The Gorbals and the Jews of Glasgow , by Kurt Fleischmann

Unlike the Jews of England, the Jews of Scotland have enjoyed an uninterrupted history because, while there were Jewish communities in England before 1290, the year of the expulsion of the Jews from there, there seemed to be no Scottish Jewish communities that early.

However, individual Jews did have Scottish interests without having actually settled there, as shown by an official regulation passed in 1180 by the Bishop of Glasgow, forbidding churchmen to " ledge their benefices for money borrowed from Jews ".

Then some 500 years later, there were a few Jewish students and professors at Edinburgh University and at least on Jew, David Brown, who was actually permitted to live and trade there.

Moreover 150 years more were to elapse before the establishment of the Glasgow Hebrew Congregation in 1823. While the first Jewish Graduate from Glasgow University, one Levi Myers, an American, got his medical degree in September 1787, without having to take a religious oath. It was this last which greatly attracted Jewish students to Scotland, since all English universities did require such an oath.

Students were not, however, the only Jews attracted to Glasgow, before the foundation of the Jewish community. Among them dentist and chiropodist Herman Lion who advertised in the Glasgow Advertiser, founded in 1783. Or the internationally known boxer Daniel Mendoza as well as Philip Aron, another dentist who arrived in Glasgow in 1799 from Copenhagen.

What is the reason for the relatively late and then fast development of the Glasgow Jewish community ? There is one fact in this connection that stands out : Glasgow only had some 20.000 inhabitants in 1740, but increased in population to about 84.000 within about 60 further years, developing by that time, world-wide commercial relations, in which Jews played an important part. Then, by 1870 the Glasgow population trebled to 700.000 catapulting Glasgow to being the " Second City of the British Empire ".

As Glasgow grew, so did the number of Jews, with the first reference to an actual Jewish settler in Glasgow being to a hatter by the name of Isaac Cohen who was able to be sworn in as a burgess, again without the need to take a religious oath, in 1812.

And so it is not surprising that there were a mere 11 years later enough Jews in Glasgow, to open a synagogue, located within a first floor flat at 43 high Street, near Trongate. The flat actually the home of Rabbi Moses Henry Lisenheim who also acted as the Shochet, the Ritual Slaughterer. The event was, reportedly, important enough for Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore, very respected and leading members of the British Jewish Community, to pay a visit to the new synagogue.

But Glasgow kept growing and growing. Just 7 short years later there were three Shochets in Glasgow and the flat cum synagogue arrangement no longer sufficed. Thus was built later in the nineteenth century the Garnet Hill Synagogue.

Another institution of a now more secular nature came into being in the heart of the Gorbals. It's name being simply the Jewish Institute " where somehow, although in the very heart of the Gorbals we felt very " Jewishly daheim at home as Jews ", as my friend Louise Sless put it, as her Gorbals childhood memories welled up within her. And Louise had every reason to feel this way. She was born opposite the South Portland Street Synagogue adjoining the Jewish Institute. But there is more : Louise's uncle Connie, now of Los Angeles, U.S.A., was for many years an actor with the Jewish Institute Players. Another uncle of Louise by the name of Henry, is a survivor of the Malta Convoy, for which he got the DSC. Henry also got an MBE for his services as a Junior Engineer in the merchant navy, specifically for the hazardous voyage to Murmansk. Also on Louise's late father Jack's ‘Eli) side is Louise's auntie Ray who worked for the Glasgow Jewish Welfare Board for 30 years. Moreover, to highlight the continuity of Glasgow Jewish Welfare Board for years Moreover, to highlight the continuity of Glasgow Jewish history there is Abbotsford School which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and to which Louise and quite a number of her friends went; and there is Irène who is as Glaswegian as they come, although she has been in London years Yet similar childhood memories to relate when she says : "  Nor is the Kosher Poultry Shop, founded by Irene's Bubba (grandmother), and run in conjunction with Irene's late mother, Tillie. Louise and her friends went also to Crosshill. Teens Youth Club at Belleislestreet Synagogue, in Crosshill.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Woolf Silver, as gleaned from his account entitled " My School Days ", as published by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council. From this we learn that he was born during the First World War and grew up when Hitler murdered millions of Jews and others in Europe. Yet he says while the Gorbals was a very rough and poor area he never experienced any trouble because he was a Jew-although hear-say had it, one Might in Surrey Street ! Nor was he ever afraid of being a Jew either in the Gorbals, which he left at age 9, or in the Queen's Park area which he left when his parents moved there. He also made it clear that he was never called names relating to his Jewishness, and that he learned the term " Sheeny " not in Glasgow but through his Manchester-born mother.

Woolf's account also revealed the friendliness and generosity of fellow non Jewish Scots by pointing out that the Glasgow education Board had given " on permanent loan " benches and stools to the Talmud Torah (Jewish) School in the 1960s. And that as far back as 1856 financial help came in the form of 10 percent of a sum needed form non-Jewish friends of the Glasgow Jewish Community.

Most Glasgow Jews I spoke to were born in that city, although nearly all had immigrant parents.

But there are exceptions; one of them once more reported in the Jewish Arts Anthology and published by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, telling the story of one such immigrant Glasgow resident who, born in 1925, came to this city from Budapest via Auschwitz, where most of his family were murdered, except his mother and two sisters who were saved by the hero and diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. His name is Ernest Levi and he came to contribute to the diversity that is Glasgow by becoming Chasan (Cantor) at Pollokshields Synagogue and subsequently at the Giffnock and Newlands Synagogue. He now enjoys his well-earned retirement, having witnessed fellow concentration camp inmates bleeding to death, being beaten to death, and burned to death.

Glasgow and the Gorbals may have change greatly during the span of history described. But one thing hasn't. Now as then the Scottish Community not just accepts its Jews, but can be proud of such achievers.
 
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