It’s difficult to believe that the Manchester Jewish Museum is 25 years old.
Gosh, I was there before it was invented. But I wasn’t around before it was a mote in the eye of founding Life President Bill Williams who must now be knocking on for 30!
I’m rather pleased to report that I’ve known Bill since the early 70s when I was a mere junior hack and his work recording the history of the Manchester Jewish community was also in its infancy.
If I remember the story correctly – I’m sure he won’t mind too much if I tell it for him – Bill had an unusual background as a Roman Catholic child in Non-Conformist Wales, which gives him an unusual empathy with Jewish alienation.
More practically, as an historian he was infuriated by the demise and destruction of many local Jewish landmarks, most especially that of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester which was allowed to fall derelict about the time I started work.
I joined his first conducted walking tour around the old Jewish Quarter of Cheetham Hill and attended two farewells for the ‘Great’. I remember that a final Shabbat (Sabbath) morning service was followed by a Sunday afternoon event to mark its closure as a place of worship. But people present at these services seemed unbothered about the building’s future, as the congregation of the “Manchester Great and New Synagogue” was – and continues to be – secure under the tutelage of its much-loved minister, Rev Gabriel Brodie.
Indeed, someone who must remain nameless may be remembered best for writing:
“We need a Jewish museum like we need a ham sandwich!”
But I’m getting ahead of myself...
So upset was Bill by the sad ending of the ‘Great’ that he, along with a few far-sighted members of the original Jewish Historical Society in Manchester, worked to ensure that the same fate was not suffered by the neighbouring Sephardi congregation, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
I also attended the Shabbat morning ‘funeral’ for this synagogue, now deconsecrated but still the oldest surviving synagogue building in Manchester, completed in 1874 and listed Grade II.