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Home arrow Jewish Culture and Heritage arrow United Kingdom Celebration of the European Days of Jewish Culture and Heritage
Saturday, 23 May 2015
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United Kingdom Celebration of the European Days of Jewish Culture and Heritage Print E-mail
Report by Valerie Bell, Joint B’nai B’rith UK Coordinator, with Barbara Nathan

Sandwiched in between the High Holy Days, this year’s European Days of Jewish Culture seemed to be even more integral to our traditional and historic roots.   Despite our initial doubts regarding the dates, there were over 80 events in 10 days, with over 11,106 visitors.  Most venues reported good attendances - some were in fact a sell-out! The theme ‘Art in Judaism’ proved to be very popular.

The Days started with a flourish with ‘Klezmer in the Park’, drawing a large crowd to the bandstand in Regent’s Park, for a fun-filled afternoon, where B’nai B’rith manned a very busy stand.

The same evening a concert by the Jewish Male Choir at the London Jewish Cultural Centre played to a full house.

Three synagogues opened on 5th September: Sandys Row, in London’s East End, which held a special workshop for synagogues considering applying for grants under the English Heritage scheme; New London, where a memorable Selichot multi-media presentation followed by a service took place; and Plymouth, the first English-speaking synagogue in the Ashkenazi world, built in 1762.

Priceless illustrated manuscripts were on display at the British Library and several museums also opened their doors, such as the Jewish Military Museum, the magnificently refurbished Jewish Museum in Camden, presenting their first temporary exhibition ‘Illumination’, featuring rare Jewish documents from the Vatican and major British collections; and the Manchester Jewish Museum, with their exhibition ‘In the Red’, showing the influence of the Ashkenazi community on the 1840s-built Red Bank estate, the latter two opening on both Sundays.   The Manchester Jewish Museum and the Higher Crumpsall and Higher Broughton Synagogue also participated in the Cheetham Multi-Faith Festival.

The Ben Uri Art Gallery was packed to capacity for a talk on their much-discussed exhibition, ‘Cross Purposes’, showing different images of the Crucifixion, including the newly-discovered work by Chagall, ‘Apocalyse in Lilac Capriccio.’  The Ben Uri also struck up a partnership with Museum of London to give a talk there on ‘100 Years of Jewish Artists in London’. The art theme was explored still further in the well-attended Conference on ‘Image and Prohibition of Image’ organised by the British Association for Jewish Studies at Southampton University.

Other artistic events included an exhibition of Ritual Textiles of the 21st Century at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue and an exhibition on ‘Art in Judaism’ showing illustrations from the golden calf to modern times at Thanet and District Reform Synagogue, where they were also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Reform Judaism in East Kent. The beautiful newly-built Birmingham Progressive Synagogue, participating for the first time, mounted an ambitious, and highly successful, exhibition of works by established artists and their own members. 

Most synagogues opened on 12th September, those in the regions preferring to open on the National Heritage Open Days, where good attendances are almost guaranteed due to the publicity engendered by English Heritage!    We have received encouraging reports from Singers Hill in Birmingham, where visitors enjoyed traditional Jewish music sung by the popular Kol Kinor Choir and Bradford Reform Synagogue which welcomed a record number of visitors. Visitors also flocked to the high Victorian synagogues, Middle Street Synagogue in Brighton and Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool, as well as to the historic synagogues in Canterbury, (now housed in the King’s School), Chatham, Cheltenham, Exeter, Norwich and the Montefiore Synagogue and Mausoleum in Ramsgate.     A talk on the North Wales Jewish Heritage was given at the Gwynedd Museum in Bangor.

In London, the celebration of Eid, the end of Ramadan, helped to swell the number of Muslim visitors to the synagogues!   Fieldgate Street even had to extend their opening hours!   The East London Central Synagogue hosted the Annual General Meeting of the Jewish East End Celebration Society (JEECS), which was followed by a musical entertainment.  Synagogues in the West End were also well patronised and the launch of a new cookery book by Silvia Nacamulli proved an added attraction at the New West End Synagogue.  Many people, too, came to admire the striking refurbishment of the Hampstead Synagogue, another first-time participant, and pillar of the United Synagogue.

Over the ten days there was a choice of ten walks in the East End of London and over sixty people joined the walk through the Jewish West End.  The tour of Willesden Cemetery gave a fascinated group of people from all over the country an insight into the landmarks of Anglo-Jewish history.

Introduced last year, the tour of the Houses of Parliament conducted by Lord Janner, highlighting the Jewish contribution to the political life and governance of this country, was again a sell-out.

Further afield, JTrails conducted Jewish-themed tours of Richmond, Northampton, Oxford and York.   Many visitors came, too, on both Sundays, to the former Jewish cemetery in Wolverhampton, as a result of a request from the Heritage Project Officer of Wolverhampton City Council to include it in EDJCH.

Once again, we have welcomed the participation of national institutions, such as the London Metropolitan Archives, where a talk was given on ‘Discovering Jewish History at the LMA’ and the Museum of London, which hosted not only an art lecture but also a talk about objects recovered from a kosher distillery in Brick Lane.     The London Archaeological and Archive Resource Centre, (LAARC), part of the MoL, also opened its doors for a conducted tour of the collections of extraordinary rare and everyday objects through the centuries, with a special emphasis on those with a Jewish connection.

For the first time during EDJCH, visitors were welcomed to the Wiener Library for a conducted a tour of their Library and their very comprehensive collection of archive material on the Holocaust. Another first-timer, the Southgate and District Reform Synagogue held a Study Evening on ‘The Spirituality of Space’, which was part of a 10-day scheme.

This year we celebrated, also for the first time, the participation of Jewish Care, who organised a series of Reminiscence events, photo exhibitions, a cookery demonstration and special teas throughout September in their Homes throughout London and the South-East.

Many venues reported an increase in the number of non-Jewish visitors, especially in the regions and many of the enquiries during the run-up to the EDJCH have been from non-Jewish members of the public.

We distributed 45,000 leaflets and with the assistance of the PR Office, we achieved quite widespread publicity, with announcements on websites, in various publications, both London and regional, an article in the Jewish Chronicle and photo coverage both in the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News.   Participants in the regions organised their own publicity in local newspapers and in the local brochures for the English Heritage National Open Days, and interviews were given on LBC, West Midlands BBC Radio and Radio Kent.   Unfortunately a proposed interview on BBC London was cancelled on account of focus on the Pope’s visit!  

We also received a request for information about Heritage Days for an article in the autumn issue of BBI News.

Each year we notice that the recognition of the EDJCH is gaining more ground, not only within the Jewish community but also on a wider local and national level.
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