Ask any Scot to complete the sentence “I belong…” and the immediate answer will be: “I belong to Glasgow, and Glasgow belongs to me”. What is true of the general population equally applies to Scottish Jewry. There is pride and passion about being a Jew and a Glaswegian.
However, two-thirds of what was once a 15,000 population now reminisce from a distance — usually London, Manchester or Tel Aviv.
Many people in Leeds tell the story of their forebears’ supposed exodus from eastern Europe to Yorkshire.
Fleeing Russian persecution, they boarded boats in the belief that they were bound for New York. But rather than seeing the Statue of Liberty, they alighted to the very different skyline of Hull, going on to Leeds to work in the clothing mills.
Whatever the veracity of the tale, Leeds became home to Britain’s third largest Jewish community, flourishing first in Chapeltown and latterly in the more affluent suburbs of Moortown and Alwoodley.
Plans for a Jewish school could be the salvation of south London Jewry, where congregations are struggling to combat dwindling memberships and an exodus of the young.
Around 13,000 Jews live in the area, making up eight per cent of the capital’s population. With no Jewish schools, kosher shops and few other services available to the community, many young couples move to north London once they have children.
A Jewish primary is seen as a means of stemming the tide, along with a recruitment drive for younger families and students.
Difficult decisions lie ahead for Manchester’s Jewish community at a time of enormous demographic change. Yet green shoots of renewal and reinvention are evident in the UK’s second-largest Jewish centre.
Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein, a key figure in the 25,000-strong Jewish community, says a crucial educational issue is sustaining two mainstream primaries, given the declining applications to the King David and Bury and Whitefield schools.
Once the natural settling place for Jews moving from their original East End homes, Redbridge Jewry is engaged in a fight for survival.
Younger members are migrating in large numbers to the major north London and Hertfordshire centres for social, family or employment reasons. Others have moved further out into Essex to the more expensive properties of Chigwell, leaving once thriving synagogues in decline. Kosher shops have shut and Jewish schools are struggling to fill places.