I wonder if you know that Scotland has been home to a dynamic Jewish community for 400 years. Or, that there was such a thing as a Jewish Kilt or Kosher Haggis. Below are some interesting tidbits about the long Jewish history in Scotland (from Aish.com):
- A Minyan in Prison: One of the earliest Scottish Jews was an aristocratic convert: Lord George Gordon, who was arrested in 1788 on charges of defaming Marie Antoinette and sentenced to five years in prison. There, he continued his religious observance: he hung a mezuzah on his cell door, ate and drank only kosher food and wine, prayed daily with a tallis and Tefillin, and was allowed to pray with a minyan – ten men – on Shabbat.
- Settling in Scotland: Most Scottish Jews arrived in the 1890s, when Scottish shipping companies were active in transporting Jewish passengers from Eastern Europe to America. Thousands of passengers were routed through Glasgow and when they arrived, many Jewish immigrants decided to cut their journeys short, settling in Scotland instead of New York.
- Inventing Lox: When Jews began immigrating to Britain in large numbers in the late 1800s, they took their traditions of smoking and brining fish as a way to preserve and imbue flavor with them. British Jews soon discovered the flavorful wild salmon native to Scotland. The Jewish immigrants called their smoked salmon “lachs” from the Yiddish word for salmon, and their invention soon spread to Jewish communities around the world – as well as to Scotland itself, where smoked salmon is now considered a national dish.
- Jewish Kilts: The Jewish Telegraph, a local Scottish newspaper, approached a leading kilt-maker and asked them to come up with three possible tartans to represent Scotland’s Jews. Designs had to conform not only to Scottish tradition, but also to Jewish law: that meant no mixing wool and linen fibers, which the Torah forbids. A blue-and-white tartan that echoes both the blue and white of Israel’s flag, and the Saltire, the national flag of Scotland was created.
- Kosher Haggis: Glasgow caterer, Doreen Cohen, is the world’s only purveyor of kosher haggis, the Scottish national dish consisting of sheep’s “pluck” (organs), mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, and consumed each year on January 25 as the centerpiece in Burns Night Suppers, commemorating the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Despite its proud history and vibrant community, the Jews of Scotland have felt more insecure in recent years. Many younger Jews have left; the community is now estimated at 7,000-8,000, with most Scottish Jews living in Glasgow. In August 2014, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities called on national bodies to recognize growing levels of anti-Semitism in the country.
Want to learn Scottish-Jewish culture? This month, in our Bodzin Gallery, check out our newest exhibit: "Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging and the Future” produced by Michael Mail and sponsored by David Bruce Smith. Read more about the exhibit, containing photography by Judah Passow, art glass by Varda Avnisan, and pottery by Susan Fox-Hirschmann.