Shtetl show for Leeds children

By Jessica Elgot, August 5, 2010
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Leeds is opening a Jewish educational centre where children can take a walk through time into a 19th century eastern European shtetl.

The Jewish Heritage Centre for Children, due to open in October, is the brainchild of Leeds Lubavitch education director Shoshana Angyalfi and her project co-ordinator Ruth Bell, who gave the JC a sneak preview of the museum.

Mrs Angyalfi said: "Each house in the shetl shows a different aspect of Jewish life. We have the scribe's house where we learn about the Torah. There is a succah, and a candle store where we learn about the different uses for candles - for Shabbat, for Chanucah, for yahrzeits (memorials).

"In the family home a sewing machine is set up and a Shabbat table - to show that during the week we work and on Shabbat we rest."

The houses in the shtetl have been deliberately built crooked, the narrow streets in between them are cobbled, and the ceiling has been painted to look like sky by local painter Judith Levin. She is the project's resident artist and also created the detailed stained-glass windows of the shtetl synagogue.

In each house, a video, shot by award-winning local filmmaker Simon Marcus and featuring costumed child actors, explains the meaning of the items in the house.

Some of the furniture was donated by members of the community, and the authentic metal lanterns which light the homes were donated after Mrs Angyalfi spotted them at a Chabad convention in New York.

Mrs Bell has come up with many innovative ways to teach visitors about halachah (Jewish law). In the shtetl stable, children can stamp animal hooves into sand to see if the hooves are cloven and establish whether or not the animal is kosher.

As visitors emerge from the shtetl, they enter a modern kosher play-kitchen and a mini-supermarket. Mrs Bell said: "We want to show that we still follow the traditions and laws of the shetl, but we do it in a modern way."

The £274,000 project was made possible thanks to a grant from the
Heritage Lottery Fund.

It will open as an extension to the existing Chabad Centre on Shadwell Lane, Moortown, and will include a café and soft play area. Cookery workshops, lectures, and arts and crafts will also be run in the centre.

Although the centre will not be open every day to the general public, Mrs Angyalfi said there was a huge demand for school visits and interest from adult groups, including the Women's Institute and the Gypsy and Traveller Association.

Mrs Angyalfi added: "The Jewish community in Leeds has been very supportive of the project - the Leeds Representative Council has held a meeting here already. We really want it to be something they are proud of."

    Last updated: 11:16am, August 5 2010