In a pleasant respite from the recent stormy weather, the sun came out to give a warm welcome (with a bit of help from a blazing wood stove) to SCoJeC's latest literary event in Rugman's Hall in Dumfries, That Reminds Me Of A Story, with prize-winning author, historian, and Yiddishist, Ellen Galford.
Around 20 people from south-west Scotland and beyond were entertained as Ellen described her family's journey from Eastern Europe to New York at the beginning of the twentieth century, and her own rediscovery of Yiddish after she settled in Scotland. The different cultural attitudes of "Litvaks" (Jews from Lithuania and north eastern Europe) and those from central Europe featured in a series of amusing reminiscences and anecdotes to illustrate some of her favourite Yiddish words, such as keynaynhora (said to avoid tempting fate), ongepatchket (over-embroidered), and tchatchkes (knickknacks).
Many of these stories rang a bell with others, and after a break for SCoJeC's now traditional kosher buffet of smoked salmon and bagels, several members of the audience told their own stories, some of them inspired by their own tchatchkes. A number of participants said they were not Jewish, but were drawn to attend the event because they felt an affinity with Jewish people, with one person drawing analogies between Ellen's stories and aspects of Scottish life and language. Another spoke about how her family had hidden Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust, which led to a brief discussion of why people hide their Jewish identity even in Scotland today, and how it is the third generation who are now rediscovering and celebrating their identity.
Three members of the audience spoke about how they, or members of their families, had only discovered that they were Jewish or had Jewish heritage late in life when an elderly relative had revealed this family secret. One man who said his son-in-law didn't find out that he is Jewish till he was in his 30s took recent issues of Four Corners to give him. Since one of SCoJeC's aims is to connect Jewish people in Scotland, even though it was sad to hear this, it was good to learn that our events help achieve this.
A good time was had by all, and participants told us they were looking forward to our next event in the area. One thanked us for including her in the event, and said it made her feel that storytelling should be part of the national curriculum, while another described the event as "Lovely, just lovely".
We are grateful to Netherlee and Clarkston Charitable Trust, Jewish Renaissance, and European Days of Jewish Culture and Heritage, for their support for this event, and to St Bride's Church (Ltd) for providing the venue.