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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Exhibition to reveal Capital’s Jewish history (Scotland)

Jewish soldiers outside the Capitals Graham Street synagogue in 1917. Picture: contributed

A UNIQUE exhibition is set to reveal the history of the Capital’s Jewish population for the first time.

Edinburgh Jews, a free exhibition based at the National Library of Scotland, aims to reveal what little is known about the community which dates back to the 17th century.

Researchers from Edinburgh University’s Jewish Studies, Schools of Divinity and Architecture and the Department of Cultural Studies have brought together several displays which combine historic maps, personal recollections, paintings, drawings and photographs.

Around three million Jews migrated from their homelands between 1881 and 1914 in the search for a better life in the west.

Of these, 120,000 came to the UK, with a “significant number” settling in Edinburgh and initially taking up work such as picture framers and jewellers.

They prospered and set up Scotland’s first synagogue, in North Richmond Street, in 1817, after settling in areas such as Leith, Dalry and Causewayside.

Detailed topographical mapping has identified homes, places of work, types of professions and public spaces which have been used to track the movement and slow decline of the community which was down to around 1500 Jews in 1949.

The exhibition’s co-curator, Jane McArthur, said the first Jew settled in Edinburgh in 1641 and the first group lived in the Canongate in the 1790s.

“There’s lots of sites in Edinburgh where you can still recognise the earliest community and as part of this exhibition we decided to approach and link this history in the city,” she said.

“Things have not changed dramatically – we can still find traces in the city and we have different maps which show you names and address which is particularly special for people who know Edinburgh and can recognise the places.”

Despite being quite a small community, Miss McArthur said the Jews fitted in well and 153 joined up to fight in the First World War – even wearing kilts as they went into battle.

The exhibition – which is part of the Fringe and runs from August 1 until September 5 – has been funded by the university’s College of Humanities and Social Science Challenge Investment Fund 2012 and its Research Network in Jewish Studies.

Dr Hannah Holtschneider, senior lecturer in Jewish Studies, said: “Nobody has done an exhibition outside the Jewish community before. I think in many ways it’s a typical Jewish immigration story, but what has changed for me is that the city changes stand out – you can be walking through the streets with a new historical awareness.”

Chris Fleet, senior map curator at the National Library, said the venue was fitting as it was located in the “heart of the former Jewish community”.

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