Jewish Edinburgh on Foot

Yesterday was Festival Sunday at the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, where Jewish-themed Fringe acts delighted the community with trailers to their shows. The annual event was paired this Sunday with a celebration of Edinburgh’s Jewish history as part of the J200 programme of events. Together with the oldest Jewish cultural organisation in Scotland, the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society, Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces hosted a walking tour of the city which led participants on a journey along landmarks of two centuries of Jewish life in Edinburgh.

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6 Millerfield Place, former home of the family of Rabbi Salis Daiches. © Ewa Lipinska

Tourists joined residents in exploring the move of Jewish community from the Old Town (Canongate) to the St Leonard’s area which was densely populated with new immigrants from the 1880s onwards. With increasing economic stability, the community moved further south into Newington, Marchmont, and even into the Grange, while shops such as bakeries and butchers remained in the area of the Bridges.

Walkers encountered residents through memorable stories, involving court cases, and burial sites, and many individuals such as the Lipetz brothers who ran a GP practice in Roxburgh Street in the middle of the twentieth century, and who were early advocates of the NHS and a multi-disciplinary approach to health and social care; and about Arthur Kleinberg whose bakery was on East Crosscauseway. Arthur shared his challah recipe when it became clear that his bakery had to close for want of a new proprietor. Tour participants heard about Joe Lurie, the last kosher butcher in Edinburgh and soul of the community, whose father Abraham served in World War I as part of a British Jewish Battalion, and whose brother was a GP in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas.

Crossing the Meadows, the walk stopped at the bench facing the tennis courts to hear Berl Osborne’s recollection of the ‘Yiddish Parliament’ which involved shabbat afternoon gatherings of Jewish men to kibbitz about community affairs, while the community’s youth perambulated on the Meadows’ paths. The walk ended at the synagogue in Salisbury Road, a landmark signalling the union of a previously divided community in 1932 under the leadership of Rabbi Salis Daiches.

Tickets for the next three tours scheduled this summer can be booked here: 

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!

Fifth event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 11 July 2017, University of Edinburgh

Part of the British Association for Jewish Studies Conference 2017 at the University of Edinburgh

Venue: Elizabeth Templeton Room, School of Divinity, New College, Edinburgh

Time: 3:30-5pm

Hana Wirth-Nesher (Tel Aviv University),To move, to translate, to write: Jewish American immigrant voices

Hana Wirth-Nesher is Professor of English and American Studies at Tel Aviv University where she holds the Samuel L. and Perry Haber Chair on the Study of the Jewish Experience in the United States. She is also the founding Director of the Goldreich Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Tel Aviv University. Her main areas of research are modern American and British literature, multilingual American fiction, Jewish American writing, and urban literature. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Columbia University (MA, MPhil, PhD), Hana began her academic career at Lafayette College in 1976 before moving to Tel Aviv University in 1982. She is the author of two monographs Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature, Princeton University Press, 2009; and City Codes: Reading the modern urban novel, Cambridge University Press, 1996, and numerous articles. Recently she edited The Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2015; and with Michael P. Kramer The Cambridge Companion to Jewish- American Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

An immigrant’s geographical journey is followed by a linguistic and cultural one, where translation both to and from the mother tongue and culture becomes a daily preoccupation. Since not every word or concept is translatable, immigrant writers are often drawn to untranslatabilty, which they dramatize as moments of estrangement. This lecture will examine the significance of diverse forms of the untranslatable in the works of Jewish immigrant writers who wrote both in English and in Yiddish, among them Isaac Raboy, Lamed Shapiro, Mary Antin, Henry Roth, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Two months in, early reflections

From a background of contemporary musicology and cultural studies, entering into the world of the archive has been an unusual experience. There are, however, clear ways that I can apply previous learning to this project, and it is these possible links which have been occupying my thoughts during my first two months on the job.

Cultural studies, in the UK especially, has since its inception in the late 1960s often been bound up with issues of ideology and the role of culture (popular and otherwise) in reinforcing, opposing, or negotiating dominant ways of thinking. Initially, this frequently meant the close re-reading of texts (music, film, literature, art, fashion) through new and occasionally radical lenses of class, gender, race, ethnicity, nation, subculture, semiotics and more. If this at times resulted in an overly dogmatic critical approach – people, after all, regularly exist across multiple subject positions – it nevertheless foregrounded the ways in which culture can become a site of struggle within which different and contesting meanings can be made. This rooting of the theoretical within everyday practice has clear resonances for a project like Jewish Lives/Scottish Spaces, dealing as it does with material culture and the multiple representations of identity therein – Jewish/Scottish, immigrant/host, Eastern/Western… For example, when in 1939 the Glasgow Jewish Institute Male Voice Choir performed a selection of ‘Modern Palestinian Folk Songs’ for a live BBC broadcast, were they doing so as Jews, as Scots, as Zionists, as amateur ethnomusicologists, or perhaps all of the above? Cultural negotiations like this reveal layers within layers: Jewish, Glaswegian, ‘regional’ (Scottish), the early BBC’s nation-unto-nation discourse, all counterbalanced by an expressed allegiance to the Yishuv – though perhaps more as a musically exotic ‘elsewhere’ than as a future home.

Questions such as these point to a fundamental theme of my research going forward: the different possibilities for community (real and imagined) and cultural identification that music offered Scottish Jews in the early twentieth century. In its distinctive combination of the affective, the embodied, the real-time, and through both participative and performative ways of being, music offers a singular route into these discussions:

[Music’s] ‘inherent characteristics’, its use of the iconic and non-denotative potentials of sounds, provides it with a special capacity to exercise power in a direct and concrete fashion. It can speak directly, concretely and with precision to the states of awareness which constitute our subjectivity, our very being.
(John Shepherd & Peter Wicke, Music and Cultural Theory, 1997:213)


A large part of my recent studies, as well as my professional musical life, has been spent in the field of klezmer and Yiddish song. Given the numbers of Yiddish-speaking Jews arriving in Glasgow in the early decades of the twentieth century, it is highly likely that music such as this was present in the city some form or other, notwithstanding an almost total lack of documentation. Therefore, another initial task will be to dig around for any small evidence of music-making that I can find: in newspapers, oral histories, recordings, images and novels. In what ways did Jewish immigrants to Scotland hold onto their ‘old country’ musical vernacular, and how rapidly did they adopt that of their new home? If the musical traditions of Eastern Europe did not endure significantly in the Gorbals, the Pleasance and elsewhere, what took their place and why?

There has been no scholarly research into Jewish music in Scotland, so currently the field lies wide open. A further fruitful avenue of enquiry, and one blessed with a little more archival evidence to uncover, is through an analysis of some of the cantors who served Scotland’s synagogues in the last century. This is something that I will be exploring in several conference papers later this year. Now that cantors have been absent from the Scottish Jewish landscape for several decades, it is perhaps easy to forget the important role they once inhabited and its influence on the wider musical life of their congregations. Theirs is a story waiting to be told. But equally importantly, where did these figures stand in relation to the varied cultural identities at play in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century? Almost all the significant figures who served in Scottish synagogues during this period were immigrants from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, a background which would surely have resonated with those they led in service every week. Kenneth Collins, in his 2016 survey of Scottish Jewish history, notes the importance of this in specifically musical terms: “For an increasingly secularised membership, though reared on the traditions of Eastern Europe, it was the vocal ability of the chazzan on the High Holy Days, rather than the scholarship of the rabbi, which reconnected the immigrant Jew with the traditions from which he was being estranged.”

University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, University Registry collection, GB248 R4/3/1

Frequently these men had cut their cantorial teeth in one of the large Jewish Eastern European prewar urban centres: Warsaw, Vilna, Budapest. And despite successful early careers they were subject to the same external pressures that impelled so many of their fellow Jews to head West. For Isaac Hirshow, born in Vitebsk in 1886 and cantor of Glasgow’s Garnethill synagogue from 1925, these wounds were still fresh three decades later:

I was born, brought up and shared the fate of my Jewish brethren in a country vast and rich. Yet, vast and rich as the country was, the Jew was cast into a corner like into a dustbin – in want, in misery, in darkness and fear…the last drop of his blood drained, the marrow of his bones dried up. (Isaac Hirshow, speaking in 1950)

Although he was already a highly literate and trained musician, Hirshow nevertheless saw fit to further his studies once in Scotland, becoming first ever Bachelor of Music at Glasgow University. What does this piece of information tell us about his own perceptions of his music and its relationship to the various musical traditions that Hirshow straddled?

Early days, early thoughts. Intriguing connections.

4th meeting of the Advisory Board

This month’s meeting of the Advisory Board provided a wonderful opportunity to reflect back on the second year of the project, which is currently drawing to a close. We have many positives to report:

  • data gathering for our research is well-advanced;
  • we ran a very successful two day conference in April on Narrative Spaces in Scottish Jewish Culture;
  • Mia and Hannah have been speaking at academic conferences and local events about our work;
  • we appointed Philip Alexander as RA, who adds a whole new area of expertise to the project.
  • we have piloted digitisation and produced a guidance document;
  • SJAC has chosen documents and images suitable for digitisation.
    • We should see a representative glimpse of the SJAC’s collections online due course and thus fulfil one of our project goals.
  • JLSS will represented with a panel at the 2017 Conference of the British Association for Jewish Studies in Edinburgh;
  • further conference participation is planned for the later this year and in early 2018.
  • plans for communicating our research to a wider, non-academic audience are under way:
    • during the Fringe Festival JLSS and the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society will be conducting two tours in Edinburgh: ‘Jewish Edinburgh on Foot’;
    • in collaboration with other projects at the University of Edinburgh, the walking tours will be prepared for use inside an app, so anyone visiting Edinburgh can construct their own walks.

It is good to have a time to take stock and look back. With renewed energy and drive we are looking forward to the next year of the project! Watch this space.

Fourth event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 9 May 2017, Durham University

9 May 2017, University of Durham

Elad Lapidot (Freie Universität Berlin), Deterritorialized Immigrant: The Talmudic Ger as a Cross-Border Figure

Ilan Baron (University of Durham), The International Cultural Politics of Israeli Cuisine

Elad Lapidot Ger is a non-Jew who becomes a Jew – a convert or more literality a proselyte, a new-comer. As such, the ger is a Jewish cross-border figure, the immigrant. In my talk I will reflect on the cross-border performance of the ger in the basic rabbinic text, the Talmud. Through several readings, I will look at ways in which the ger opens up inside the Talmudic texture a space of reflection on the borders – and core – of the rabbinic socio-political project, i.e. ‘Israel’. The immigrant ger, initially an outsider, will be unveiled as a paradigm of the rabbinic subject. The guiding question will concern the nature of the space in which the cross-border event of the ger takes place, namely the topo-logy of rabbinic Israel. The basic observation will be the shift from the highly territorial narrative of the biblical text to deterritorialized Talmud. The Talmudic ger will emerge as a pivotal figure for thinking borders, immigration and place in conditions of deterritorialization.

Ilan Baron In the past four years, at least sixteen Israeli cookbooks have been published in English. By itself, this is not an especially interesting number, but considering that prior to 2012 I have been able to identity only ten English-language Israeli cookbooks (excluding local community cookbooks with “Israeli” recipes), this increase provides an opportunity to explore the international cultural politics of the Jewish State. The cookbooks reflect the movements and migrations of Jews, of the various locations that have come to contribute to Jewish culture and which are manifest in the diverse array of foods that in these books have come to be described as “Israeli”.  This article explores the narratives produced in these Israeli cookbooks, suggesting that they provide a particular normative story about Israel’s history, identity, and values that is of relevance both for the Israelization of Diaspora Jewish identity and for how the idea of Israel is (re)produced as a cultural good for international consumption. Using contemporary political theory, and building on the hermeneutic and phenomenological traditions in continental philosophy, this articles provides a critique of the normative narratives produced in these cookbooks.

‘Narrative Spaces’ Colloquium at Glasgow University

On Sunday April 23rd and Monday 24th  we were delighted to host a project colloquium, allowing us the chance to set some of the research themes and questions raised so far within a wider cultural and historical scholarly context. The colloquium, entitled Narrative Spaces in Scottish Jewish Culture: A Comparative Perspective, took place at Glasgow University and proved to be a stimulating and thought-provoking couple of days. Seven two-paper sessions covered an impressive range, usefully extending the original ‘Scottish’ brief to other non-English Jewish identities: refugee domestic service; Irish sectarianism and antisemitism; Kindertransport narratives; archival questions; the Polish-born painter Joseph Herman; the Glasgow Jewish Institute Players; Welsh Jewish and Irish Jewish writing; Yorkshire Zionist industrialists; Scottish Zionism and the implications of Aliyah; Jewish film from Wales; Glasgow’s 1951 Jewish Arts Festival; refugee stories from Garnethill; and the changing landscape of Welsh synagogues. Each speaker had the chance to offer their reflections (often in some depth) upon connections and contrasts between their own paper and that of their panel partner’s, before discussion was opened up to the floor. Given that the meeting included scholars with backgrounds in history, cultural studies, Jewish studies, creative writing, theatre studies, languages and literature, the animated exchanges which took up the final third of each panel session were notable for their breadth of perspective and expertise. Nevertheless, there was also an encouraging amount of interdisciplinary connection, which surely bodes well for future lines of enquiry.

Joseph Herman, ‘Refugees’ (1941)

Whilst many of the papers explored a particular aspect of Scottish, Welsh or Irish Jewish culture or cultural production, many also took care to locate themselves within a wider frame of Jewish identity/identities and national narrative discourses. Paul Maloney and Adrienne Scullion, for example, showed how Avrom Greenbaum and the Jewish Institute Players manipulated elements of both Scottish and Jewish cultural vernacular in order to articulate and question a certain version of diasporic consciousness, one particular to the historical conditions of pre-war Jewish Glasgow. Ruth Gilbert analysed the ways in which Irish Jewish writers have used Jewishness as a means of disrupting and problematising narratives of Irishness, whilst at the same time often placing these processes within more conventional literary structures. Phyllis Lassner eloquently explored the restless and complex imagery of Joseph Herman’s refugee depictions, uncovering layers of unresolved meanings which address the experience of wartime refugee identity specifically, and the state of diaspora more generally. And Gavin Schaffer probed the ambiguities of Scottish Jews’ relationship to Israel, unpacking the ambiguous meanings and historical changes underpinning British financial and ideological support, whilst simultaneously critically examining the relatively small numbers of Scotland’s citizens who actually choose to emigrate there.

These are just a few of the fascinating discussions which took place. The project team are looking into the possibility of an edited collection of some of this work, so watch this space…

Teacher Training Event at the SJAC run by the Holocaust Educational Trust

by Hannah Holtschneider

On 4 April, Mia and I offered a session on the use of survivor testimony in the classroom at a teacher training event run by the Holocaust Educational Trust at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.

We were lucky to work with an engaged and well-informed group of teachers. Faced with technical difficulties – playing our carefully chosen video clips of survivor testimony was a challenge – we quickly changed format and ran the session as an interactive workshop. The teachers present contributed their experiences of working with survivor testimony in their classrooms, the difficulties in presenting life stories focused on years of persecution and loss of family members, and their efforts to contextualise the testimony in the history they were teaching. Tom Jackson and Catrina Kirkland, representing HET, contributed their insights on working with a stable group of survivors who offer their testimony in school classrooms on a regular basis.

51rM2Bxcax9L._SY344_BO1204203200_These reflections from the coalface of teaching opened the door for Mia and I to think together about the changing expectations audiences bring to survivors, the rise of interest in survivors, the challenges of listening to testimony, and the aim of being in conversation with survivors as persons whose life extends beyond the years of the Holocaust. Hank Greenspan’s work On Listening to Holocaust Survivors which explores the challenges of listening was the basis of our presentation. Oscillating between the valorisation of survivors as heroes and the understanding that survivors represent our greatest fears and anxieties, we considered ways of ‘humanising’ or ‘normalising’ survivors, so that we are able to relate to their whole life story.

Our discussion concluded with a consideration of four different formats of accessing survivor narratives each gaining public attention at a different time:

Hannah Bloch Kohner’s appearance on This is your life in 1953 brought an encounter with a Holocaust survivor to a mass audience via an entertainment chat show.

The 1980s saw choreographed Holocaust testimony gathered for educational reasons and as a collection of oral history resources.

Closer to home and closer in time, the video testimony of Dorrith Sim forged a connection to the Scottish context in which the workshop attendees work. There was a desire for more local resources for teaching, particularly if these could be made available within the SJAC.

Finally, we broached the question of the future of testimony at a time when the last survivors are dying. The Forever Project seeks to make the interactive nature of hearing a survivor speak accessible to future generations through 3D imaging technology. The discussion following the introduction of this project was lively and minds were split as to whether a ‘3D survivor’ is a helpful educational tool or whether this attempt at keeping ‘live’ representations of survivors present is manipulating and thereby perhaps more likely to close down learning opportunities.

Third event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 26 April 2017, University of St Andrews

Co-sponsored by USTC and the School of History

Venue: Old Class Library, School of History, 69 South Street, St Andrews
Time: 2-4pm

Adam Shear (University of Pittsburgh), Jews and their Books on the Move in Early Modern Europe

Emily Finer (University of St Andrews), Jewish Migration and Metamorphosis in Early Soviet Fiction

Adam Shear is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and History and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Pittsburgh where he has taught since 2001. His 2008 book The Kuzari and the Shaping of Jewish Identity, 1167-1900 (Cambridge University Press) was awarded a National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship and the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the Journal of the History of Ideas for the best first book in intellectual history.

The early modern period in European and Mediterranean history is often seen as a period of increased mobility of people.  The rise of print is also seen as a distinctive element of early modernity.  In Jewish history, these two factors have been cited by many historians as key aspects of the early modern Jewish experience, most recently by David Ruderman in his Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History (Princeton, 2011). Although historians of migration and historians of the book have paid due diligence to the relationships between the two factors, this talk will more explicitly analyze the ways in which movement of Jewish books are linked to the mobility patterns of early modern Jews. In addition to looking at the pre-publication sharing of texts in new environments, the paper also considers the dissemination of books after publication and over time. The goal is to better understand how the history of migration is linked to the history of the book and how new tools in each subfield can complement knowledge in the other.

Emily Finer is Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Russian at the University of St Andrews where she convened the new degree in Comparative Literature. She is currently working on a second monograph exploring the vast cultural reception of Charles Dickens and his works in the Russian-speaking world. This project follows her monograph on the twisty relationship between the Russian Formalist, Viktor Shklovskii and the author of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne: Turning into Sterne: Viktor Shklovskii and Literary Reception (Oxford: Legenda, 2010).

For a few years after the 1917 Revolution, Russian-Jewish writers felt empowered to explore issues of identity in print. Lev Lunts, a young writer who resisted his parents’ pleas to join them in emigration, chose instead to imagine a journey west in Crossing the Border (1922). His Jewish characters employ a range of linguistic and visual disguises which are ultimately unsuccessful. In Homeland (1923), Lunts’s atheist student goes through a door under the Choral Synagogue in Petersburg only to find himself in biblical Babylon. These and the similar stories to be discussed all end with the restoration of the status quo, but their writers test the limits of comedy and satire through their use of anti-Semitic stereotypes, making peculiar demands on the contemporary reader.