Judah Passow’s Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging And The Future

While Passow’s travels took him beyond the larger Jewish communities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Lochgilphead and even as far as the Shetlands, only with very few exceptions does the landscape figure in the photographs. It is in Scotland’s cultural symbols rather than in its geographical presence that she makes herself felt.

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Passow captures the great sense of joy, vibrancy, humour and comfort with which the Jews have embraced these symbols. There is the Jewish wedding guest with his kippa and his kilt, the piping in of the kosher haggis on Burns’ night, the Jewish golfer out on the green, a father and his two sons watching the football at Celtic Park.  The images are perhaps at their most poignant when Jewish identity impinges on a Scottish background such as the distiller with his kippa against a backdrop of whisky barrels or the Orthodox rabbi visiting the dairy to check that the milk process is properly kosher. I was particularly moved by the Highland woman leading her flock of sheep back into the farmyard for the evening, the light fading in the gloaming, a Star of David glinting from a chain against her dark sweater.  Or the menorah standing alone in the window of a Highland home.  These photographs reminded me that even for some secular Jews living in isolated rural communities, total assimilation is still resisted, the desire to cling on to the old Jewish symbols still retained.

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J. David Simons is the author of four novels, two of which are based in the Jewish community in Glasgow. His latest book, The Land Agent, is set in Palestine in the 1920s and is published by Saraband.

A touring exhibition of Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging And The Future is at Aberdeen Central Library and San Francisco’s Jewish Community Centre until December 2014.

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