The Jewish contribution to English cricket can be celebrated, whatever the weather

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The Jewish contribution to English cricket can be celebrated, whatever the weather

Lord's is playing host to the first exhibition telling the story of the Jewish community’s relationship with the sport

Museum Jewish Cricket exhibition
Zaki Cooper, (left) and Daniel Lightman KC (right)
Museum Jewish Cricket exhibition Zaki Cooper, (left) and Daniel Lightman KC (right)

Despite the rain in Manchester preventing England from drawing level in the series, meaning Australia retained the Ashes, this summer’s contest has been compelling and gripping. 

Which cricket fan has not spent their working day with one ear on the Test Match Special radio commentary or one eye on the score? The exploits of Stokes, Woakes, Wood and co have been at the forefront of many people’s minds over the last few weeks.

But for us this cricket season has been extra special. A new exhibition we have co-curated has opened, which tells the story of the Jewish community’s relationship with cricket – the first exhibition of its kind. It is particularly exciting that the exhibition is being housed at the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) Museum  at Lord’s, the Home of Cricket.

Cricket fans from a young age, we have always been fascinated by our community’s links to the great game. Short of opening the batting for England at Lord’s, this is surely the next best thing!

When we first approached the MCC with the idea of an exhibition on Jews and cricket, we did so more in hope than expectation.  They decided to open a Community Gallery in the MCC Museum (Europe’s oldest sporting museum) in which different communities would have the opportunity to tell the stories of how they have engaged with the great game of cricket – and that our proposed exhibition would inaugurate it.

Grassroots at Cricket and the Jewish Community Lords exhibition

Putting together the exhibition has been a labour of love. Some of the items come from Daniel’s own collection, others from the MCC’s archive or have been lent by cricketers featured in the exhibition or their family, by cricket clubs and by other collectors.

We have highlighted leading Jewish cricketers like Dr Ali Bacher, captain of the great South African team of the late 1960s and the Jamaican Ivan Mordecai Barrow, a wicket-keeper batsman who remains the only Jew to have scored a Test century, for West Indies against England in 1933. Given this summer’s Ashes series, there is particular interest in Julien Wiener, who opened the batting for Australia against England in the 1979-80 Test series; Michael Klinger, whose prolific run-scoring, particularly in one-day cricket, earnt him the moniker “the Jewish Bradman”; and Ruth Buckstein, the only Jewish woman to have played Test cricket for Australia, who scored 83 in her only (Ashes) Test.

One woman has played Test cricket for England: Netta Rheinberg, who unfortunately bagged a pair in her only Test match, in Australia.  England has not produced a male Test cricketer, or has it?

The great Yorkshire and England fast bowler, Fred Trueman, claimed to have discovered towards the end of his life that he was Jewish.  One of the exhibit items that has aroused most interest is the pair of “Tzitzit” which Mandy Yachad, the South African opening batter, wore when he played a ODI against India in 1991. A section on Jewish club cricket highlights Maccabi Vale and Belmont and Edgware in London, New Rover in Leeds and Carlisle in Dublin.

Jewish contributions off the field are also highlighted, ranging from Isaac Moses Marsden, the owner of the freehold land for eight years in the 1860s on which Lord’s is located, to Aileen Cohen, a Jewish woman who lived locally to Lord’s and started the trend of baking chocolate cakes for BBC Test Match Special. The exhibition also features short videos made by a host of well-known Jewish personalities, including Ashley Blaker, Giles Coren and Sir Martin Sorrell, in which they explain why they love cricket.

The official launch of the exhibition in June featured speeches from the current MCC President Stephen Fry and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Frazer (both of whom are Jewish) and the Chief Rabbi -as well as three Jewish cricketing internationals featured in the exhibition, Dennis Gamsy, Julien Wiener and Mandy Yachad.  Other attendees included the former Prime Minister Theresa May, Sir Tim Rice, Howard Jacobson and a host of former cricketers, including Bob Barber, Mike Brearley, David Gower, Mark Nicholas, Monty Panesar and Mike Procter.

The Lord’s Ashes Test had a distinctly Jewish flavour. Dozens of cricket fans, both Jewish and not, visited the exhibition, especially during lunch and tea. Together with former Ireland captain Jason Molins we were interviewed by Simon Mann on the BBC’s Test Match Special – a memorable experience. The exhibition was also featured in Sky’s cricket coverage. Well-attended Minchah prayers in the Multi-Faith Room took place during the tea interval on the first three days, overseen by Rabbi Nicky Liss.  Sadly, those prayers did not save England from defeat in that match.  Nor was the Chief Rabbi’s (tongue-in-cheek) prayer at the launch event that England retain the Ashes successful.

The exhibition will remain in place for two years. We hope as many people as possible visit it, whether on a match day or as part of a Lord’s tour. Hopefully visits by schools will widen exposure. Above all, we hope that it inspires the next generation of Jewish children to pursue a love of cricket – and that in an Ashes contest in the near future a member of the Jewish community will represent this country.

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