Few people could fairly be claimed as a favourite by both Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan. And yet 250 years after his birth in rural Ayrshire, the power of the poet Robert Burns still resonates, making him the ideal fund-raising vehicle for Glasgow’s Jewish expatriates.
The self-explanatory charity committee, Glasgow Girls in London, got together two years ago to raise money for education and welfare charities in their home city.
This year, it celebrated Burns Night in a more spacious venue — Finchley Synagogue’s Kinloss Suite — where 200 tartan devotees thrilled to the skirl of the pipe and the steam of the (kosher) haggis, raising over £10,000 in the process.
Guests settled themselves on trestle tables — in the grand tradition of Burns Night suppers — each named after an iconic staging-post in Glasgow Jewry’s collective memory bank. One was called Geneen’s, after the legendary but now defunct kosher restaurant; another, Coplaw Street, recalled the one-time home of the Glasgow Jewish Welfare Board.
Scottish Secretary and Eastwood, Renfrewshire, MP Jim Murphy chaired the evening. To evident amusement he announced that there were now officially more Burns Night suppers in England — 1,011 to be exact — than in the poet’s home country to mark the 250th anniversary. This at least was taken in by the large number of English spouses who had not understood a word uttered by Jeremy Freedman, fresh down south from Glasgow, as he recited Burns’ Address to a Haggis before plunging a large carving knife into the dish.
Guests also heard retired lawyer Ross Harper raise memories of old Glasgow, were convulsed by the dry wit of European lawyer Tom Usher — a fair poet himself — cheered at the reply on behalf of the “Lasses” by actress Maureen Beattie, and joined in with increasingly drunken gusto to Howard Brodie’s rendition of I Belong to Glasgow and Five Hundred Miles. There was just time for a quick Gay Gordons.
Finchley Synagogue, it was generally agreed, had seen nothing like it.