A project milestone

Now that the conclusion has been written, my monograph is complete and has been submitted to the critical eye of anonymous reviewers. It is time to breathe and reflect on this milestone in the Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces project.

I promised a monograph as one of the main ways of bringing the research results of Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces to scholarly and public attention. My contribution to the project, as initially conceived, was first and foremost in the area of religious history, and I had already identified Rabbi Salis Daiches as a person needing scholarly attention. Digging in the archives, it became clear that Salis Daiches’ biography would be a helpful conduit for a reflection on the impact of migration on religious communities. And thus my research resulted in a thematic biography which places Salis Daiches’ life in the context of the wider debates about religious leadership exercising the Orthodox Jewish communities in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

My book seeks to contribute to a better understanding of what migrants who came to Britain between 1880-1914 brought to the Jewish religious landscape of Britain. Research on related themes in the earlier parts of the nineteenth century has been initiated and carried out by Abigail Green and Adam Mendelsohn, and Tobias Brinkmann and David Feldman have contributed to the discussion on migration in the early twentieth century. The important work of Green on Moses Montefiore and the ‘Jewish International’, and Mendelsohn on transnationalism in the Anglophone Jewish world, has alerted us to a scholarly neglect of the international networks Jews, particularly Jewish migrants, were part of through travel, correspondence and through their own successive migrations across the world. Brinkmann’s work on transmigrants sheds light on the points of departure and the staging posts of migration in continental Europe, while David Feldman’s recent article in East European Jewish Affairs challenges the dominant perception of the relationships between resident and immigrant Jews through a case study of London’s East End.

My own work applies and extends the insights of these scholars by placing them in the context of the so-called ‘Jewish periphery’ in the northernmost nation of the United Kingdom, Scotland. The biography of Salis Daiches who migrated from Lithuania via Germany to Britain provides a focal point for my narrative. In essence, I hope to show that immigrant rabbis who served in the ‘provinces’ had their own religious ideological agendas which they brought to bear on their work, and that these were shaped through their education, experience of migration, and the international community of Jewish religious functionaries they were part of. Far from ‘provincial’, Jewish leaders in cities significant to British history – such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds – are also important to the historiography of British Jewry, seeing that they actively promoted particular ways of being Jewish and saw their local field of influence as significant to the Jewish world as well as in regard to Jewish/non-Jewish relations.

No January (or February) blues

As mentioned in Phil’s latest post, for the project team, 2018 started with a conference at the British Library, where we shared our research and listened to the fruits of the AHRC Project directed by Stephen Muir at the University of Leeds Performing the Jewish Archive. Interdisciplinary conferences can be as disorienting as they can be rewarding. And so, for the first day, I felt like a fish out of water and enchanted at the same time. The Leeds project centres on musicology, theatre studies, and performance, combining the excavation of music and drama from the archives with staging and filming the resulting performances. The project is not only interdisciplinary itself, it also brought together researchers at institutions in the UK, the US and Australia, thus making it very international. Papers presented addressed the findings in archives, the processes of staging the works in different locations across the world while engaging performers and audiences with their historical context of their creation and first production. Indeed, audience research through a combination of questionnaires and filming were a new and experimental part of the project. Another aspect of the Leeds project, which permeated the three packed days of the conference, was research through experimental performance, bringing together a diverse group of artists and researchers to document their encounter with new materials. A fascinating record of performance-related research and a growing resource for researchers and teachers is the online archive https://jewishmusicandtheatre.org/.

You might ask, what we were doing there? Well, our project also works with archives whose holdings have hardly been explored. We are discovering, recovering, and producing archival materials. As cultural historians, musicologists, and scholars of literature, the three of us are engaged in a related endeavour. In November we organised a Mitchell Library in Glasgow to talk about what we found in the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre about the first ever Jewish Book Week in the UK, held in Glasgow in 1937. Naturally, these discoveries talked about performance, and to bring them to life and explore their meanings, we engaged in performance ourselves, the live audience being a crucial part of our work.

In London, we gave papers on the collections we are working with: Mia talked about survivor testimony and the editing processes from a survivor narrating, and writing their life story to its eventual publication by a dedicated publisher. Survivor and their narratives are the archive which then become another archive when they are collected as published works. Phil’s research on cantors who migrated to Scotland in the early twentieth century generated much discussion about Jewish liturgical music and was the paper most directly linked to the research of the Leeds project. I shared my thoughts on the Dorrith Sim Collection, raising questions about the different stake-holders relevant in assembling, archiving, and interpreting the collection: the family, the archive, and the researcher.We left London enriched by engaging scholarship, new contacts made, and new directions for our own work on Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces.

JLSS panel at ‘The Future of the Archive’ conference

On January 15th, the Jewish Lives/Scottish Spaces team delivered a panel session to the final event of the international ‘Performing the Jewish Archive’ project. The Future of the Archive conference took place over three days at the British Library, with papers that ranged from children’s opera in Theresienstadt to Irish synagogue life of the early 20th century. For the JLSS panel, this was an excellent opportunity to engage our ongoing research with the wider problems and issues of working with archives and archive materials. The conversations that emerged have given us several new potential avenues of dissemination. Watch this space for further details…