The majority of Jewish people in Scotland live in the Glasgow area, so we held a number of focus groups in various locations, including at Maccabi, at a meeting of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), at a residential care home, at both orthodox and reform synagogues, and at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (RGI), as well as manning a 'listening' table at a kosher food fair.
When we invited Glasgow members of the Association of Jewish Refugees to tell us their experiences of Being Jewish in Scotland, we heard harrowing stories about their arrival – experiences of wartime Austria and Germany, of communist Hungary, and of children having to accustom themselves to a new country, and new families. But we also heard much about the kindness of strangers. One man told us how, as a 14 year old boy, he had travelled to Glasgow alone, after his arrival in England on the Kindertransport. Without any money, and not knowing a word of English, he did not know what to do when he found there was no-one to meet him at Central Station. A Jewish taxi driver approached him, spoke to him in Yiddish and took him – at no charge – to meet his mother, who had also managed to escape to Scotland.
Another AJR member who arrived on the Kindertransport, told the group that she had been sent to live with a non-Jewish family, where "within a week the granny had me going to Sunday school: when you’re 7½ you do what you’re told to do." She had lost touch with other survivors until she was an adult, but when she was able to contact other members of the AJR, she felt an immediate bond: “I just felt they were family”.
And that bond was strengthened still further, when, as they compared notes, these two people, who had known each other for years, suddenly discovered that they had travelled to England in the same group!
At an exhibition in the RGI of drawings and sculpture of the late artist Hannah Frank, Fiona gave a talk about her aunt's Glasgow Jewish Life, which was followed by a discussion of people's experiences of Being Jewish in Scotland, jointly facilitated by the actor Ida Schuster Berkeley, who reminisced about her memories of Hannah Frank, the Glasgow Jewish Players, and Jewish life in the Gorbals.
Reminiscences were also the order of the day for residents of Westacres Care Home, who shared their memories of a time when there were large numbers of Jewish people living in the Gorbals, and it was possible to attend Jewish social events every night. They also talked about their families, and it quickly became apparent that most of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren have left Scotland.