One-day conference: 21 October 1998

The following summary of the conference has kindly been provided by the Rev. Roger Tomes:
Piecing together the story of the beginnings of Zionism in Manchester is like trying to complete a 1,000 piece jigsaw when you only have 20 pieces, said Bill Williams, the historian of Manchester Jewry, at the conference on "Manchester and Zionism" promoted by Manchester University's Centre for Jewish Studies. Valuable records had been destroyed by an over-zealous caretaker in 1951, and only brief autobiographical accounts and sporadic newspaper accounts remained.
Mr Williams did however produce evidence which suggested that Chaim Weizmann's view, when he came to Manchester in 1904, that Zionism in Manchester was "stagnant", was unjustified. It was a movement among recent immigrants, generally boycotted by the Anglo-Jewish elite, but contact had already been made with local politicians through Charles Dreyfus.
Frank Adam gave a lively account of Weizmann's own Manchester career. The question of who introduced Weizmann to Balfour seems destined to be unresolved. Philip Alexander quoted a letter in which Weizmann said it had been Samuel Alexander, who had played his own part in the founding of the Hebrew University and the relief of refugees from Austria, but Frank Adam thought it was more likely to have been Dreyfus.
Weizmann is only one of the celebrated Zionist leaders in the West, and Michael Berkowitz, of University College, London, reminded the conference of the others: Balfour (featured on sweet wrappers), Louis Brandeis (who found his way back to Judaism through Zionaism), Rebecca Sieff (who gave Zionism its public welfare dimension), and Einstein (who gave the Hebrew University credibility).
Although, as Jeremy Michelson showed, only the most ideologically committed of Manchester Jews (and British Jews generally) had any incentive to make aliyah to Israel, Manchester's historic synagogues, in their architecture and stained glass, contain reminders of Jerusalem and the Temple. Sharman Kadish, who has recently come to Manchester, demonstrated her obvious enthusiasm for these features with a lavishly illustrated talk. (For her bibliography of the The Architectural Development of the Synagogue, click here.)
The conference was timed to mark the opening on the Internet of an exhibition which traces the history of Manchester's contribution to Zionism, the beginning of an on-going project to which "readers" (or "visitors") are invited to send comments or further material.
An immediate contribution was made by Ralph de Groot, who gave a moving account ("the finest piece of living history I have heard for a long time," said Bill Williams) of the work done by the Zionist Central Council in 1975-77 to educate the wider public about Israel and Judaism and to support Jewish students in the wake of the United Nations resolution which branded Zionism as "racist". Click here for the full text.