Strike a Light – Arts & Heritage created a magazine recently about Brighton & Hove Jewish history as part of our just completed Mazel tov Brighton project.
Strike a Light was awarded a grant by two Brighton-based organisations, Brighton and Hove Dementia Action Alliance and The Homity Trust, towards a project called Mazel tov Brighton! Movement through Tradition celebrating links between Judaism and Brighton & Hove lives with residents of the Jewish Care charity run home Hyman Fine House many of whom were born in the city in the 1920s and 30’s and remember it well, including shops, people, places and rituals.
The project began in April 2017 and ran until autumn 2018. The project celebrated Judaism through active aging, finding physical as well as mental ways to address early onset dementia.
This took place through dance activities and physical workshops, whilst exploring Brighton’s Jewish history, with residents of Hyman Fine House (HFH). Dance practitioners encouraged physical activity with residents and carers that celebrated traditional Jewish performance including Sephardic dance, the Hora, and Flamenco, which has links with this heritage.
Through this project, we have revitalised residents, generated energy, uncovered memories, and explored city heritage. This project ensures generational memories aren’t lost to dementia, preserving physical traditions and movement; celebrating Judaism’s rich tradition.
We believe participants gained enormously through these physical activity sessions and performance, exploring dementia through various perspectives, having regular contact with activities that encourage understanding, promote lifelong learning and active aging. The project enabled diverse groups to meet, increasing empathy through dementia awareness, whilst celebrating Brighton Judaism.
We organised a series of dance and activity sessions to be delivered from autumn 2017 onwards, encouraging residents to be active, at a time when scheme participants are traditionally inactive. We encouraged participation in the creation of this exercise with movement, dance, performance and classes which celebrate Jewish traditions and heritage.
Each dance themed session was a taster creative activity, gauging resident interest in particular themes. Our participants with dementia especially find it hard to be mobile and exercise outside, so we did all possible to encourage physicality through dance in a creative, empowering way that linked with existing tradition.
Brighton in the middle part of the 20th century had a pulsating Jewish heart and it was not just in the synagogues. Waterloo Street had a kosher butcher shop and delicatessen, a lively centre of Jewish eating culture. It was Hove’s own Golders Green. Here, cheek by jowl, stood the kosher delicatessen and bakery Chait, the fishmonger Marks’ and the greengrocer run by Jack Caplin.
The times to be there were Friday mornings, as the community prepared for Shabbat, and Sunday as Brighton Jews queued for their hot salt-beef sandwiches and new green pickled cucumber. Sections of the community could be seen taking coffee on the terrace of the Norfolk Hotel (now the Mercure) distinguished by its sweeping Regency staircase and operated by the Feld family.
These memories are especially significant at the 250th anniversary of Judaism in Brighton (Israel Samuel first moving to the city in 1766). In partnership with the charity Jewish Care (of which Hyman Fine House celebrates its’ 20th anniversary in 2017) and Brighton Museum (Community Engagement Service), we aimed to explore the museum’s image archive creating a series of 20 reminiscence sessions with residents at the home.
Participants worked with a facilitator to create their own memory books, supporting this with personal photos, drawings, memories and characters from their past, and use archival images to support development of these experiences, reminding residents of their lives, and creating a wider context for Judaism in Brighton and Hove.
We notice that as our residents age, moving permanently into the care home, they have to significantly downsize, giving away belongings and losing artefacts and memories of earlier life.
We drew on a recently created app by National Museums Liverpool ‘My House of Memories’ specifically aimed at older people with dementia, and their carers (with added content from Brighton and other national museums), which locates local memories and artefacts, generating discussion about the heritage of the city. This project is a key way to ensure that this generational collective memory isn’t lost, preserving images, memories, as well as helping to contextualise photographs available free for use within the Museum archive, celebrating this rich tradition and heritage.
We brought in speakers for sessions on this topic to Hyman Fine House including the Jewish Historical Society. We trained volunteers on a one day course, to help with residents’ life research, provide relevant outings to archives and exhibitions. We brought in 3 freelance artist and heritage professionals to develop this relationship. We collated these memories into a series of bespoke books with a small print run (and digital downloadable version) which will be available to view publicly, as well forming personal archives of Jewish lives in Brighton.
We also specifically worked with young people from nearby Brighton College whose role was to support frail older people to engage in the project whilst also learning about Jewish heritage in Brighton. This formed part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. These volunteers supported each of the activities above. Activities were delivered on a regular basis over 12 months to ensure that participants benefitted, including residents from Hyman Fine House, other Jewish people living in Brighton, other older people living in the city, as well as school pupils and the wider community.
With over 40 Jewish residents, the majority with dementia, alongside conditions like blindness and schizophrenia, residents often suffer from isolation and depression. Due to this high dependency, it’s challenging supporting residents with activities, staff being engaged with care rather than pastoral activities.
To combat this, Hyman Fine House and Strike a Light (through a prior engagement relationship) work hard to involve residents in planning and decision-making in regular meetings through a residents and volunteers committee, find out what activities residents enjoy, exploring new ideas for activities to try.
Through this committee, we work towards a supportive programme of events, ensuring resident well-being as they move toward end of life care. Activities requested by residents and which we have been able to provide, from horticulture to improvised music and the home ensure that activities become part of a supportive programme of events, offering residents stimulation and focussed activities.
Scheme residents provide evidence themselves and Strike a Light has seen this through discussion, surveys, and care staff feedback. Residents request events and it is notable that creative activities have immensely improved their emotional wellbeing. Recent activities with residents have indicated that reminiscence sessions and local histories combined with creativity are what have made the participants come to life the most, making them cry with laughter, and be more alert and attentive.
From this contact, and resident requests, we can see how important remembering these lives and histories is to each of them for their own lives and sense of identity, as well as the character of Hyman Fine House care home.
As part of this process the home has had visits from Brighton & Hove Museums Service to look at handling collections and made reciprocal visits to the museum as well as enquiries from Brighton College and other secondary schools about pupil involvement in cross-generational Key Stage 3 learning activities. In addition, we have had offers of support from volunteers coming from a range of different backgrounds, and who would like to receive further training to help support their involvement with residents, increasing the way they can engage with and support them.
All types of older people enjoyed reflecting upon Brighton in earlier years and specifically about what types of shops existed and the produce they sold.
People interested in history and cultural diversity enjoyed the stories and how they are made available through print and online with the support of the museum service and heritage professionals. And young people gained benefit from increasing their knowledge and understanding of Jewish identity and its historical context in Brighton over 250 years as well as enjoying the company of older Jewish people living at Hyman Fine House. Mazel tov!