We too belong to Glasgow

By Jenni Frazer, March 12, 2009

It will come as a surprise to most Glaswegian Jews that they are “epiphytic”. Not being familiar with the term, I discovered it refers to air plants, or parasites: that which has no discernible means of support, but lives off other entities.

I rather hope this is not what Piers Dudgeon had in mind when he gave his attention to the Jews of Glasgow in his enjoyable social history, Our Glasgow, Memories of Life in Disappearing Britain (Headline, £12.99).

The author of a previous book in the genre, Our East End, Dudgeon has hit on the winning formula of allowing the history of a place to reverberate through the voices of its citizenry. For Our Glasgow, he considers a place which was, as he puts it, born out of riot, revolution and massive immigration.

Built, as we were always reminded at school, on seven hills — “just like Rome, girls!” — Glasgow inspires a unique affection from its inhabitants, even those who have long shaken the dust of Giffnock and the South Side from their shoes.

Its Jewish population began to drift into the city towards the end of the 19th century. In 1879, they founded the first purpose-built synagogue in Scotland, Garnethill: “so many Jewish people joined them in the 1890s and the early decades of the 20th century that, soon, more than half the pupils at the Gorbals Primary School were children of Jewish parents”. Many, notes Dudgeon, who found their way to Glasgow had bought tickets from the Pale of Settlement in the belief that they were going to America.

The Jews form a tantalisingly small but colourful and often comic part of the book. Glasgow Jewry’s heyday may have long come and gone, but there are some lovingly preserved memories here.

Last updated: 11:48am, March 31 2009