London-domiciled Glaswegian Michael Mail wanted to do something to “recognise and celebrate the Scottish Jewish story”. Then he came across the work of award-winning photographer Judah Passow and knew he had found the answer.
Passow spent last year visiting major and remote Scottish locations to shoot a pictorial record of Jewish life. The result is an exhibition, Identity and Belonging, which will be launched in the presence of First Minister Alex Salmond at a reception at the Scottish Parliament later this month. True to Mail’s vision of spreading the word about the community, the 80 photos will have their first proper exhibit in New York as part of a “tartan week” before a showing on home ground at the Rozelle House Galleries in Ayr. The images will also be showcased in a book being published in the summer.
The project has been supported by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and Creative Scotland (formerly the Scottish Arts Council), which made a significant contribution to the £90,000 budget. As word got around, plentiful suggestions were made for potential subjects. In the event Passow — whose 2008 book Shattered Dreams looked back at 25 years of covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — travelled considerably beyond the main centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh to places such as Aberdeen, St Andrews, Dundee, the Shetlands and Skye.
Mail reports that subjects include “a Jewish chemist who works in the whisky industry as a tester [for its purity], a helicopter pilot who flies out of Aberdeen to oil rigs and a sheep farmer in the middle of nowhere”. And what Scottish pictorial collection would be complete without a shot of a kilted guest at a wedding celebration.
Passow says he found a “warm, proud Jewish community that has become so tightly woven into the national fabric. I hope people looking at these photos will see what I saw — a people deeply devoted to their heritage both as Jews and Scots.”