Manchester Jewish Museum


Go Back

The Festival of Purim

Next week is the Jewish festival of Purim, beginning on the evening of Thursday 25 February and ending on the evening of Friday 26 February.

Purim (also known as the ‘Feast of Lots’) is the Jewish festival in which Jewish people celebrate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian Empire at the hands of Haman, the cruel advisor to King Ahasuerus. In the Megillah (the Book of Esther in the Torah), Haman cast a lottery (hence the name ‘Feast of Lots’) to determine the date in which all Jews would be killed. They were saved by Queen Esther, wife of King Ahasuerus, who revealed that she herself was Jewish, thus saving the Jewish people and commanding retribution on Haman.

It is usually a fun and celebratory festival – a day in which to truly celebrate being Jewish. Family and friends come together to share food and drink, including the eating of hamantaschen (three cornered filled pastries named in reference to Haman – popular fillings include poppy seeds, jam and chocolate spread for the children). It is also tradition to dress up, exchange gifts and make donations to the poor.

Of course this year Purim looks a little different, with families and friends unable to come together to celebrate due to the impact of the pandemic. Whilst our own Eat the Archives event on the eve of Purim is sold out, you can still download the recipe for delicious Polow Rice with a seasonal twist here. We would like to wish a covid safe “chag Purim sameach” to you all and we look forward to celebrating with you next year.

The Harris House Girls and their Purim Play

Harris House Girls Purim Play photo from MJM Collections

One of the fascinating stories of Purim in our collection comes from ‘The Harris House Girls’.  The Harris House girls were fifteen young refugee girls from Germany and Austria and their Austrian matron, Dr Margaret Steinberg (known as Mrs Stone) who stayed in a hostel in Southport. In February 1940 they penned a diary as “a token of gratitude to all those kind people” who had funded the hostel and provided for the refugees during the year.

The diary paints a vivid picture of the life of a young refugee in the 1930s, describing their memories of their families and lives back home and their thoughts about living in Britain. It captures a rare moment in history, when the girls are aware of upheaval and the dangers back home, but the full extent of the persecution of Jews and other people is not yet widely known.

One of their memories captured in the diary is their own ‘Purim Play’ which they held on the 5th March after being at the hostel for three weeks. Purim Plays are a traditional part of celebrating Purim, often re-enacting a dramatisation of The Book of Esther. Filled with excitement and wanting to show their gratitude to the community, the girls sent an invitation to the members of the refugee committee to attend the play, promising to entertain them with singing and dancing. “Come in great numbers, we beg you. With kind regards, the Southport Refugees.”

The diary includes descriptions of the songs and acts that were performed, accompanied by photos of the girls celebrating together in their self-made costumes. The diary and photos give us a fascinating insight into a moment of celebration against a backdrop of uncertainty, showing the resilience, positivity and energy of the Harris House girls.

Read the diary entries and view the photos by clicking on the images below.


Music in our Synagogue: our second Synagogue Nights Season of music this March

Manchester Jewish Museum will be celebrating Jewish music with our new season of Synagogue Nights: intimate performances in our stunning 1874 Synagogue. From Klezmer ensembles to Baroque quartets, musical theatre and pop covers to Hebrew world jazz, we are showcasing Jewish music in all its diversity.

Manchester Jewish Museum launches Holocaust Memorial Day project with Imperial War Museums

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 we will launch a year-long project that will culminate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 with a public event and hosting a travelling exhibition sharing lesser known Holocaust and Second World War stories from across the UK. The project is part of Imperial War Museum’s Second World War & Holocaust Partnership Programme and will be working with local artist Becky Prestwich and young people from across Manchester.

Looking back on 2021

As 2021 draws to a close we just wanted to reflect on what an enormous year it’s been for the museum and some of the highlights. We’re excited for what next year will bring and just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone who made it possible.

A more sustainable Manchester Jewish Museum – COP26 update

On Thursday 4 November we were proud to speak at The Carbon Literacy Project's Museum Sector Day as part of the COP26 Conference. We have been working with BuroHappold, Carbon Literacy Project and Museums Development NorthWest to build a more sustainable Manchester Jewish Museum for future generations to enjoy.

Chief Executive Max Dunbar to hand over the new Manchester Jewish Museum

After 10 years and a multi-million redevelopment and reopening, Manchester Jewish Museum Chief Executive Max Dunbar and Chair of the Trustees Andrew Singer QC will step down as they hand over the new museum to someone new, to lead the organisation during the next stage of its journey.

Yankl & Der Beanstalk revives Yiddish Pantomime once more

On Thursday 2 December Manchester Jewish Museum will be transported to the magical lands of Brick Lane and Hampstead with a bawdy and infectiously fun take on a classic Yiddish pantomime. We speak to director Samuel Ranger about how they are hoping to revive Yiddish pantomime for a new generation.