Francesca Frazer, presenter of Jewish Hour and branch secretary for the Council of Christians and Jews Manchester (CCJ), tells JLife about her most memorable interviews and working within the local community.
Francesca Frazer, who spends a large portion of her time promoting Jewish-Christian relations with the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest national inter-faith organisation, aptly spoke to JLife in the week following Passover and Easter celebrations.
In what must be a busy time both personally and professionally, Francesca, the only non-Jewish presenter on the popular radio show Jewish Hour, has been juggling her time on the Salford City Radio programme alongside work for both the CCJ Manchester branch and the International Council of Christians and Jews Abrahamic Forum, as well as her day job as a religious studies teacher at The Bluecoat School in Oldham.
When asked how she first became involved in the CCJ, Francesca says: “I’ve always been fascinated by different religions and was asked to join the organisation in 2010, while I was working for the University of Manchester’s Centre for Jewish Studies and undertaking postgraduate research in Jewish-Christian relations.
“I immediately became an active member of the committee, setting up and maintaining a website for the [Manchester] branch. I’m now the branch secretary and web officer and enjoy organising local, national and international events with our dedicated team of volunteers. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed working with the national CCJ team as part of their advisory board.”
On whether she feels her work promoting tolerance and multi-faith dialogue is a natural extension of her teaching role, Francesca continues: “I think they have both informed each other. I enjoy bringing my experience of working with young people, local communities, academia and international Jewish-Christian relations to the CCJ committee, but I also think the relationships built with different faith communities has had immeasurable benefit on my teaching practice too.”
The multi-talented teacher also said that she has seen tangible results from her work in the community, stating: “At a recent event for the CCJ and International Abrahamic Forum on challenging anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, where 100 Muslims, Christians and Jews gathered at the Manchester Jewish Museum. We had two panels, one of academics and the other interfaith practitioners, who gave us insights into their own experiences and positive stories within their own communities. There are always regular devoted attendees, and we don’t take their support for granted, but it was really fantastic to see so many people who had never been before.
“In the final question and answer session, one imam commented that he had never been involved with interfaith work before but after the forum he was going to do much more. He and many of the guests have attended follow up events which has been brilliant to see, and now new networks have been formed whose support has been invaluable. When world crises could have made our bonds more fragile, Manchester’s interfaith community actually feels stronger than ever.”
There are also plenty of events for people within the community and beyond to become involved with, including a recent series of sessions for Jews and Christians to read scriptures together.
“We decided that our urgent duty is to look together at what our scriptures say, and allow what we learn to change what we think we know and how we preach and teach,” continues Francesca.
“Our last session was during Pesach and Easter so we are in the planning stages of the next one.”
Francesca also helped re-establish the ICCJ Abrahamic Forum in 2011 and adds: “I am the coordinator and also a member of the steering committee alongside eight other Jews, Christians and Muslims. We host conferences annually across the world promoting the similarities between the Abrahamic faiths and provide a safe space to discuss the difficult issues we face. I organised the first conference in my native Manchester in 2012. Since then the ICCJ has travelled the globe from Aix-en-Provence to Buenos Aires to Rome, and this year we meet in Bonn.”
Moving on to her work for Jewish Hour, which has included presenting as well as maintaining the website, email, and social media accounts since 2011, Francesca says of the show’s move from the BBC: “What has changed is our ability to run our own website and allow our programme to reach a much wider audience and for that audience to be able to interact with us more easily.”
On being a non-Jewish presenter, she continues: “I often forget that there is any difference between us as I have felt so welcome within the community for such a long time, but I think it’s always helpful to have another perspective. We have a large number of non-Jewish listeners too so I’m often the one who reminds the team to explain festivals, scriptures and customs which some listeners may not be as familiar with.”
Asked about her most memorable interviews and moments on the independent weekly radio show, Francesca chooses a poignant example: “The most memorable interviews have been with Holocaust survivors Jack Aizenburg and the late Mayer Hersh. Their stories were harrowing but truly inspirational.
“On a lighter note, it’s always interesting to host political debates and to speak to leaders within the community, and even more fun when we have some live music in the studio.
“But the excitement when you realize a well-known celebrity has a Jewish connection and you now have an excuse to interview them is unparalleled.” We are sure there are plenty of JLife writers and readers who can relate to that!
Listen to Jewish Hour at Jewishhour.co.uk and visit Ccjmanchester.org for the latest news.