High up on Hill Street overlooking Glasgow’s valley…
stands a proper and prominent synagogue, as if telling all concerned, that the Jews of Glasgow are here to stay, and equally deserving of a splendid house of worship to celebrate Shabbat and festivals that can easily compete with a host of surrounding Anglican and Roman churches.
The Garnethill Synagogue is Scotland’s oldest, built between 1879 and 1881 with flourishes of Romanesque Revival on the outside,
and Byzantine Revival architecture on the inside…
leading to a grand sanctuary…
once defined by an Orthodox tradition of seating women upstairs, apart from men who prayed downstairs.
But that edict has changed at Garnethill Synagogue for a different reason: there’s simply not enough of a remaining congregation to fill the seats. Men and women are now reunited downstairs, but (thank God) still segregated by sitting on opposite sides, gaining entry through separate doors.
Harvey Kaplan delights in telling me the story of Jewish immigration to Scotland.
For the past 11 years, Harvey has actively advocated for the past. He leads the charge as the director of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, an adjunct to the Garnethill Synagogue, working to make Scottish Jewish heritage relevant to a shrinking Scottish Jewish community that now favors bigger Jewish population centers in Manchester and London.
His vision will soon reach fruition thanks to a grant and remodel to be finished by 2020.
I had contacted Harvey earlier in anticipation of my efforts to research of my mother’s journey as a girl through Britain during the Holocaust.
After a tour of the sanctuary, we got down to business. Harvey’s mission to preserve the nation’s Jewish identity became clearer to me as I reflected on my drive to Haddington and Polton earlier in the day.
Before my appointment, I first stopped at Whittingehame House–
–one-time residence of Lord Balfour, Prime Minister, statesman,
and architect of the monumental Balfour Declaration, which granted homesteading rights to Jews in Palestine after Middle Eastern maps were redrawn following WW1.
In the wake of Jewish children seeking refuge in Britain to escape the Nazi scourge, Lord Balfour’s nephew and heir, Viscount Traprain, offered his home and its extensive grounds, surrounded by twisted yew trees,
as a farm school from 1939 to 1941 for teenaged refugees interested in making Aliyah to an Israeli kibbutz in the near future.
I became aware of the change to the estate when I noticed an online ad (https://www.onthemarket.com/details/3579306) detailing a ground floor, 4-bedroom flat with an asking price of £1,850,000. But still, I had to see it for myself.