Scottish Council of Jewish Communites
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

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Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
Representing, connecting, and supporting Jewish people in Scotland

Jewish Identity and Belonging
at the Scottish Parliament

18 February 2014
Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish life

The Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood was the venue for a large and remarkably diverse gathering at a reception to mark the launch of the exhibition "Identity and Belonging". Award-winning documentary photographer Judah Passow's photographic study of contemporary Jewish Life in Scotland was supported by SCoJeC, with substantial funding from Creative Scotland, and was produced by former Glaswegian Michael Mail.

Parliamentary reception for "Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish Life

The reception was hosted by former Culture Minister Linda Fabiani MSP, and guests included MSPs, Ministers, representatives from many facets of civic Scotland including other faith communities, together with many members of the Jewish communities around Scotland.

Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish life

The exhibition, featuring 80 black and white photographs, is a remarkable collection of unique images, collected over the last past year as Judah travelled throughout Scotland, documenting and recording Jewish life, not only in the major centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but far beyond in more remote locations. The images include a sheep farmer in Lochgilphead, a North Sea helicopter pilot, as well as an Edinburgh kilt-maker, a Tayside distiller, and Glasgow’s purveyor of kosher haggis! Hilary Franklin, a nurse in Shetland who, we believe, is the most northerly Jew in Britain, told us that "Judah visited me on the island of Yell, where I've lived for eight years. He spent most of the day with us and I am happy to be included."

Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish Life

The warm reception given to First Minister Alex Salmond showed the appreciation of all present that he had taken time out of his very busy schedule to address the gathering. Linda Fabiani, in her introduction, spoke warmly of the contribution of the Jewish community to life in Scotland. "I absolutely love the exhibition", she said, and look forward to having a longer look when it is in New York. I'm very surprised by the wide range of subjects." Her sentiments which were echoed by the First Minister who also spoke of his pride in Scotland's reputation for tolerance, expressed as long ago as in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, which enabled Jewish people to integrate without assimilating, and to feel at home with both their Scottish and Jewish identities.

Scottish Parliament Reception: "Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish Life"

Michael Mail, who was the originator of the project, explained how it came about. He said, ‘I was looking for a way to recognise and celebrate the story of the remarkable, yet little known, Scottish Jewish community – my community. When I came across Judah Passow’s photography, I immediately realised that he had the skill, sensitivity and artistry to take on this subject and create a truly memorable piece of work, which is precisely what Judah has achieved with this exhibition.”

Judah then spoke about his travels around Scotland, from the Shetlands to the Borders, and said that he had been most impressed with the warmth and spirit of the communities and individuals he had met. He commented that ‘this project has been a real voyage of discovery across the spiritual and cultural landscape of Scotland. One of its more remarkable features is the warm, proud Jewish community that has become so tightly woven into the national fabric. I hope people looking at these photographs will see what I saw – a people deeply devoted to their heritage both as Jews and Scots.”

Scottish Parliament reception: "Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish Life

The formal proceedings concluded with a vote of thanks by Ephraim Borowski, Director of SCoJeC, who said that the exhibition was particularly timely as Judah's photographs were a visual complement to SCoJeC's recent Scottish Government funded project exploring the variety of experience of Being Jewish in Scotland. He also gave a moving example of how SCoJeC’s outreach work as part of that project had led one remote resident to revise her description of herself from “I am a community of one” to “For the first time I feel a member of a community”.

Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish Life

The evening was most enjoyable, with guests mingling in an atmosphere of warm conviviality to the accompaniment of "Kleyne Klezmer". A number of ex-pats had travelled considerable distances to attend, and one former Glaswegian, David Rosenberg, commented that "The project has been brilliantly realised by all concerned. We enjoyed a delightful occasion, set apart by the best company in auspicious surroundings. It was also a huge pleasure to meet Judah and learn a little more about the joys and challenges on his long road. We wish the project every success; its acclaim will be richly deserved."  

Identity and Belonging: a photographic exhibition of Scottish Jewish life

"I've really enjoyed the exhibition," commented Cameron Buchanan MSP, "which is excellent, and enjoyed the music of the klezmer band. It's lovely to see such a rich mix of people here," and Jamie McGrigor MSP added: "It's so nice to see such a big gathering of people here in the Parliament. It feels like a family evening."

"What a marvellous evening." said Edward Green, immediate past Chair of Edinburgh Hebrew Congretation, who summed up the general feeling about the event. "A true celebration of Jewish life in Scotland, beautifully captured by Judah Passow, with so many individual characters shining through."

The exhibition will also be shown at a number of venues in Scotland beginning with Rozelle House in Ayr from July to September 2014. The international launch is taking place at the Weill Gallery at the 92nd St Y in New York during Scotland Week.


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Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation no. SC029438