Open season for communal heritage sites
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Visitors to Hampstead Synagogue in Dennington Park Road admire its Grade II* Art Nouveau interior
A two-hour cemetery tour during a torrential downpour might not seem the most fun Sunday outing. Yet an enthusiastic if sodden group was taken around Willesden cemetery by Blue Badge guide Rachel Kolsky in one of the opening events in B'nai B'rith's annual European Days of Jewish Culture and Heritage programme.
Ms Kolsky showed the 40 participants the graves of the many distinguished Jews buried there from the worlds of art, science, industry, religion and politics, giving biographical details on each.
Later in the day, she and colleague Diane Burstein took more than 100 people on a "Bagels to Brady Street" walking tour covering Jewish East End history through food, the furniture trade, the Jewish Maternity Hospital and popular meeting places.
Also in the East End, there were in excess of 200 visitors to an exhibition and tour at the Museum of Immigration and Diversity at 19 Princelet Street - mostly non-Jewish and from countries including Australia, America and Brazil. Another 900 are expected for the upcoming London Open House weekend.
Jewish Genealogical Society mentors help Michael Rothhart (seated centre)
Hampstead Synagogue showed off its newly renovated Grade II* Art Nouveau interior. Shul administrator Ivor Nadel enlightened guests on both the community and the building, particularly the distinctive stained-glass windows. Visitors included eminent Israeli professors, Hindu and Asian families and other non-Jews keen to understand more about Judaism. Ninety people turned out for the open day at the New West End Synagogue.
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain organised a central London workshop geared towards helping people find out more about their ancestry. Programme committee chairman Raymond Montanjees said: "I can't praise my team of mentors highly enough. They were of great assistance to all visitors."
Among events outside the capital, a talk and exhibition attracted 30 people to the Grade II*-listed Bradford Reform Synagogue. The Lincoln community staged a Jewish heritage trail led by local historian Dorothy Moss and Professor Brian Winston. Thanet and District Reform Synagogue in Ramsgate held an exhibition based on the "Facing the Future" theme of this year's programme, exploring what makes a modern synagogue tick.
Barbara Nathan, joint B'nai B'rith UK co-ordinator of the programme with Valerie Bello, was "encouraged that so many people enjoyed the events last Sunday. Visitors included many non-Jews and we're always delighted when this potential for interfaith understanding is achieved.
"It's also a wonderful chance for outlying Jewish communities to welcome the public into their historic buildings. We're looking forward to welcoming large crowds to events associated with the national Open Days."