Our historic Spanish & Portuguese synagogue turns 150 years old this year. In this article we share our exciting plans for marking this historic milestone and are inviting everyone to join in.
Designed by Jewish architect Edward Solomons and inspired by the Spanish and Portuguese origins of its members, the synagogue in Cheetham Hill Road opened on 6 May, 1874. It was the first Sephardi synagogue in Manchester (Sephardi Jews are those whose origins lie in Spain and Portugal).
Over the years the building has changed to reflect the needs of the congregation. By the 1970s, when the majority of the local synagogues had moved out of the Cheetham Hill area, following the movement of the community, the Jewish Heritage Committee suggested creating a Jewish Museum to capture the disappearing history of Jewish migration and settlement in Manchester. The synagogue’s congregation moved to a converted school building on Moor Lane, Salford and after two years of conservation work Manchester Jewish Museum opened on Sunday 25 March 1984.
For the last 40 years, the museum has served to teach people about Manchester’s rich Jewish social history – from the thousands of school groups to the visitors that come through our doors.
In 2019 the museum temporarily closed to undergo a £6 million capital development including full renovation and restoration of the now Grade II* listed building. Conservation experts, historic painters and stained glass specialists were all involved in painstakingly researching and restoring the synagogue to its original decorative scheme, returning the synagogue to its former visual glory.
This beautifully restored synagogue now serves as both a major museum exhibit, offering visitors a unique insight into a Sephardi Jewish place of worship dating back to the 1870s, and also as a stunning performance space in which we regularly host live cultural events, gigs, talks, shows and concerts.
This year, this unique space celebrates its 150th anniversary. Gareth Redston, the museum’s Chief Executive said:
“This anniversary is such a special moment for us because it’s an opportunity to celebrate 150 years of people coming together on this site, both as a synagogue and place of worship, but also as a museum. It’s also our chance to thank all of the incredible people who have made it possible over the years and to be able to share that with our amazing audiences and the people that we work with here in the community.”
To mark the anniversary, we will host a range of events, from live performances to family-friendly activities and workshops, exploring Sephardi culture and history. Read more about our anniversary here.
On Thursday, 15 February, audiences are invited for a special fundraising concert by one of Britain’s most successful song-writers, Graham Gouldman.
Graham Gouldman rose to early fame as a member of 1960s band The Mockingbirds. But by the time the group disbanded in 1966, Graham’s ability as a songsmith had moved centre stage, with hits for Wayne Fontana, Herman’s Hermits, The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Jeff Beck.
After a spell song-writing in the United States, he returned to the UK and co-founded 10cc in 1972, co-writing a string of hits such as Rubber Bullets, I’m Not In Love, The Things We Do for Love and Dreadlock Holiday. His upcoming concert at Manchester Jewish Museum will be an evening of musical joy and all profits will go to support the museum’s work.
Tickets are now on sale on our website and include a welcome drink and platter of Sephardi mezze as well as a post-show discussion with Graham and Manchester Jewish Museum’s curator, Alex Cropper.
The culmination of the anniversary celebrations will take place in May 2024 during a Museum Open Day, to which the museum invites all of its audiences and communities. Entry will be free for anyone to visit and there will be an opportunity to try the museum’s award-winning Café’s new Sephardi-inspired menu.
Alex Cropper, the museum’s curator and Deputy Chief said:
“This year is going to be all about celebrating the Sephardi community, because that’s the community who worshipped here in the synagogue. We’re going to have Sephardi food in the café, our events and programming will be influenced by Sephardi culture. We’ll also have special exhibitions and displays in our building that highlight the story of this congregation and the Sephardi history of Manchester. We’d love you to come celebrate with us. This is a lovely milestone for the synagogue and for the museum and hopefully a really exciting year to come and visit us here at Manchester Jewish Museum.”
The museum is also creating a time capsule to be buried or hidden on the synagogue’s ground. Gemma Meek, the museum’s Programme Manager said:
“To mark the 150th anniversary of our synagogue, we have been creating a time capsule for 2024 that shares the incredible stories of our communities and what they love about the museum and the local M8 area. The project was inspired by the historic time capsule from 1873 discovered in our synagogue during the museum’s renovations. This window into the world of the synagogue founders and the Sephardi communities, was a beautiful inspiration to think about the many voices, communities and stories that make up our museum communities today. We are inviting people all of ages to share recipes from their cultural heritage, write songs on what they love about the museum and local area, and create textiles inspired by Sephardi stories. There is still plenty of time to get involved, so do keep an eye on our website for future workshop opportunities. We hope that in another 150 years, our time capsule will bring as much excitement and intrigue as the historic capsule we discovered!”