s h a r m a n k a d i s h . c o m
Jewish Built Heritage Liverpool Princes Road Synagogue © Ruth Baumberg

Jewish Built Heritage

Logo © Barbara Bowman

At the end of 1987 Sharman Kadish became active in Jewish heritage preservation with a campaign to save the Victorian East London Synagogue from destruction. Over the next thirty years she was intrumental in pioneering efforts to protect, preserve and promote the little-known and much neglected architectural heritage of the Jewish community, especially historic synagogues and cemeteries. 

After organising a British version of the seminal New York  'Future of Jewish Monuments' conference (1990), she set up the Working Party on Jewish Monuments in 1991 and chaired it until early 1994. During this time, in collaboration with ICOMOS-UK and ICOMOS-Israel, she planned and coordinated a full field survey by architecture students from the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem of the oldest Ashkenazi Jewish burial ground in Britain. This resulted in the publication of Alderney Road Jewish Cemetery, London E1, 1697-1857 (London, United Synagogue, 1997) edited by Bernard Susser.

Between 1994 and 1997 Sharman was based at the Center for Jewish Art (CJA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where she worked with architect and architectural historian Dr Sergey Kravtsov to establish the Architecture Section of the Index of Jewish Art which is now accessible online. Whilst in Israel, she initiated the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the UK and Ireland (SJBH), starting with a pilot project in the East End of London organised from the CJA in the summer of 1996. She subsequently returned to Britain to run the survey. This was the first comprehensive survey of its kind. It covered extant mainly purpose-built synagogues and other Jewish buildings and sites that predated the Second World War (1939). Selected postwar synagogues were later added. The project was principally supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the state preservation agency English Heritage (now Historic England) and the academic Arts & Humanities Research Council through the University of Manchester.

Over the next few years Kadish personally visited every site (except Stornoway in the Western Isles) recorded for SJBH in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (North and the Republic), the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. A spin-off project in 2005 even covered Gibraltar. The output of SJBH included Publications, a website and database. The bulk of the fieldwork was completed between 1998 and 2001. Subsequently, much more material was amassed and architectural history research was carried out on lost as well as extant synagogues. Because of its timing, the project itself inadvertently documented the dawn of the Digital Age. Consequently, the SJBH Archive consists of paper records, architectural drawings, photographs (negatives, prints and slides) etc., all of which have been deposited with Historic England in Swindon. The custom-built Access database was devised in parallel with the development of online catalogues. It was never intended to be put online but is being made available at Swindon.

Perhaps the most important resources created by SJBH are the visual ones. The large number of images (print and digital) taken by the survey comprise both 'notebook' photography by fieldworkers (architect Barbara Bowman and archaeologist Dr Andrew Petersen) and large format photography, with professional lighting, undertaken by the then English Heritage Photographic Units on behalf of the project. Barbara also executed a series of detailed measured surveys of Britain's oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks (1701) and the Georgian and Regency synagogues in the south and west of England.

In the year 2000 Sharman worked closely with Valerie Bello and the late Barbara Nathan of the philanthropic society B'nai Brith to set up the British end of the annual European Jewish Heritage Days and to coordinate these not only with the originators in Strasbourg but also with the national Heritage Open Days and their regional variants (Open House London, Glasgow Open Doors etc.) held every September. The Jewish events are still running today, greatly expanded into the European Days of Jewish Culture and Heritage. But the core raison d'etre of opening historic synagogues to the public remains the same, as envisaged by the initiators.

Sharman founded Jewish Heritage UK in 2004 and successfully applied for Registered Charity status in 2007. In 2004 she was project manager of the team (Dr Samuel D. Gruber, Jon Cannon and Dr Syd Greenberg) that created the original version of the Jewish Heritage Europe website which today is run by journalist and travel writer Ruth Ellen Gruber. Both Jewish Heritage projects owed their creation and continuation to the support of Rothschild Foundation Europe.

Working on a tight budget, with a tiny staff and distant Trustees, Sharman shouldered most of the practical responsibility for setting up and running a small charity. She undertook the multitude of tasks that such a venture entails, operating in the increasingly competitive and commercialised Charity Sector of today. Challenges ranged from finding and furnishing office space to giving numerous talks and masterminding publicity,  a membership scheme, fundraising events and an annual appeal. She wrote numerous annual and other reports, articles for the print press,  copy for leaflets, postcards, advertisements, a newsletter and the website. With her unerring eye for layout and wealth of experience in journalism, book production and editing she had a large input into the design of much of this output.

In 2009 she collaborated with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Monuments (SPAB, the oldest of the English Amenity Societies) on their Faith in Maintenance project. Together they organised a very successful training day for custodians of historic synagogues held at the New West End Synagogue in London. Between 2009 and 2011 Jewish Heritage UK received fifty percent funding under the then English Heritage Support Officers Scheme for historic places of worship. All of Kadish's colleagues were Heritage professionals embedded within church organisations. In 2009, commissioned by English Heritage, she organised the first Synagogues At Risk? survey which assessed the state (according to the twin criteria of 'Condition' and 'Usage') of every working synagogue housed in an historic building in England and Scotland. She designed the Survey questionnaires and wrote the report published by English Heritage in 2010. The exercise was repeated in 2014-15 financed entirely from Jewish Heritage UK's own resources.

Sharman served as Founder-Director of Jewish Heritage UK for almost 13 years from its inception until the end of 2016; Jewish Heritage UK ceased to exist as a Registered Charity in 2023. In total, Sharman raised over £1 million pounds sterling for the Jewish architectural heritage and, through the charity, indirectly assisted historic synagogues in raising more than £4 million for repair and restoration projects.