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:

Interview: Playwright Simon Bent and actor Elliot Levey talk life in Manchester and bringing Howard Jacobson’s comic novel The Mighty Walzer to the stage

01RET Rehearsal The Might Walzer Elliot Levey (Oliver Walzer) photo Jonathan Keenan “It became a very exotic place for me.” Simon Bent is talking about the Manchester of the 1950s, the setting of Howard Jacobson’s mighty tale of table tennis, teenage angst and Jewish family life. “What attracted me to the book is that it’s about a particular culture at a particular time which is gone. Part of the book is about the loss of that Manchester. It was Howard’s attempt to ‘get down’ that world before it got lost.”

So how has the playwright approached the equally mighty task of bringing Jacobson’s erstwhile Manchester to the stage?

In the novel, the eponymous Oliver Walzer looks back on his teenage days growing up in houseful of aunties, run by his complicated mother and dominated noisily by his larger-than-life father, a salesman of ‘swag’, chachkas (Yiddish for cheap trinkets), and anything he can sell off the back of his van. Bright and bookish Oliver’s great escape is table tennis, a game where he can become first among equals: that is, other nerdy teenage Jewish boys equally obsessed with their indoor sport – and sexual yearnings.

“The clear through line is Ollie, sometime in the future, remembering his past – the pull between the grandiose ambitions of his father and the more reserved character of his mother. The grip of his family is something he struggles to escape from. The story is about his awakening through ping pong and adolescence through to leaving home.”

Leeds-born actor Elliot Levey says he found his alter ego in Ollie when he first read the novel in 1999. “I fell in love, someone had written my life! Rereading it now, significantly older, I realised what I once thought was a coming-of-age story is actually a mid-life crisis story dressed up as a coming-of-age story. It’s about a man who’s spent his life rejecting the world he came from. Then he goes back home and suddenly realises all his life he’s been sitting on a rich seam of joy and love and something he’s always been searching for.”

In the book, narrator Ollie takes readers into his confidence. “Jacobson is such a nimble writer,” says Bent. “He suddenly goes from being light comedic to quite serious. It’s been a challenge to capture that on stage.” So between the slices of action, Bent has Ollie talk to the audience. “He poses a question to his chums in the audience who are our psyche – “Why am I? Where I am?” And he conjures up his mum and dad and people from his past. The thing that cracks it open is the chance of going back, not reliving it as you were, but reliving it as you are.”

Bent and director Jonathan Humphreys are not Jewish. “It means I’m not caught in it. I can look at it from the outside,” says Bent. But Levey is terrified of being too Jewish and turning off an audience. “I don’t want to launder in public. I know Howard has felt that way. So it’s terrific to have two of the prime creative forces in the ring who sense what it’s like when they are being alienated – or more often than not, they are excited and curious by something which most Jews in the room think is commonplace, because we’ve grown up with those sorts of arguments, that sort of language.”

02RET Rehearsal The Might Walzer Tracy-Ann Oberman (Sadie Walzer) photo Jonathan Keenan

Part of that language is the Yiddish that peppers the novel. “We’ve kept some in and removed other bits. This was a note from Howard actually – he was keen for it not to become stereotypical,” says Bent. “I don’t mind words I don’t know coming up because I get the meaning from the context. But it’s a balancing act. The characters speak with Manchester accents, then constantly speak with Yiddishisms. They slip in and out of them. It’s like the two cultures coming together.”

The almost entirely Jewish cast includes Tracy-Ann Oberman as matriarch Sadie and Jonathan Tafler as dad Joel, and some actors actually from the North West, so those accents should be authentic. “There’s a surfeit of Jews in the cast,” laughs Levey. ”One of the things that makes that joyous, is that you are not the ‘Jew in the room’. Because it’s about a Jewish family, and most of the characters are Jews, it makes you free. It’s about growing up, about mid-life, not about Jews.”

Half the cast of ten play Oliver’s Maccabi teammates, table-tennis nerds to a man, as Levey says, “these utter nerds playing the nerdiest of nerdy sports. The upper echelons of table tennis were Mittel and Eastern European Jews, Hungarians, Czechs. Howard said that in the 1950s, there were not many Jewish sporting heroes and suddenly there were these guys with slicked back hair, baggy trousers, looking great and these nerdy Jewish kids could identify with them.”

So will we see the strokes, hear the sound of bat on ball? The cast is being coached by David Hulme, Stockport Federation’s Head Coach and Levey hints that there might be a game at the end. “We’ve got a table tennis table in the rehearsal room, we’re playing nonstop. We’ve set up a little tournament. There are going to be tables outside the theatre,” he says.

I ask the duo about the lusty adolescent desires depicted in the book: Oliver drools after gorgeous blonde table tennis player Lorna Peachley. Is the play suitable for today’s 13-year-olds?

Levey, who has three sons around that age, is confident it is. “My youngest is 10 and this is perfect for him, partly because it looks at what it was to be a kid at a time perceived to be more innocent. And [it shows] what happens to young boys when sex is repressed… it becomes something that fuels his ping pong.”

Finally what does Jacobson think of it? “When I began the adaptation, I deliberately didn’t meet Howard,” says Bent. I left it till after he’d read the first draft. He had a few suggestions which were good, and I incorporated them. He came to the first day of rehearsal and the read through. He was quite pleased, I think.”

By Judi Herman

The Mighty Walzer runs until Saturday 30 July, 7.30pm & 2.30pm, £8-£16, at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, M2 7DH. 

The Mighty Walzer Walking Tour runs Sunday 17 - Thursday 28 July, 10.30am, £7, at Manchester Jewish Museum, M8 8LW; 084 3208 0500.

Read our review of The Mighty Walzer and listen to our podcast with table tennis champion Jeff Ingber.

A heartening wonder of the modern world – JR readers enjoy another year at Limmud

limmud 2014 session

limmud 2014 session

It was as an amazing experience as ever. I have been going to Limmud for 13 years and can never get over how a team of young volunteers, changing yearly, can put on such a huge event with its problems of feeding and housing 2,500, let alone running hundreds of stimulating sessions each day. It is a heartening wonder of the modern world. And this year even the food was great (congratulations Manchester-based Celia Clyne Banqueting).

There were of course many JR readers there and I asked a few about their best Limmud experience.

Mentioned most frequently was the sight of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement Laura Janner-Klausner, deep in conversation at the bar – at an event that a couple of years ago was boycotted by United Synagogue Rabbis and that Jonathan Sacks never attended while he was Chief Rabbi.

Several seconded my selection of the JDOV talk with Patrick Moriarty, head of JCOSS and, amazingly, a trainee Anglican priest. His very funny and affectionate take on his own experience of the Jewish world, not neglecting the firmness of his own faith, was an encouragement for the future of interfaith relations. These filmed talks (Jewish Dreams, Observations, Visions) with their very personal and original perspectives can be viewed on the JHUB website. The 12 from this year's Limmud ("the highlight of my Limmud afternoons," says Anne Clark) should be up there shortly.

Anne Clark gave these additional highlights: "By far the best teacher for me this year was the wonderful Gila Fine from Jerusalem, whose packed-to the-gills series on A History of The Talmud in Four Objects was a masterclass in scholarship and presentation. My favourite musical performance was a concert by Craig Taubman. Craig was skilled and generous enough, not only to engage the entire audience, but also to share the stage with a crowd of young British musicians; Zara Tobias singing a solo in Craig’s 'Yad b’ Yad' ('Hand in Hand', watch it below) accompanied by EJ Cohen’s sensitive signing, was a spine-tingling revelation."

Artist Ruth Jacobson also had a musical experience that delighted her: "''Shtel Dem Samovar', with Rachel Weston and Jason Rosenblatt, first a workshop of Yiddish song, then a concert. Rachel's beautiful voice conveys the sweetness and poignancy of her repertoire."

Ruth was also fascinated by the work of Edward Serotta: "His beautiful exhibition of old family snapshots, combined with interviews with some of Central Europe's oldest Jews, created a vivid and moving 'Library of Rescued Memories'.  These are used in many educational projects, and captivate the enthusiasm and interest of new generations."

Rachel Weston

Rachel Weston

Ari Shavit was the presenter mentioned most often. From Brighton's Doris Levinson: "The highlight of my week was the interesting and enlightening, and even shocking, talk given by Ari Shavit about his book My Promised Land – the triumph and tragedy of Israel.  He is such an accomplished speaker with such depth and clarity.  Everyone who gives lectures could learn a lot from his delivery, his timing and his sincerity."

JR Chairman Ian Lancaster was impressed by "Dr Joel Hoffman giving a very animated, erudite and energetic talk about the challenge of translating the Bible, given it’s written in a language that is no longer in use." And our Northern supremo Gill Komoly was enthused by "the passion and energy" Gershon Baskin put into his talks, telling of how he goes backwards and forwards on his motorbike to the West Bank. He was a skilled negotiator on the Gilad Shalit return as well as on many other issues.

Limmud features not only sessions. Delegates don't need any prompting to start talking to the people next to them at mealtime. One such conversation was a highlight for JR sub-editor Diane Lukeman: "It happened that sitting down with me at breakfast one morning was a Rabbi from Hamburg and Rabbi Soetendorp, whose account of growing up in the traumatised community of Amsterdam had resonated with me at my first Limmud experience and had influenced my professional work with children and families. We all became so engrossed in the conversation that we missed the start of our first session – with no regrets."

So passion, energy, sincerity, animation, generosity, humour and erudition, not to say enlightenment and revelation; not a bad series of epithets for a silly season experience.

By Janet Levin

For further information on Limmud, visit their website:

"I know that picture" – JR hears from a reader who saw the lost Levy painting 60 years ago

Alexandra Grime, lost Levy painting, Manchester Jewish Museum Jan 2015

A  story of history uncovered

Chapter 1

Alexandra Grime (pictured), a curator at the Manchester Jewish Museum, discovers that the artist behind a portrait of Mark Bloom is none other than Northern Jewish painter Emmanuel Levy. The picture of Bloom – founder of Colwyn Bay Synagogue and a horse trader during WWI – was donated to the museum more than three decades ago by the synagogue, but it was only when Grime was looking through Levy's scrapbooks, while researching the museum's current Levy retrospective, that she put two and two together. The Bloom portrait has now been added to MJM's exhibition.

Chapter 2

Rona Hart – ex-Colwyn Bay, Southend and London, and now resident in Haifa – sees this item in the Jewish Renaissance fortnightly newsletter and is excited…

"That picture – of Mark Bloom – was part of my childhood. My heart really skipped a beat when I saw it – and for the first time since the 1950s!

Zion House (37 Princes Drive, Colwyn Bay) not only housed the tiny Colwyn Bay synagogue, but contained a ground floor flat that was rented out to religious families during the summer months, and another room, where I lived with my parents from 1947 to 1952. I was three years old when we moved in and was very happy there, running wild in the large gardens and surroundings. In the summer I played with the children of visiting rabbonim, which provided a culture shock in both directions, I should imagine.

I remember Mark Bloom as a very kindly man. Because we lived in the shul building, there was a good deal of post of one kind or another, with leaflets, posters, a map of Israel, and the like. I remember seeing one drawing of somewhere in Israel and thinking 'when I'm grown up, I'm going to go there. I won't tell anyone now, because they won't believe me, but one day I'm going to go.' I have no idea where that feeling came from.

A story I was told, but don't remember, was that Mark Bloom once gave me half a crown (a phenomenal sum!) and asked what I was going to do with it. When I said I would like to send it to the children in Israel, he promptly gave me another 2/6d. I probably still owe Israel a few bob.

I never knew Mr Bloom was a horse trader; he was our landlord and the founder of our shul, so he was treated with great respect. He was always very kind and generous, and not above showing interest in a very small (and probably unruly) girl. The painting was a very good likeness.

The small Colwyn Bay community (we had a Ladies Guild, a Cheder, etc. although we were only about a dozen families) closed some years ago, I believe in the 1970s. I still visit the area and have friends there."

Chapter 3

Jewish Renaissance passes on the story to the Jewish Museum Manchester. They are thrilled.

By Janet Levin

Made in Manchester: The Art of Emmanuel Levy runs until Friday 29 May. Manchester Jewish Museum, 190 Cheetham Hill Rd, M8 8LW; 016 1834 9879.