Storytelling was the theme of SCoJeC's event, which was held in the tiny but welcoming Scottish Highlands, Islands, and Moray Chinese Cultural Association (SHIMCA). The backdrop of the Black Isle, outside SHIMCA's tall windows, set the scene for a fascinating afternoon of stories, songs, and reminiscences, organised by SCoJeC as part of B'nai Brith UK's European Days of Culture program.
As guest George Barlow, who had driven up from Glasgow, explained, when Jewish immigrants arrived in Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century, they set up Jewish communities wherever they could find a way of making a living. His own relative, Isaac Finkelstein, settled in Inverness, eventually owning the Jeweller and Watchmaker business that still bears his name.
Novelist Ellen Galford has devoted herself to recording Jewish oral history, particularly from the generation who lived through the epoch-making events of the 20th Century. In 2016–2017, to mark the bicentenary of the Scottish Jewish Community, Ellen, together with musician Phil Alexander of Moshe's Bagel, put together an audio-visual show charting the history of the community. This show uses the words of people who had lived through them these times, including Scots-born Abe Rabstaff who became Scotland's oldest man at 106, and Marianne Laszlo, a Hungarian Holocaust Survivor who only arrived in Edinburgh in the late 1960s, and whose story was very similar to that of Kathy Hagler, one of the participants in the event, who was only a baby when Hungary was occupied by the Nazis.
Ellen, who has a passion for Yiddish, read extracts from her book, Yiddish Lost and Found – Eavesdropping on the Ancestors which she wrote to celebrate the New York Yiddish of her family. It was certainly not just in New York that the ladies would say 'Kanahoro, poo poo poo' in order to protect a pretty baby from the evil eye, and Ellen soon had everyone laughing with recognition of a shared past.
Vivi Lachs, author of Whitechapel Noise, told us about her researches into the little-known world of Yiddish Music Hall around the turn of the twentieth century. She has a large collection of publications from that time, and introduced us to a group of little known ballad writers. The songs of such as Morris Winchesky and Joseph Marcovitch reflected the social conditions of poor Jewish immigrants to the East End at a time when the Board of Guardians would only support men, not women, and only then after they had been in London for at least 6 months. Vivi sang a number of the songs for us without accompaniment.
Click here to watch Vivi perform one of her songs.
We are grateful to Netherlee and Clarkston Charitable Trust for supporting this event.