Tuesday 05 Dec 2023
[@]Manchester Jewish Museum
The newly reopened Manchester Jewish Museum calls itself ‘a place to experience how we are different, together’.
This mission is felt throughout the new building; from its welcoming vegetarian café to the year round programme of events and activities that share the diverse history of Manchester’s Jewish communities and bring people together to connect. The building itself is a beautiful fusion of Victorian and contemporary architecture as the past and present complement each other, with the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue at its heart, making it one of Manchester’s true hidden gems.
The museum first opened in 1984, housed in the Grade II* listed 1874 (former) Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Cheetham Hill, one of the most diverse areas in Manchester and the city’s historic Jewish quarter. Manchester today is still home to the UK’s second largest Jewish population, and it’s still growing!
Following a £6m redevelopment and extension that doubles the size of the museum, the new building boasts a new gallery, vegetarian café, shop and learning studio & kitchen as well as complete restoration of the synagogue. The museum’s new Corten-clad façade lights up at night like a beacon on Cheetham Hill Road, with the light shining through the intricate patterns that mirror the designs by the synagogue’s original architect, Edward Salomons.
The synagogue has been restored to its original decorative glory, following intensive research undertaken by a team of conservation experts, historic painters and stained glass specialists. Alongside the beautiful stained-glass windows and magnificent ark, oral history pods sharing the memories of former members of the synagogue congregation contribute to creating a space that really transports visitors back to the synagogue’s bustling history as the heart of the city’s Sephardi Jewish population. As well as being a living artefact at the heart of the museum, the synagogue also serves as a stunning performance space in which the museum will host a year-long programme of events and performances.
The museum’s new gallery takes you on a journey through the history of Jewish Manchester through the universal themes of journeys, communities, and identities; allowing visitors of all backgrounds to connect to the stories on display. It is these personal stories and oral histories that are the foundation of what makes the museum special – the ordinary and extraordinary stories of Jewish Mancunians from all backgrounds. The gallery’s final section celebrates these Jewish identities in all their diversity through oral history recordings and large quotation tablets. These personal stories could not be more different, but their collective identity as Jewish Mancunians unites them.
The museum holds over 31,000 items in their collection, including over 530 oral histories. The collection is considered by historians to be of national and international significance and the synagogue has been described by Historic England as “one of the highlights of Victorian Gothic architecture in the country”.
Completing the experience is the museum’s new vegetarian café serving a contemporary vegetarian menu using local kosher ingredients. The menu is a discovery of the traditional meeting the innovative, with vegetarian twists on traditional Jewish dishes. The café is a welcoming invitation to visitors to take a moment to gather round a table, reflect on their visit and to connect with one another. It is accompanied by a small shop including an excellent selection of books including novels, lifestyles and Jewish cookbooks.
The museum exists to connect Jewish stories to the world and to our society to explore both our differences and similarities, celebrating the things that make us unique and the things which connects us all. In doing so they look make a change and to make real the knowledge that there is more that binds us together than separates us.
They make connections to make things better.
Manchester Jewish Museum is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm, and later for evening events.
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