain practical artistic skills and open up creatively to respond to the project’s themes.

Becky Prestwich

Collaborating with Becky and the young people was also Manchester Jewish Museum’s Digital Intern, Ryan Croney. The digital internship role was funded by Imperial War Museum’s SWWHPP to give young people with digital skills their first role within the museum sector. The internships provide invaluable career experience as well as encouraging museums to think and work more digitally. Ryan was supporting MJM by creating digital content to explore how Holocaust Memorial Day can be engaged with online.

Ryan reflects on the project:

“My internship at MJM has been a fantastic experience so far, I’ve picked up so many new skills in such a short space of time and have found myself with new interests to pursue into the future. The SWWHPP project has helped me to come out of my comfort zone more and experience new ways of working. I’ve dived straight into co-creation with the Creative Activists and it has been amazing. I’ve made new friends and have learned new skills and we can proudly say we’ve set up and been a part of a new exhibition here at MJM. I think that people should come to We Remember Them In Verbs to see how our local communities are battling to carry on the legacy of the Holocaust Memorial Day in a creative and sustainable way.“

Creative Activist, Jack in Manchester Jewish Museum’s Gallery, 2022. Credit: Ryan Croney

The commemorative events at MJM will be the culmination and celebration of this fascinating collaboration. We want to encourage visitors to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in their own, personal way and reflect on how we all, as ‘Ordinary People’ can make connections through conversation, to make things better.

On Friday, 27 January, the entry to Manchester Jewish Museum will be free of charge, although bookings are required due to limited capacity. The events will begin at 10:30am with a textile exhibition displayed in the Ladies Gallery of MJM’s historic, former synagogue. The exhibition will be introduced by a Manchester-based artist, Laura Nathan. Her works explore her Jewish family heritage through questions, textiles, creative processes and personal narratives. Laura says about her work:

“Some of my earliest childhood memories are focused around my grandparents’ unimaginable experiences in the Holocaust and I feel that generational trauma and anxiety has filtered from one generation to the next. Much of my work focuses around processing this dark history, dealing with anxieties, and exploring my identity as a culturally strong, yet secular Jewish woman.”

A photograph of one of Laura Nathan’s recent works, made in collaboration with the Creative Activists. Credit: Laura Nathan, 2023

Laura’s work interweaves history, memory and document, drawing on the photographs and objects connected to her grandparents through beautiful and poignant tapestries, embroideries and installations. She has been working with the museum’s Creative Activists, who have been exploring textiles as a means to tell lesser-known stories of the Holocaust and Second World War from Manchester Jewish Museum’s collections. These pieces attempt to weave the individual’s rich lives, whilst recognising the gaps and absences in historic records. Visitors will be invited by both Laura and the Creative Activists to contribute to a larger textile piece with their own histories, reflecting on their sense of self and themes within the exhibition.

Visitors will then be invited to join us in the museum’s Gallery and see a performance of the Manchester Jewish Museum’s Song-writing and Poetry Group. The Group have been collaborating with the Creative Activists to create songs from their reflective poems, which were inspired by reading, listening and learning about lesser-known Holocaust and Second World War stories from the Museum’s collection. This meeting of the two groups brings together the experiences and voices of the young people and adults, reflecting our local communities and diverse Jewish experiences.

Manchester Jewish Museum’s Song-writing and Poetry Group performing with an Israeli singer, Noga Ritter, during the museum’s autumn season of Synagogue Nights 2022. Credit: Chris Payne, 2022

The songs, as much as the poems, explore themes of journeys, love, loss and joy. They stitch together the young people’s own experiences, with that of stories of the collections. They recognise that historic stories of individuals come with absences and an inability to fully recollect or understand how people felt in the past.

From 12pm, visitors will also have a chance to participate in a baking workshop. The Creative Activists have chosen two bread recipes to be made during the workshop, which represent two communities who have experienced or are experiencing journeys as refugees. Challah is a traditional plaited, egg-enriched Ashkenazi bread, eaten by many Jewish families as part of their Friday night Sabbath meal. The second bread is Bolani, an Afghan stuffed flat bread filled with an array of different ingredients, from potato to leek. The bread was chosen by one of the Creative Activists, who has a personal link to the story of Afghan refugees. Bolani bread is normally eaten on special occasions such as birthdays or holidays. Bringing the breads together, opens a conversation about the journey of refugees and the cultural practices they bring to Manchester. It allows us to make connections to the past and reflect on how it can shape the present. It offers us a chance to reflect on how we, as individuals, can support our communities through learning more about each other.

Challah baking workshop at Manchester Jewish Museum. Credit: Chris Payne, 2021

The last performance of the day will be a Klezmer fiddle concert by Anna Lowenstein, who will explore the history and trajectory of the music from its roots in 17th century Eastern Europe through to the present day. Anna’s music will also explore connections to LGBTQ communities and the links between Roma and Klezmer musical traditions, in recognition of the many communities who were persecuted during the Holocaust.

Anna Lowenstein is a Klezmer fiddle player born and bred in North-East London. She has been studying Klezmer music for over ten years and is a sought after performer and teacher of the Klezmer fidl tradition both across the UK and amongst the international Klezmer scene. Her love of storytelling and community engagement has lead her to work in a diverse range of settings both on and off stage including for Take Stock Exchange and the highly critically acclaimed production of Indecent at The Menier Chocolate Factory. She is currently supported by Arts Council England and Asylum Arts to write her debut album which promises to be an engaging mix of original compositions, storytelling and local ethnography depicting the Jewish and musical identities of Stamford Hill London.

Anna Lowenstein

Apart from the performative programme, visitors will also get a chance to see Manchester Jewish Museum’s new exhibition, sharing some of the lesser-heard stories from the museum’s collection and explore creative works produced by the Creative Activists. There will also be a chance to see ‘One Story, Many Voices’ touring sound installation, created by members of SWWHPP, local communities, celebrated writers and StoryFutures Academy, the UK’s national centre for immersive storytelling.

‘One Story, Many Voices’, immersive sound installation. Credit: Imperial War Museums

The installation shares stories from across the UK that explore lesser-known experiences of the Holocaust and Second World War. Manchester Jewish Museum’s contribution is ‘Alone But Together’ written by playwright Nicola Baldwin working with students from King David High School and facilitator Kate Bradnam, and performed by Laura Sophie Helbig and Steph Houtman. It tells the fictional story of Frieda, Esther and Lily, inspired by true stories in the museum’s collection of Jewish women who migrated to the UK on domestic visas, such as Helga Gorney (pictured below) who got her visa to come to Britain on her 18th birthday.

Helga Gorney (nee Seligmann-Ferara) in Hamburg, Germany 1938, Manchester Jewish Museum

Listen to ‘Alone But Together’ here:

Book to We Remember Them In Verbs


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