Northern UK Jewish Studies Partnership Training Event


At the end of last week, Hannah and I journeyed to Manchester University to attend an intensive two-day training event organised by the Northern UK Jewish Studies Partnership.    The programme established a regional network of post-docs and post-grads working in the field, with a view to fostering potential future collaborations.   A selection of interactive talks included some highly pertinent to ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces’ – for instance ‘Jewish museums as spaces for public engagement.’  Interspersed with these research-focused sessions were various career-development workshops (particularly useful was the pragmatic advice offered for drafting funding applications).   Participants were afforded a timely insight into the expectations and responsibilities accompanying academic position – impact, REF submissions and collaboration all received attention – and the interactive sharing of research experiences and challenges was encouraged.   One-to-one slots with Partnership staff enabled attendees the confidential discussion of issues pertaining to individual research and/or career.   All-in-all a varied, thought-provoking and inspirational event, offering plenty of project-enhancing opportunities as well as guidance for ways to ensure personal academic success.   Most significantly, the rare and welcome chance to build bridges with others working on similar UK-wide projects – in what can seem a very niche field – was provided.

Flexible scheduling allowed me to shoehorn in some research at the Manchester City Archives, where I explored the Minute Books of the Manchester Women’s Lodge of B’nai Brith.   Interestingly this Lodge organised a Jewish Book Week in 1938, just a year after their female counterparts in Glasgow had hosted the first event of its kind in Europe.   Less than a decade earlier, the Presidents of the Manchester Lodge installed the Glasgow Women’s Lodge; it is testimony to the commitment and progressive innovation of the Scottish Lodge that a few short years later, their English sisters actively sought out their advice in replicating a parallel local exhibition.

This cultural collaboration between English and Scottish Jews found expression beyond the organisational parameters of B’nai Brith: The Unit (the official organ of the Northern Federation of Jewish Literary Societies) is an example of how associational print culture facilitated the national exchange of artistic ideas and outputs.   Indeed, the October 1929 edition of the journal features Faery, a poem penned by keen member of the Edinburgh Literary Society, Hannah Frank.

Such evidence suggests that a close and creatively-fertile friendship prevailed – unimpeded by geographical distance, organisational politics or regional difference – between women of British Jewish diaspora.   During the 1930s, this was perhaps catalysed and vivified by the horrifying and unifying impact of the persecution of their continental co-religionists.  Shared fraternal and ideological bonds (underpinned by a pervasive commitment to shared cultural and educational propaganda-work designed to ameliorate and nuance public understandings of Judaism, and to deepen self-appreciation of their artistic and intellectual achievements within discrete Jewish communities) proved powerful incentives.

Photograph by Mike Peel ( 2006.  Shared via CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Photograph by Mike Peel ( 2006. Shared via CC-BY-SA-4.0.

My brief archival foray confirms the inter-connectivity of British Jewry has strong historical roots, which, perhaps, are reflected in the Northern Jewish Partnership networks promotion of the collaborative academic exploration of Jewish life, faith and heritage.

Disability and the Destruction of Jerusalem

Fusing her passion for ancient Rabbinical culture with expertise in gender, sexuality and disability critical theories, the research of Julia Watts Belser (Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University) builds fascinating conceptual bridges between the early and modern.   Her session ‘Disability and the Destruction of Jerusalem: Gender, Sex and Flesh in Early Jewish Narrative’ at Glasgow University yesterday explored violence and disablement as a powerful metaphor for metropolitan devastation and colonial domination in Hebrew texts.  Whilst the event was

 The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 (1850). Image in the public domain.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 (1850). Image in the public domain.

not directly project-related, I felt certain that attending would enhance my wider appreciation of Jewish identity and cultural memory.

A small turnout – due to the summer recess and a coterminous graduation ceremonies – enabled the planned lecture to seamlessly morph into an informal seminar, facilitating discursive analysis of various Midrash (passages from Lamentations and the Bavli Gittin).  A fertile exchange of ideas revealed the multiple ways in which the body impaired by war has been retrospectively imagined in ancient Jewish texts.

Penned between the 5th and 7th centuries, these trans-temporal texts re-conceptualize the earlier destruction of the Second Temple, and the ensuing cultural and political occupation.   Firstly, we explored how passages from Lamentations configured imperial oppression as effecting physical changes in the body, so conspicuous as to render “Zion’s precious people” unrecognizable: the potent imagery of their once bright and ruddy skin now “dry as wood” and shrunken “on their bones” expresses imperial subjugation through physical degeneration and emaciation.

Consideration then turned to the story of Rabbi Tsadok – “a small, shriveled old man” exuding a quiet yet extraordinary spiritual power procured through frequent fasting enabling him “to teach one hundred sessions” although he “eats but a single fig.”  The Roman authorities duly enforce medical intervention, ensuring that “little by little” his frail body “was restored.”  The disabled body is thus represented as a site of political protest: implicit in this rehabilitation discourse is the premise that to restructure the body as functional – according to the definitions imposed by the dominant regime – is to neutralize personal and religious power by undercutting the agentic right to intentional self-denial.  The Rabbi’s chosen self-disablement is emblematic of his unwillingness to conform to Roman hegemony.

Contrastingly, extracts from the Bavli Gittin, a Babylonian Talmudic text, dwell upon the post-destruction Jewish body as still exquisitely beautiful.   The Roman captors are depicted as utterly decadent – reveling in opulence and covetousness – epitomizing the weakening of the state and pre-empting its downfall.  Despite acknowledging the sexual abuse and subjugation of Jewish subjects, however, the text is clear that they remain physically undiminished and unstigmatised in the corporeal sense.  Indeed, in an radical departure from prevailing and expected gender paradigms, the Bavli Gittin deals empathically with women as victims of sexual violence and conceptualizes the violated female body as the personification of shared corporate, communal and divine loss.

Julia’s expert analysis of these passages emphasized the ethical imperative to consider the absence of the dismembered, amputated, nameless and faceless in this genre of literature: her work is a timely reminder that the politics of memory and storytelling inexorably influence exactly whose stories are told.   Her forthcoming publication, Corporal Catastrophe: sex and flesh in the ruins of Jerusalem, promises to be a fascinating read.



Undergraduate Research Placement Scheme

Logbooks and registers of Garnetbank Primary (above) were amongst the sources explored by Susannah. Image created by Thomas Nugent (2009) and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Logbooks and registers of Garnetbank Primary (above) were amongst the sources explored by Susannah. Image created by Thomas Nugent (2009) and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

During the last fortnight, my usually-solitary archival research has been ably and happily assisted by Susannah Fitzgerald. A recent History and Politics graduate at the University of Glasgow, Susannah’s well-conceived dissertation compared the responses of Glasgow and Manchester Jewish communities to the thirties refugee crisis. It has earned her a very well-deserved first class Honours degree. Here are Susannah’s reflections on her all-too-brief time with project, working with the collections of the Mitchell Library and the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre:

Upon beginning my research placement on the Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces project, I found my understanding of the project’s topic matter to be a mix of familiar and foreign, accustomed and unacquainted. Having undertaken my own research into refugees in Glasgow in the 1930s, I had a fairly solid understanding of this subject and Jewish communal life in Glasgow during the first half of the twenty-first century. However, having inhabited Scottish Spaces my whole life, my knowledge of how these were impacted and developed by Jewish Lives was fairly limited out with this narrow focus. My participation in the project has thus allowed me to build on prior knowledge and interests whilst expanding these interests into new areas.

Regarding my own research, this was based on an undergraduate dissertation which examined the responses of the Jewish communities of Glasgow and Manchester to the refugee crisis in the 1930s, prior to the outbreak of war. Therefore, perhaps most interesting in this regard was our research at the Mitchell Library. In flicking through the records for the Lord Provost’s Fund for Refugees and locating refugee children in Garnetbank Primary School’s admission registers and logbooks, my knowledge of the topic was expanded beyond a specifically Jewish focus to seeing how the problem was tackled in tandem with the city’s non-Jewish inhabitants. Moreover, these records documented how refugees began to weave their lives into the fabric of the city, creating new pockets of Jewish life to replace the ones they had lost.

However, much of my research on the project introduced me to new aspects of Jewish life. What was new was not so much an appreciation of the depth and warmth of Jewish communal life in the city as an ability to become more acquainted by those who created it. In particular, this accolade was afforded to Sophie Geneen, the ‘Mother of Glasgow’. In reading about her life and accomplishments, from hosting wounded soldiers in her kosher hotel to co-founding a charity for poor brides, what came through was not only her significance to the Jewish community but to the Gorbals as a whole.

Moreover, the extent of the Dorrith Sim collection provided insight into the way a remarkable individual negotiated her Jewish identity, particularly through the juxtaposition of her family heirlooms and the photo albums of her early childhood in Germany with her own voice recorded in detailed letters and writings as she built her life in Scotland. Most interestingly for me, it linked my established interests to new findings, putting life and experience to the mere names and numbers I had engaged with before.

It is this personal aspect which, for me, makes preserving and digitising history so important. Though many may know the facts, it is the people behind them that make history truly interesting and make archival research such a rewarding experience. To make this experience more accessible and to promote an understanding of the way Jewish communities have both developed within Scotland, and contributed to the development of Scotland, is an important endeavour. It is a task that I am happy to have been able to spend the past two weeks contributing to, in however small a manner.

Copyright and Digitisation

On Tuesday, Victoria Stobo and Kerry Patterson of CREATe (the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy based at the University of Glasgow) hosted informal copyright training at the SJAC. Kerry related a little about a project she had been working on, which explores the application of rights clearance and copyright legislation to the digitisation of the Scrapbooks of the poet Edwin Morgan (1930-60s). She was accompanied by Postgraduate Researcher Victoria – her PhD uses surveys and case studies to understand how copyright affects digitisation. Both ably, thoughtfully and comprehensively answered the many tricky questions posed to them by the director, volunteers and project staff.

First they explained the fundamentals – copyright occurs at the point when an original work is created. Most unpublished archival materials are in copyright until 2039, and for many materials copyright endures for the life of the creator plus seventy years. Orphan works – materials created by an untraceable or unidentifiable rights holder – could be make available, provided it could be demonstrated that prior diligent search had been fruitlessly performed. The Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) website contains comprehensive guidelines on how to search, and facilitates the registration of orphan works. The focus was very much upon addressing the practicalities of digitising, publishing and displaying archival materials, identifying and minimising risk.
The extent to which oral history transcripts could be reproduced, digitised or published if the interviewee was deceased was assessed. It was concluded that heirs should be consulted for permission, even though the signing of a consent form by the participant might arguably be understood to constitute an implied licence. Other issues discussed included conventions for the crediting of images supplied to the researcher by the Centre, whether the rights of photographs taken by a freelancer and published in a newspaper belong to the individual or the publication, the copyright of the paperwork created by now defunct organisations.

Striking a balance between mitigating risk and enhancing accessibility, in the final analysis, were considered to be key to successful digitisation. Much, of course, depends upon the extent to which the organisation is risk averse. Following the session, Victoria and Kerry were treated to a tour of the Centre.

Undoubtedly many more questions will arise once the process of digitisation begins in earnest in January 2017. In the meantime, I for one left reassured that workable solutions to the potential pitfalls digitisation were available.

Memories of the Jewish Gorbals

Gorbals history is notoriously synonymous with tenement slums, over-spilling sectarian tensions, and razor gangs. Harvey Kaplan, Director of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, chipped away at this mythic façade, in his talk at Gorbals Public Library on 24th May, to present a nuanced perspective on the Jewish experience of this area. Childhood recollections of the area –where his parents and grandparents lived and owned businesses – combined with abundant historical knowledge to enable Harvey to detail the specific individuals, organisations and enterprises which characterised the Gorbals, and to contextualise them within the wider framework of immigration and social mobility which influenced patterns of settlement.

The majority of Glasgow’s Jews resided in the Gorbals amidst a diverse population of Highlanders, Irish, Lithuanians, Poles. In 1901, there were just 5000 Jews, yet by the 1940s, there were approximately 10,000 Jews living in close-knit community operating its own welfare centres, synagogues, cultural and charitable societies. From this lecture, an evocative picture of Victorian sandstone tenements, kosher butchers, and grocers awash with barrels of pickled herring emerged. The main shul was purpose-built in 1901 and situated in South Portland Street; there were also synagogues in Buchan Street, Hospital Street and Oxford Street. Eight Primary Schools served the local community, in addition to the Talmud Torah religious school in Clyde Place and latterly Turiff Street.

The Jewish Institute in South Portland Street was the main social centre organising dances, debates, outings and amateur dramatics. Geneen’s Hotel and Restaurant in Abbotsford Place was another vibrant community hub until its 1965 closure. A popular informal rendezvous where, in fine weather, men in cloth caps met to smoke and talk (frequented by local schnorrer Soap) was the Gorbals Cross, marked by a granite monument bearing the city’s coat of arms. Nearby the Worker’s Circle provided a library, active forum for political debate and even boasted its own football team.

The Jewish Board of Guardians in Thistle Street was forward-thinking in its pre-welfare state medical provision. The Benevolent Loan Society, Boot and Clothing Guild, and the plethora of Friendly Societies Lodges, were just some of the many organisations offering financial assistance to destitute or struggling Jews. Many Jews found work as tailors, cabinet makers and wholesalers. Others became travelling salesmen, peddling goods to outlying mining villages.

Harvey drew upon two contrasting autobiographical narratives to explore the extent to which gang violence was integral to the Gorbals experience: Evelyn Cowan’s nostalgic Spring Remembered, categorically affirms that she never witnessed a gang fight or a razor wielded in attack; Ralph Glasser’s far grittier account insists street fighting was rife. Cowan’s observation that, despite the poverty, her Gorbals upbringing was “not misery, but rich and happy” concluded an enlightening talk. A lively questions and answer session followed.

Members of the Jewish Institute at a Golf Outing.  Supplied courtesy of Scottish Jewish Archives Centre ©

Members of the Jewish Institute at a Golf Outing. Supplied courtesy of Scottish Jewish Archives Centre ©

Scott Chase, developer of the Gorbals Neighbourhood App, welcomed the gathering to attend the New Gorbals History Group which meets regularly in the Library. Scott will lead a Gorbals walking tour, commencing at Gorbals Public Library at 11am on Sunday 26 June 2016. To find out more about the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre please visit

Second Project Advisory Board Meeting & Edgar Astaire Lecture


Dr Kenneth Collins lecturing on ‘Poles and Jews in Wartime Edinburgh.’   Image reproduced courtesy of Harvey Kaplan, Scottish Jewish Archives Centre ©.

It’s hard to believe that more than half a year has elapsed since ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces’ first got under way.   So much has been achieved – two oral history interviews, continued scoping of selected collections of the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre, a pilot digitisation project, and crystallisation of our research plans to name just a few of our many accomplishments.

The convening of the second six-monthly Project Advisory Board Meeting a few days ago therefore gave pause for reflection on our progress in relation to significant milestones.   A team of academics with expertise in digital humanities and historical research, archives and library professionals, and representatives from Jewish community organisations were in attendance at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre on Wednesday 30th March.  The remit of the Board is to meet biannually to critically appraise the project’s strategy, progress and outputs, and also to offer specific expertise on matters relating to their individual areas of knowledge.   They perform this role consistently and cohesively well, drawing upon their experience to offer fresh and constructive insights which help to resolve challenges and move the project forward.

After a preliminary update on our progress and publication plans, the focus of the meeting was very much upon the practicalities of digitisation: selection of sources, equipment purchase, funder requirements, open access, timeframes and ethical issues all received attention.   Much ground was covered, and we left eagerly anticipating the next phase of the project.  The meeting will convene again towards the end of this calendar year where the emphasis will be on knowledge exchange and impact.

After a very productive meeting, attendees were treated by Harvey Kaplan and Dr Kenneth Collins – Director and Chairman respectively of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre – to a tour of the Synagogue and Centre.   In the early evening, Kenneth Collins delivered an engaging lecture to an audience of academics, volunteers and members of the Jewish community.   Dr Collins – current Edgar Astaire Fellow in Jewish Studies at the University of Edinburgh – shared selected insights from his extensive research into Polish Jewish medical students and soldiers in Scotland.   Although the lecture’s title suggested an emphasis on Edinburgh –where a Polish School of Medicine was established in 1941 – consideration was given also to the role of Polish Jewish refugees in the provision of mental health services and psychiatric medicine in Dundee, Aberdeen, Dumfries and Glasgow.   Of especial interest was Dr Collins’ discussion of the extent to which Polish Jews in Scotland during wartime experienced anti-Semitism.   The talk captured the interest of community and academy alike, generating numerous questions.   A lively reception followed, where delicious kosher food was abundantly served, courtesy of Mark’s Deli in Giffnock, bringing a successful day to a relaxing close.

Visit to the Scottish Theatre Archive

theatre visit
From left: Fiona Brodie, Paul Maloney, Howard Brodie, Mia Spiro and Deborah Butcher. Photo supplied courtesy of Fiona Brodie, Scottish Jewish Archives Centre ©
morning star poster
One of a selection of 1950s theatre posters on display.  Image kindly supplied by Claire McKendrick, Scottish Theatre Archives©

On Tuesday 29th March, Mia Spiro and Deborah Butcher enjoyed fascinating lunchtime visit to the Scottish Theatre Archive (housed within Glasgow University Library), accompanied by Fiona and Howard Brodie from the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre.  First we were treated to a tour by Claire McKendrick, followed by a display in the Seminar Room.    Various sources were on show, including posters, programmes, a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, and hand-annotated scripts complete with by stage sketches and director’s notes.

Of particular interest are a selection of photos of stage scenes of Ansky’s classic supernatural tale of Jewish folklore ‘The Dybbuk’ – acting in an exaggerated style perhaps to engage an audience unversed in the Yiddish – are exhibited.    Alongside are two character sketches signed Bet Low:  the first of a distinctive middle-aged woman, her rugged facial features buried beneath a mass of curly hair and her stout frame concealed by traditional rustic costume;  the second of a tall, slender man with serious expression.  Both are vaguely familiar and generate much discussion, although their identities remain frustratingly elusive.

Howard’s father, Maxwell Brodie (1926-1998), was actor, stage manager and director with the Jewish Institute Players, the Avrom Greenbaum Players and the Unity Theatre, his involvement spanning half a century.   For Howard (who also performed with the Avrom Greenbaum Players) many of the names and faces appearing in cast lists and photos are also family friends.   Indeed Fiona credits some of the Players’ success to the fact they belonged to such a close-knit community – living, working, worshipping and socialising in close proximity – affording them ample opportunities to rehearse, share ideas and refine their craft.

Claire’s demonstration of the online catalogue – searchable by name, document, collection and event – equips us to independently discover materials relevant to our interests.  Key holdings include the papers and correspondence of actor and director Samm Hankin, and the articles and letters of the acclaimed actress Ida Schuster.  Avrom Greenbaum’s correspondence with individual playwrights (such as Sylvia Regan) promise to reveal something of his broader cultural impact, and, reciprocally, his own creative influences.   There are also various materials relating to the Glasgow Unity Theatre, with whom the Players temporarily amalgamated during the 1940s.  These mostly pre-1960 sources complement the extensive Avrom Greenbaum Players collection (as the Jewish Institute Players later restyled themselves) housed at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.

Later on we were joined by Dr Paul Maloney, Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast.   Paul has previously explored the history of the Scottish music hall.  He is now working upon cataloguing the Jewish Institute Players’ collection, assessing various aspects of their history including the influence of vaudeville, and popular variety theatre, on Scottish Jewish amateur dramatics.  All in all, this was a highly informative and enjoyable introduction to the Scottish Theatre Archive.

Digitisation Pilot

To inform our preparation for the digitisation of some SJAC holdings, in January we spent two weeks working on a small-scale pilot project.   Selected professional and personal papers of leading luminary of the Edinburgh Jewish Community in the early twentieth century, Rabbi Dr. Salis Daiches were scoped, catalogued, scanned and the accompanying metadata created.   Daiches was Minister of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation from 1919 until his death in 1945. He played a leading role in a variety of Jewish religious, Zionist, charitable, cultural and social organisations, and was instrumental in improving Jewish-Christian relations, explaining and defending Jewish belief and custom.   Documents therefore reflect the prolific spectrum of his commitments.

The main purpose, however, was to identify and resolve any potential challenges, to provide insight into process and workflow, inform equipment and software selection, and to ensure our output conforms with interoperable standards.   The pilot was a highly collaborative endeavour: first the box of historical sources was worked up by an enthusiastic and incredibly able postgraduate student of Archives Studies; the National Library of Scotland were involved in advising on technical settings and metadata formats, and optimising the online discoverability of uploaded images.  New College Library, University of Edinburgh, kindly permitted us use of their sophisticated Book Scanner, and extended me a very warm welcome during my fortnight’s presence in their offices.

The pilot certainly flagged up many unforeseen challenges: the first day or so was spent navigating operating manuals to discover how to optimise the equipment’s potentiality and streamline workflow. I quickly learned to save my scans at regular ten minute intervals – and heed the recurring timeout warnings – after I returned from a tea break to find a morning’s work had heartbreakingly vanished! Light was a further issue, and patient experimentation with document positioning and scanner settings was necessary to ensure legibility and minimise reflection and glare: only after completing the pilot did I discover that the shadow-inducing V-shaped book cradle (designed with the support weighty hardback volumes in mind) could actually be removed!   Some of Daiches’ letters were heavily folded and the scanner offered no flat glass plate which might be lowered to flattened the paper.   The improvised use of wooden snakes – and subsequently cropping the beaded borders from the page in Photoshop – was therefore necessary as the scanner was unaccompanied by editing software.

Despite these obstacles, by the end of the pilot, I had nevertheless evolved a reasonably efficient workflow and was consistently producing scans of a readable quality. Grappling with these various challenges (perhaps arising largely from my technical ineptitude) increased my competence in my own ability to identify innovative and iterative workarounds. The digitisation pilot revealed which criteria are most important in scanner selection, and awakened me to just how much forethought the process of digitisation demands.

paper weights

Folded letter weighted with wooden snake

Theatrical families: interview with Edna Cates


Edna Cates, niece of Avrom Greenbaum.  Copyright © 2016 [Deborah Butcher]. All Rights Reserved.

Acting means living, it’s all I do and all I’m good at.   If I weren’t getting paid well, I would still be acting in a small troupe somewhere’ is how Morgan Freeman voiced his passionate and prideful dedication to his craft.   Cast alongside Freeman and fellow Hollywood great Danny De Vito, the Glasgow-born Michael Cates was once lingering on the shaky precipice of stardom before the wheel of fortune took a calamitous turn when an untimely car accident involving Freeman resulted in the film’s cancellation.   Although his elusive celebrity ambitions were cruelly dashed, Michael’s natural talent has indeed transported him across the Atlantic to tour with the innovative, award-winning Blue Man Group.   That he was destined to tread the boards is however unsurprising, for his mother Edna (maiden name Green) was the niece of the phenomenal playwright and founder of the Jewish Institute Players, Avrom Greenbaum.

Edna initially agreed to an interview to shed some light on the creative legacy of her uncle to theatre national and local, and to reflect also on his personal contribution to the company and wider community.   His one act plays (ranging from the hilarious Watch on the Clyde to the more sombre Bread of Affliction about a Russian Pogrom) and poetry coincide with many of the themes of ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces’ project: the dramatic performance of a distinctly Scottish-Jewish identity, the artistic expression of diasporic experience, and the transformation of Scottish urban landscapes into real and imagined Jewish cultural spaces.

Her testimony enlivens my understanding of the various memory objects – theatre programmes, photos, postcards and ephemera – lodged at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.   She articulates what involvement with the Players meant to those, like herself, happy to devote much of their leisure to learning lines and perfecting performances. She touches upon the group’s role in facilitating and reshaping relations within the Jewish community – revealing that many of the Players met or got to know their future spouses at club rehearsals – as well as the interplay between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities through the collaborative involvement of the troupe in the 1940s Unity Theatre.

A charming and highly self-deprecating, natural raconteur, Edna is effortlessly able to weave details both humorous and touching into an engaging and extraordinarily candid life narrative.   Echoing Freeman’s love of acting, she wistfully recalled her own youthful aspirations:

All throughout school there was nothing I ever wanted to do except being on stage. I was the class clown.’

Passing the King’s Theatre in Glasgow as an ambitious schoolgirl, she confidently assured her friends ‘I’ll be there one day!’   Although breaking into the highly competitive professional theatrical world ultimately proved an unattainable dream– hindered by the lack of local Drama College and daunted by the prospect of forsaking family to relocate to London in uncertain pursuit of fame and fortune – Edna nevertheless enjoyed what she recalls as ‘a wonderful experience’ with the amateur yet highly acclaimed Jewish Institute Players.

Unassumingly, she attributes much of her success to invaluable encouragement of her pre-eminent and inspirational uncle – ‘Uncle Abie’ she affectionately calls him – who recognising her talent, secured parts for her in numerous plays. While still a girl she landed a small part in the festival-winning production of The Dybbuk, in which Ida Shuster topped the bill as Leah, and at the tender age of 14 she was cast as the lead in Dear Ruth.   She also played the bride in Blood Wedding and counts Café Crown, Winter’s Journey and The Dream amongst the highlights of her varied theatrical career.   Active also behind the scenes, she tried her hand at directing Morning Star and Brighton Beach Memoirs during the 1980s, and served on the committee of the Greenbaum Players (as they became known following Avrom’s death) when the company relocated to Coplaw Street.

Edna spoke adoringly of the Uncle Abie she remembers as ‘so clever, modest and quiet.’   ‘He had these fantastic eyes’ she mused ‘you just listened to every word, and just a wonderful sense of humour.’     Watching Edna captivatingly holding court, regaling us with a delightful selection of annecdotes of mishap and mayhem – untimely curtain closures, actors appearing late on stage, bungled and improvised lines – it is striking how many of her uncle’s qualities she shares.   The intergenerational legacy of the Greenbaums, happily, lives on!