At the end of last week, Hannah and I journeyed to Manchester University to attend an intensive two-day training event organised by the Northern UK Jewish Studies Partnership. The programme established a regional network of post-docs and post-grads working in the field, with a view to fostering potential future collaborations. A selection of interactive talks included some highly pertinent to ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces’ – for instance ‘Jewish museums as spaces for public engagement.’ Interspersed with these research-focused sessions were various career-development workshops (particularly useful was the pragmatic advice offered for drafting funding applications). Participants were afforded a timely insight into the expectations and responsibilities accompanying academic position – impact, REF submissions and collaboration all received attention – and the interactive sharing of research experiences and challenges was encouraged. One-to-one slots with Partnership staff enabled attendees the confidential discussion of issues pertaining to individual research and/or career. All-in-all a varied, thought-provoking and inspirational event, offering plenty of project-enhancing opportunities as well as guidance for ways to ensure personal academic success. Most significantly, the rare and welcome chance to build bridges with others working on similar UK-wide projects – in what can seem a very niche field – was provided.
Flexible scheduling allowed me to shoehorn in some research at the Manchester City Archives, where I explored the Minute Books of the Manchester Women’s Lodge of B’nai Brith. Interestingly this Lodge organised a Jewish Book Week in 1938, just a year after their female counterparts in Glasgow had hosted the first event of its kind in Europe. Less than a decade earlier, the Presidents of the Manchester Lodge installed the Glasgow Women’s Lodge; it is testimony to the commitment and progressive innovation of the Scottish Lodge that a few short years later, their English sisters actively sought out their advice in replicating a parallel local exhibition.
This cultural collaboration between English and Scottish Jews found expression beyond the organisational parameters of B’nai Brith: The Unit (the official organ of the Northern Federation of Jewish Literary Societies) is an example of how associational print culture facilitated the national exchange of artistic ideas and outputs. Indeed, the October 1929 edition of the journal features Faery, a poem penned by keen member of the Edinburgh Literary Society, Hannah Frank.
Such evidence suggests that a close and creatively-fertile friendship prevailed – unimpeded by geographical distance, organisational politics or regional difference – between women of British Jewish diaspora. During the 1930s, this was perhaps catalysed and vivified by the horrifying and unifying impact of the persecution of their continental co-religionists. Shared fraternal and ideological bonds (underpinned by a pervasive commitment to shared cultural and educational propaganda-work designed to ameliorate and nuance public understandings of Judaism, and to deepen self-appreciation of their artistic and intellectual achievements within discrete Jewish communities) proved powerful incentives.
My brief archival foray confirms the inter-connectivity of British Jewry has strong historical roots, which, perhaps, are reflected in the Northern Jewish Partnership networks promotion of the collaborative academic exploration of Jewish life, faith and heritage.