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Manchester Jewish Museum
Manchester Jewish Museum

Manchester Jewish Museum CEO explains temporary move to Central Library

Home » People » Manchester Jewish Museum CEO explains temporary move to Central Library

Manchester Jewish Museum in Cheetham Hill is housed in what was the city’s oldest synagogue, a Grade II listed building built by Jewish textile merchants in 1874. To return the architecture to its original splendour the museum is closed for 18 months, as part of a major transformation funded in part by a £2.89m National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant.

During this time staff will move its collections into the basement of Manchester Central Library, ­creating an interactive pop-up Jewish Museum in the centre of Manchester for the very first time.

Quays Life talks to the Chief Executive of Manchester Jewish Museum, Max Dunbar to find out more:

Manchester Jewish Museum
Manchester Jewish Museum

What is the history of the museum?

Max: “The museum is housed in a former synagogue on the edge of the city centre. The museum was formed by a group of local historians who had been collecting archive material about Manchester’s Jewish heritage. In the early 1980’s this group raised funds to convert the old Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road to a museum. The synagogue’s congregation moved to another synagogue in 1982. The museum opened its doors on Sunday 25 March 1984”.

Are services still held in the old synagogue?

Max: “No – the synagogue is now solely a museum, enabling visitors young and old to explore a former place of worship”.

Max Dunbar, Chief Executive of Manchester Jewish Museum
Max Dunbar, Chief Executive of Manchester Jewish Museum

What type of artefacts and information does the museum hold?

Max: “We hold over 31,000 items in our collection, including:

“Over 530 oral history testimonies, providing in depth accounts of the experience of both first and second generation Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe. The testimonies are important sources of knowledge, capturing individuals’ memories, perceptions and reasoning of events.

“An extensive photographic collection, numbering nearly 21,000 items, portraying the life of one of the UK’s earliest migrant communities.

“A wide-ranging collection of objects, documents and ephemera of historic interest including: work tools, Sabbath candlesticks brought over from countries of origin, circumcision gowns, raincoats made by Jewish manufacturers, ceremonial silverware, posters, programmes, letters, pamphlets, prints and paintings.

“A unique Holocaust collection comprising 138 in-depth recorded interviews with Holocaust Survivors and refugees – amounting to over 700 hours of testimonies. Over 1,500 photographs, objects and archives are also held relating to these Survivors. As sources of evidence, the material in our Holocaust collection has both national and international significance”.

Ration book
Ration book

Does it have special exhibitions and events?

Max: “Over the past 35 years we have held over 1,000 events and 100 exhibitions. Recent exhibitions include a Chagall art exhibition and an exhibition about Jewish footballers – ‘Four Four Jew’. Recent events have included a Bollywood concert, Irish folk/Klezmer mashup, hip hop acts, a Polish dumpling house, an Afghanistan bakery and a circus school, with tightrope, juggling and a trapeze in the synagogue!”

What changes are being made with the refurbishment?

Max: “We are trebling the size of the museum, building a two-storey extension at the side of the synagogue. The extension will include a new café, shop, learning studio and major new gallery. Our Grade II* listed synagogue will also be repaired and refurbished”.

Interior of Manchester Jewish Museum
Interior of Manchester Jewish Museum

If the museum grows in this way, in what way will the collections expand?

Max: “We are now collecting more contemporary material to reflect the diversity of Manchester’s Jewish community today. In the extension we will have a new collection store, enabling us to house more material on site”.

Will researchers be able to access the collections during the closure?

Max: “Yes, our collection will be housed in Central Library where researchers will be able to access material. Researchers will need to book an appointment with our Curator. You can email: curator@manchesterjewishmuseum.com

What was the idea behind a pop-up museum at Central Library?

Max: “We have been given an exciting opportunity by Manchester City Council to create a ‘pop-up’ museum in Central Library. We want this pop-up to be more than just a static museum display, which many Library users would simply walk past. We want to ultimately transplant the spirit of our museum from Cheetham Hill to the city centre, animating our Library space to reach new and diverse audiences”.

We are now collecting more contemporary material to reflect the diversity of Manchester’s Jewish community today.


Will it be open for the whole time the museum is closed for refurbishment?

Max: “Yes – which we expect to be 18 months”.

What can people experience at the pop-up museum?

Max: “In this pop-up museum we are creating an interactive, immersive experience, where visitors can explore our collection through an object machine and by flicking through old photograph albums and listening to old recordings. School groups will also be able to build their very own synagogue in the Library!”

New gallery design
New gallery design

What is an object selection machine?

Max: I”t is like an arcade machine. Visitors are confronted with a series of options to choose from. After pressing a series of buttons an object is selected and the story behind that object performed. Visitors are then encouraged to explore that story further in other areas of the pop-up museum, browsing photograph albums and listening to oral history recordings”.

Is there an entry fee?

Max: “No – its free admission (the pop-up museum will be on the Lower Ground Floor, next to the Race Relations Archive)”.

You are also planning some community outreach during this time. What will that involve?

Max: “We are planning a range of music, food and storytelling activities in the Cheetham Hill Welcome Centre. We will also be going to out to schools and community centres across Greater Manchester, making pop-up synagogues with different communities”.

What are the opportunities for people to get involved?

Max: “We are always looking for new volunteers – and you don’t have to be Jewish. If you are interested in meeting new people and sharing stories we want to hear from you. Contact: admin@manchesterjewishmuseum.com

Manchester Jewish Museum opens its temporary pop-up museum at Central Library from 16 July 2019.

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Written by
Carmel Thomason
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Avatar photo Written by Carmel Thomason