Manchester Jewish Museum reopened last week after a £6m extension and rebuild by Liverpool-based architecture and design agency, Citizens Design Bureau. Half historic synagogue dating back to 1874 with Spanish and Portuguese heritage, and half new gallery and café, it’s a modern-feeling conversion that brings to mind heavyweight Mancunian reboots such as The Whitworth.

The new, copper colour facade is etched with ornate details. It lights up from behind at night. Inside, the new first floor gallery tells the stories of the region’s Jewish community in this area through a hugely diverse range of objects, sound and film. Did you know that Marks and Spencer set up their first store right here in Cheetham Hill? There are plenty more revelations like this while tales are recounted by members of the community, and through shiny builders’ trowels, delicate, homemade dresses and prayer shawls.

An interior bridge leads from gallery to the renovated synagogue where a short film by 2013 Turner Prize winner, Laure Prouvost, is currently showing. It’s part of MIF but actually runs until October 2021; a wonderfully slow and thoughtful work that fits the setting. I particularly loved the immersive elements which have found their way out of the film and into the space; feather boas, tea cups and birds emerge from all corners of the top floor ‘Ladies’ gallery, which would have hosted the city’s female synagogue goers in the early 1900s.

Downstairs, the new, ground floor café has more to enjoy. Cookbooks such as Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food line the walls, while the totally vegetarian menu includes lentil soup with lemon oil (pictured), a vegetable and bean stew, a vegan cream cheese and carrot ‘lox’ bagel and falafel and pita platter. Most dishes are under £6. The only thing missing, my kids thought, were some homemade sweet treats.

It’s wonderful to see this cultural institution looking so comfortable in its new home. Having visited several times over the years (it actually opened in 1984), it feels like the museum finally reflects the importance of the collection to the city’s past, present and future. A word of warning though: advance booking is essential if you want to be among the first to take a look.

Fri 9 Jul, Manchester Jewish Museum,
190 Cheetham Hill Road, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 8LW
, Tel: 0161 834 9879, Varies
Ruth Allan
Published on:
Fri 9 Jul 2021