Kosher Haggis. A bridegroom wearing a kilt at his wedding. Jewish and Muslim students learning Torah together. A menorah in a sheep farmer’s front window.
All are typical of Jewish life in Scotland and just a few of the subjects of a photographic display presented by the Atlantic Jewish Council that opened Dec. 2 in Halifax.
Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging and the Future is the title of a show by documentary photographer Judah Passow, who spent a year capturing, in 80 black-and-white images, Scotland’s Jewish community, from small villages to major cities.
Passow, raised in Philadelphia and New York and a 1971 graduate of Boston University, is based in London, where he photographs for American and European magazines and newspapers. For this showing, he culled 80 images from almost 13,000 frames.
The Scottish Jewish connection
British author Michael Mail, who grew up in Glasgow, met Passow during one of the latter’s exhibitions and asked him to pursue the Scottish Jewish connection. The exhibit debuted at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in February 2014 and has since travelled throughout Scotland and to the United States, where it just concluded showings in New York and Boston before coming to Halifax, its first Canadian stop. Earlier this year, it was also shown at the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum in Lithuania.
Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, who was in Halifax for the Canadian debut, was accompanied to the podium by a traditional bagpiper.
“Michael Mail contacted me two years ago about the exhibit, wanting a Canadian tour,” she said. “There is a unique and special interest to have it here first in Nova Scotia [Latin for New Scotland], so we made arrangements. It will go to Toronto in the spring [to the Miles Nadal JCC]. We hope to show it in other centres, too, but nothing has been confirmed yet.”
Passow’s pictures show Jewish life from north to south in Scotland, where there has been Jewish life since at least the 17th century, according to Mail’s research. Jews became the largest non-Christian minority as the population grew to about 16,000 at its highest point. It now numbers about 5,800.
“They [Jews] made significant contributions,” Mail has written, “as scientists, doctors, judges, members of Parliament, artists, writers, farmers, foresters, kilt makers and even whiskey distillers.”
The Halifax Jewish community and others attending the opening saw photos of a woman in the Shetlands poring over a Jewish cookbook for a special recipe; a man demonstrating blowing the shofar at an Aberdeen shul, the northernmost synagogue in the British Isles; university students in St. Andrews celebrating at an annual fundraising event, the Matzoh Ball; a kilted groom being hoisted high above the crowd by his groomsmen; Mark’s Deli in Glasgow where, twice a month, a delivery of kosher food is distributed through an Orthodox synagogue; a menorah in a sheep farmer’s house in Lochgilphead; a seder in Glasgow; women preparing kosher haggis for Robbie Burns Night at a Reform shul in Glasgow; and a man examining a suit at Jewish-owned Slater’s in Glasgow, recorded by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest menswear store in the world.
The exhibit will be at the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax until Dec. 20. It will be stored until early spring and then forwarded to Toronto.