In Haunt

Manchester Jewish Museum is located within the oldest surviving synagogue building in the city – completed in 1874 and now of Grade II* listed status, it is a standout fusion of Victorian architecture and Moorish design features on Cheetham Hill Road. Work is currently being carried out on the building ahead of the Museum’s Spring 2021 relaunch… and now builders have made a fascinating find within its walls: a time capsule dating from the 19th century!

Manchester Jewish Museum

The time capsule takes the form of a beautiful glass jar filled with synagogue papers, newspapers and money, finished with a wax seal. The artefacts within are believed to date from when the synagogue was first founded in 1873, as records show that the capsule was inserted within its cornerstone, during the building process!

Now, nearly 150 years on, that a builder has found the jar buried deep in a wall cavity beside a holy cupboard that houses the Torah Scrolls – the Museum’s Ark – marks a profound and historic moment for what is the only Jewish Museum in the UK outside London.

This discovery also has additional significance, according to Manchester Jewish Museum CEO Max Dunbar:

 “This timely discovery comes at an apt and symbolic period when millions of Jewish people around the world prepare for the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, a reflective and thoughtful time of year when many observers look backwards as a means to move forwards.  We are thrilled and overwhelmed by its discovery and look forward to showing it off in our collection when we re-open next Spring.”

Manchester Jewish Museum

There is a fitting synchronicity in that this find has been made as the building is preparing to begin another exciting chapter in its history. The Museum is undergoing a major Cultural Capital Development project, due to open in 2021 complete with a new extension and full refurbishment of the beautiful former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. The new extension will also feature a brand new gallery, a café, shop and a learning studio – emphasising the Museum’s crucial role in sharing the histories of Manchester’s Jewish community, as it has done since it first opened as a Museum in 1984. That the synagogue building itself actually had become redundant by the 1970s, as the local Jewish population moved to other areas, highlights that the Museum really is a place of new opportunity and regrowth.  In turn, the time capsule will be a brilliant addition for visitors to appreciate, and just a short walk from Manchester city centre.

Manchester Jewish Museum after all holds a range of materials, providing a fascinating way for people from all backgrounds to learn about Manchester Jewry’s impact on society, the wider world and ongoing influence. Its permanent collection includes over 31,000 objects, including photographs, historic items, documents and oral histories exploring Jewish life in Manchester. There are over 1750 pamphlets and periodicals, nearly 1000 books – and artefacts of fascinating range, including items of worship, the belongings of a Holocaust survivor who spent the war hiding in a coal cellar, and even a Russian washboard used as a cricket bat.

Manchester Jewish Museum

The Museum provides many opportunities to learn about the history of Jewish life in Manchester, with the community beginning to expand towards the end of the 18th century. This was when Jewish traders began contributing to the city’s increasingly diverse economy as the industrial revolution got underway, selling portable goods and offering skilled services. The population grew as traders arrived from countries such as Holland and Germany, as well as Sephardi merchants from the Mediterranean coast. These people brought valuable skills – with many in the Jewish community offering services as opticians and dentists – and also fascinating cultural contributions to the city’s growth.

As well as a place of trade and opportunity, Manchester also became a place of relocation, of new beginnings. From the 1840s onwards, Jewish immigrants from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires arrived, fleeing discrimination and conflict in their home countries. There was also the arrival of 6,000 refugees fleeing Nazi persecution during the 1930s, and later Holocaust survivors, as well as Jewish settlers from countries such as Egypt, Hungary and Iran. The growth of Manchester’s Jewish community into the 21st Century has meant a significant contribution to the city’s culture and history – a key aspect of focus at Manchester Jewish Museum.

Manchester Jewish Museum

Just as the Manchester’s Jewish community is diverse, the Museum offers a diversity of ways to learn and engage. After all, engagement with the community is just as important as understanding; and even whilst the Museum has been closed for refurbishment, it has been running a number of exciting projects online. For example, it has hosted a new song-writing Summer project, ‘Virtual Picnic’ posts on their blog, and their new ‘Eat the Archives’; an opportunity to learn more about Jewish stories from the collection and connections to food, along with food artist Leo Burtin – launched this September.

Now the discovery of the time capsule highlights another exciting addition to the Museum’s ongoing exciting development. With events, workshops and discussions all in the planning for the spring 2021 re-opening, as well as a vibrant year-round programme, there is plenty to discover. Find out more via the website: https://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/

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