Lord's bowled over by MCC exhibition highlighting the Jewish contribution to cricket

Stephen Fry and the Chief Rabbi were among the speakers at exhibition's launch


Jewish Community and cricket drinks event

Lord’s hosted an impressive batting line-up on Wednesday evening as the MCC Museum officially launched its exhibition on the Jewish relationship with cricket in the museum’s new Community Gallery.

From the cricketing side, Mike Brearley, David Gower, Monty Panesar, Mark Nicholas and Mike Procter, as well as three former Jewish international stars featured in the exhibition – Julian Weiner (Australia) and Mandy Yachad and Dennis Gamsy (South Africa) – were among the 200 guests who packed the venue. Theresa May, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, MCC president Stephen Fry, Test Match Special statistician Andy Zaltzman, Giles Coren and Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis starred for the cricket lovers.

The exhibition is the labour of love of MCC members Zaki Cooper and Daniel Lightman, supported by Neil Robinson and the team at MCC Heritage and Collections, and showcases the contribution of Jews to the game, on and off the field, from Test level to the grassroots game.

Addressing guests, Fry noted that “people still introduce me as the quintessentially English Stephen Fry. Very rarely am I put front and centre as a Jew. But I am and really pleased to be one. And very pleased to be one this year as president of the MCC.

“We know that this society of ours has an eccentric façade and cricket, like the Royal family, Royal Ascot, looks to be out of date for elite white people from a very particular background and unwelcoming to outsiders. But actually cricket is a game that welcomes everybody.

“And while it hasn’t always welcomed them in the way we would have liked, this exhibition, I think, is proof that Jews have been able to utilise their love of the game... to do what they can to make the game a better game. This exhibition is a fantastic testament to that story.”

The Chief Rabbi said he felt something of an imposter to be included in the exhibition – there is an image of him playing cricket in Dublin – adding that for proof of the connection between cricket and religion, “just look at the name of this ground. This is the Lord’s cricket ground, in the same way that this is the Lord’s universe.”

Robinson said that Cooper and Lightman had approached him with the idea for an exhibition “at a time when we were looking for ways to represent grassroots cricket in the museum and to tell the story of cricket’s history from a broader range of perspectives. These ideas soon coalesced into the concept of the Community Gallery.”

Fry told the JC: “You know we Jews make jokes about how hopeless we are at athletic things. There’s always something about the odd tennis player and that’s the best we can manage. We kind of play our own jokes of self-suppression about how sort of awkward we are.

“But cricket has a natural appeal to Jews, once they understand the apparently impenetrable world of it, because Jewish history since the diaspora has been one of assimilation as well as agglomeration into ghettoes and shtetls.

He went on: “I describe myself as a bad Jew, which I know is a naughty thing to say. I don’t go to shul; that sort of thing. But there is this sense of pride we have in penetrating very gentile worlds.”

Fry recalled being taken by his great-aunt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his first visit to New York and seeing “all these amazing rooms filled with paintings. But she didn’t mention a single painting,” instead highlighting the names of Jews who had sponsored rooms.

“To her, the museum was a repository of Jewish philanthropy. Jews. Jews had made it in New York and penetrated the most august temple to art. And similarly, there is a sense that if you make it in cricket, so that you are a confident cricket writer, you understand the game, you can play with its statistics – and how proud we are of Andy Zaltzman - there is that side to it, as well as the pleasure of a great game, once it is understood, open to Jews as much as anybody else.”

With a two-year innings, the new exhibition was “really important” to the MCC. Media coverage of big matches at Lord’s portrayed an image “of people in big striped blazers with red faces looking like they’ve come out of an Edwardian cartoon of what it is to be English. The waiting list to join the club is over 30 years. And so it seems a very closed, privileged community. But it’s not.

“Most of the work I do for the MCC Foundation in particular is trying to get cricket out there in Nepal, Lebanon, in Syria among refugee children, in Rwanda and Uganda. In all kinds of places to get girls and boys playing cricket. And here we are in the middle of St John’s Wood.

"This is a very Jewish area – we’ve got the Liberal synagogue just across the road. So it’s also part of bedding in with the community but showing, and it’s true, that this is a very welcoming place.”

Yachad said it was “very special” to see the tzizit he wore on international duty displayed at the exhibition. “It’s now almost 32 years since I wore those when I went to India in 1991.”

His South African teammates had been “very understanding. I always held the view that the more outward I was with my religion and with my kosher food – I took kosher food to India from South Africa – the more they respected me. Although I would go out with them, I never ate with them. I didn’t sense any antisemitism.”

In another ground-breaker, the exhibition launch was the first kosher catered MCC event at the home of cricket.

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