I am so delighted to find out about your organisation as I have always felt isolated, and it is just so good to know that the work you are doing through SCoJeC is going on.
In response to an article in the local paper, a slot on local radio, and a poster or two, eight people joined us at Kirkwall Public Library and Archives for a showing of the film Lies My Father Told Me, a kosher buffet, and a discussion of the findings of Being Jewish in Scotland. The film, set in 1920s Montreal, has had a very successful tour of Highlands and Islands Jewish communities, and we would like to thank the co-producer’s daughter for lending a copy to us.
The pre-film discussion ranged around attitudes to Jews and Judaism, and several people suggested that there is as much prejudice against Catholics, for example in cases of mixed marriages, as there is against Jews. There was also a discussion about how certain faiths have been singled out for attack.
One woman told us how her French mother and grandmother had been given just half an hour to leave their flat in Paris in 1942. They spent the rest of the war living and working under assumed names in the south of France, only to discover at the end of the war that the Mayor of the village they were living in had been well aware of their real identity, but had protected them. Others talked about having known many Jewish people before they moved to Orkney from London, Montreal, and elsewhere.
Library and Archive Manager Gary Amos, who himself has Jewish heritage, commented that "Libraries are key to education and the acquisition of knowledge, and can play a central role in helping societies to accept minority groups, and think about different religions and cultures. This leads to better informed individuals, and therefore to better civilisations and societies – they are the ideal place to be doing events like today’s."
After Orkney, Fiona travelled to Yell, a small island north of Shetland mainland, where she met up with Hilary Franklin and her son, who may be Britain's most northerly Jewish family, for an afternoon of kosher food, Jewish film, and animated discussion. We were joined by some of Hilary’s colleagues to discuss the findings of Being Jewish in Scotland, before watching the film Lies My Father Told Me.
This time discussion focussed on health and education-related issues, and people expressed shock at some things we had been told, such as teachers failing to respond appropriately to playground taunts that "the Jews killed Jesus", and medical staff being critical of parents' decision to have Jewish baby boys circumcised. Hilary told us of her difficulty in getting kosher food during a recent stay in hospital, and that her son always has to take a packed lunch to school as school lunches usually include pork.
After her interview on BBC Radio Shetland, Fiona was contacted by two more Jewish people living on Shetland, one of whom wrote:
"I am a 63-year-old guy, with a Jewish background, and have been happily living in Shetland for just over four years with my wife, a non-Jew. I haven't followed the religion for over 50 years with neither my elder brother nor I having been barmitzvah. However, I am aware of my roots and the fact that my maternal grandparents arrived in the UK in the early 1900's from Russia, having fled the pogrom there at the time. And I have seen photos of some of the relatives whom I never got a chance to know due to the holocaust. I was totally unaware that there was anyone else Jewish in Shetland, but knew of Ethel Hofman living here previously, and have a copy of her excellent book Mackerel at Midnight. I have read of your intentions for the project and wish you every success in its successful completion."