Gita Conn

A report on the inaugural Jewish Arts Festival For All in Manchester

Hundreds  thronged to Manchester’s Jewish Museum on Sunday 2 July for the first Jewish Arts Festival For All (JAFFA).  Jews of all ages were joined by those of other faiths for a fun-filled day of food, music, art and entertainment.

The Lord Mayor of Manchester – who spent almost two hours at the festival with his wife – chose as his theme for a year that has seen the city’s emergence from the horrendous terrorist attack, "to promote community cohesion and mutual respect amongst and between the city’s diverse communities and individuals" and t was certainly in evidence on Sunday.

The mayor and mayoress of Trafford joined the museum’s regular Heritage Trail of Jewish Manchester, led by Merton Paul. And it was mainly Manchester – Jewish  Manchester – that featured in the exhibition launched by psychiatrist and artist Tony Raynes, arriving from Boston for the occasion with most of his family as entourage.

Children played happily outside on a rare sunny Mancunian day in the care of Laura Nathan and volunteers from Bnei Akivah. Inside the museum (the original sanctuary of the Sephardi shul) klezmer music from L’chaim Kapelye and the engaging music of Carol Jason’s trio interspersed entertaining talks from nutritionist Carmel Berke, Tracy Allweis and Raynes.

The audience listened enraptured to Raynes' tales of the Manchester of his youth depicted in his paintings. His grandfather, Joseph Hyman, famously survived the Titanic disaster and recuperated from his experience in Tony’s family home. Sharing a room with his grandfather, Raynes recalled how he would daven (pray) three times a day, rocking backwards and forwards to the rhythm of the prayers.

Raynes realised that this was a therapy for PTSD. Asked  his priority, psychiatry or painting, he replied: “Both. They are intertwined.”

Throughout the day a marquee was packed with stalls, tastings and demonstrations, all co-ordinated by Marilyn Blank. Sula Leon created delicious dishes, Tomi Komoly served sweetmeats from his Hungarian grandma’s recipes, Ros Livshin enchanted with fruit carving skills and Tova Ellituv, wife of Rabbi Amir, encouraged the children to decorate cupcakes in  vibrant colours.

Despite the presence of dignitaries, including the civic heads, MP Ivan Lewis, Jewish Representative Council President Sharon Bannister, Umer Khan the community policeman chief inspector and Deputy Lord Lieutenant Martin Newman, the day was notable for the absence of formal speeches. It was to be, promised JAFFA Chair Herzl Hamburger, a day of fun and celebration, followed the next evening by a comedy night and the following Sunday (July 9) by a spectacular gala concert at the new Stoller Hall.

By Gita Conn

Find out more about JAFFA on the website:

Review: Rose ★★★★ - We expected a tour de force and were not disappointed

From the moment Janet Suzman, as Rose, appeared dressed all in black, sitting on a single white bench on an empty stage, the audience was gripped.

Rose was sitting shiva, and as her story unfolded over the next two hours, recounting her journey from a Ukrainian shtetl through all the vicissitudes of a Jewish 20th Century, she sat shiva repeatedly. Each time – for a parent, a child, a husband, victims of the repeated manifestations of antisemitism – a slender shower of sand descending from a hole in the roof of the stage was the only visual accompaniment to Rose’s narrative.

This relatively simple device and the subtle changes of lighting bear witness to the imaginative direction of Richard Beecham.

This powerful one-woman play by Martin Sherman debuted in 1999, at the close of that turbulent and violent century for the Jewish people.  Yet, with the increase in antisemitism, the rise to power of untrustworthy leaders and the overwhelming refugee crisis, the story has, if anything, increasing resonance for this century.

What a bitter irony that this revival was being performed at HOME, Manchester’s proud arts and cultural centre in the city suffering the aftermath of one of this century’s cruellest terrorist outrages.

Tragic though Rose’s journey was, Sherman injected frequent witty asides into his script, aimed with perfect timing at the audience in Suzman’s stellar performance.

One woman in black, the brief whiteness in her extraordinarily expressive face and hands, held the audience transfixed, moved and entertained.

Every shiva house has its occasional lighter moments, so it was to be expected that in sitting shiva for an entire century, Janet Suzman succeeded in bringing wit, humanity and even a little hope to this tragic story.

By Gita Conn

Photos by Simon Annand

Rose runs until Saturday 10 June. 7.30pm, 2pm (1, 3, 7 & 10 Jun only). £10-£26.50. Home, Manchester, M15 4FN. 01612 001 500.

Click here to read more theatre features.

Rose comes HOME: Richard Beecham and Janet Suzman discuss the play's return in Manchester

“There is no more demanding role in the canon than Rose,” declared Richard Beecham, director of the first UK revival of Martin Sherman’s award-winning play, which premiered at the National Theatre in 1999.

This one-actor tour de force about persecution, displacement and survival stars Dame Janet Suzman in what Beecham describes as an “extraordinary role for an older actress” and runs at HOME, Manchester, until Saturday 10 June. “Older chaps get the parts,” he explained when he and Suzman spoke to the press prior to the play’s opening. She agreed that there were too few roles for older actresses and interjected with a wry smile: “I can understand why Glenda Jackson said ‘bugger it – I’ll play King Lear’.”

Beecham describes how Sherman has written about “an extraordinary century for Jewish people”, which chimed, according to him, with the enormous refugee crisis we are living through now. “It feels current. It actually feels like a 21st century play,” he stressed.

The play is “a cracker about a life lived with wit and energy”, with Suzman adding: “Refugees are unbearably brave. They need to get out and so does Rose; she is in crisis all the time, facing a series of terrible choices.” From her home in Florida, an 80-year-old Rose takes us through her long life: from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, through Nazi occupied Warsaw, to Palestine, America and the so-called Occupied Territories.

When I ask Suzman to what extent she identifies with Rose, she replies by clasping both hands tightly together: “Like that!” She exclaims. “I have pity and respect for people who’ve had a ghastly life. I rebelled [in South Africa’s apartheid days], boycotted, was kicked around by police… I didn’t want to act in comfortable little plays or domestic comedy. I wanted to be on the edge.”

Rose, she says, is the first Jewish part she's played, describing her own attitude like Jonathan Miller’s: 'Jew-ish'. She proceeds to challenge us to name one good role written for a Jewish mother and states, in her deep, rich, resonant voice: “I haven’t Jew-ished myself.”

By Gita Conn

Rose runs until Saturday 10 June. 7.30pm, 2pm (1, 3, 7 & 10 Jun only). £10-£26.50. Home, Manchester, M15 4FN. 01612 001 500.

Click here to read more theatre features.