Take a walk this summer and discover Edinburgh’s Jewish history

Over the past seven months, a small group of members of the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society and myself met to develop a walking tour showcasing Edinburgh’s Jewish history. The result, which we are presenting this summer, is Jewish Edinburgh on Foot, a 90min tour which takes participants on a stroll from the city centre and the earliest known Jewish residences and burial ground through the heartland of Jewish life in the early twentieth century on the Southside of the city, to the only purpose-built synagogue in Salisbury Road.

Elaine Samuel, Gillian Raab, Michael Adler, and I had a great time piecing together stories about individuals, engaging in detective work to locate synagogues and shops, tenements with mainly Jewish residents, reading old editions of the Edinburgh Jewish Star magazine, and listening to the memories of elderly residents. Gillian Raab contributed her expertise in statistics to understand more about the living conditions and health of Jewish residents in the city. Elaine’s love of Yiddish led to the wonderful find of a story about the ‘Yiddish Parliament’ meeting on shabbes afternoons by the tennis courts on the Meadows, told be Berl Osborne and skilfully put together by another Yiddish and local history enthusiast, the writer Ellen Galford. Michael’s long-standing friendship with the Lipitz and Lurie families brought us oral history testimony about the middle of the twentieth century work and trade in the Jewish and wider Edinburgh communities. My own work on the religious history of the community leads the tour to the places of work and worship of Edinburgh’s most famous rabbi, Salis Daiches.

No walking tour can capture everything. We feel we only scratched the surface of the personal stories attached to the Jewish spaces of Edinburgh’s Southside. And yet, what we show in this walking tour offers a useful framework for a social history of the Jewish community in the past 200 years. Living quarters, health, education, trade, and professions, language, and religion change from the time of the arrival of the first immigrants through the following generations at rapid speed, something which can be observed through the route taken by the tour, and at its destination, Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation. The exhibition Edinburgh Jews, itself the result of a previous project making research accessible to a wider audience, is on view in the community centre in Salisbury Road.

If you want to participate in a walking tour, please book your place on Eventbrite. The walking tours are part of the J200 celebrations of the Edinburgh Jewish community, and of the Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces research project. You can preview the route taken by the walk on Google Maps.

We hope that later this year, the walking tour will be accessible online, and become part of a self-guided set of walking tours in Edinburgh as part of the Curious Edinburgh project. So watch this space!