MGM 2003 - Masoret, Celebrating Brighton's Jewish Community

By Olivia Meredith | 03 June 2003
Shows a photograph of an old Jewish butcher's shop in Brighton.

Left: an authorised kosher butcher's shop that used to stand on the corner of Bond Street and Church Street, c. 1900-1915.

Olivia Meredith enjoys a new view of an ancient religeon

Masoret (meaning Tradition) is the latest event to be held in Brighton and Hove’s Local Studies Library and is on until July 14.

The library is a small building you could be forgiven for overlooking, yet it was perfectly formed for what was a very personal occasion for many who attended the private viewing.

Masoret is a recognition and celebration of the history and culture of the Jewish Community in Brighton and Hove.

Diversity is often taken for granted in Brighton, often to the unfortunate point that one becomes immune to it.

Shows a photograph of a Jewish band.

Right: Brighton-based band, Nat Gilder and the New Serenaders, c.1930s.

The Jewish population in Brighton has produced an extraordinary number of successful and influential people, including entertainment impresario David Land who saved the splendid Theatre Royal and renowned designer Ben Sherman. He started his empire in a small factory in Brighton.

Brighton’s first ever chief of police was also Jewish. Such achievements seem even more remarkable today as prejudiced headlines adorn news stands once more.

Rob Lamb, exhibition co-ordinator says, “It’s taken approximately three to four months to put the exhibition together and it’s really breathtaking to see the responses people make. I think it helps open peoples eyes and gets people talking. If it creates debate and interest in the local community and local history that’s got to be a good thing.”

The hard work is evident. From local newspaper archives to Powerpoint presentations and audio soundtracks delivered through headphones, the information has been carefully researched, selected and brilliantly presented to its audience. It certainly opened my eyes.

Shows a photograph of a synagogue in Brighton.

Left: Brighton and Hove Reformed Synagogue as it looks today.

I could have easily whiled away the entire evening leafing through old newspapers, absorbing the arrival and survival of Jewish culture, talking to those around me.

Display cabinets exhibited beautiful candles, scripts and memorabilia of Jewish society and traditions and large display boards took you on an informative and quite open journey through Jewish life, religion and individuality.

There was a sense of a family gathering about the exhibition. So many had contributed to the displays and offered their kind wisdom and experience.

Major Philip Maitland, author of Under One Sky, was amongst the visitors and he felt so moved by the atmosphere that he asked whether we’d be interested in hearing a story about his involvement with Maccabi, the equivalent of a Jewish youth group offering social activities and informal education programmes for the young.

He was so at ease with the audience gathered at the Local Studies Library as he told the story of how he had founded the British Maccabi Sports Club. It was like listening to an old friend. A ripple of applause followed, gentle enough not to break the serenity but sincere enough to show appreciation.

He later told me, “I think the exhibition is wonderful. It’s full of tradition. The Jewish people have a great tradition of charity, of doing all they can for their neighbours. There are some instructions in the prayers that say ‘Now open the front door in case there is a stranger who wants to eat and drink’. ”

An adage we could all learn from.

There are also two standalone PCs publishing a set of photographs by Tony Tree, illustrating contemporary Jewish life in Brighton and Hove.

They offer a visual glimpse of Jewish life, including lighting the first of the eight candles of Hanukkah (festival of lights) and father and son reading the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) in the synagogue.

For those who walk around with their eyes closed, they’d do well to take a look at this moving exhibition.

Masoret inspired me to be more informed and aware of the diversity around me. It’s about time we all joined Masoret and celebrated the beauty and wonder of life and diversity

Reviewer Olivia Meredith is participating in the 24 Hour Museum / Museum and Galleries Month Arts Writing Prize.

Shows Museums and Galleries Month logo.
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