Harvey Kaplan is the Director of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, Glasgow.
During the period of large-scale emigration from Eastern Europe in the late 19th Century, thousands of Jews passed through Scotland, catching a ship from Glasgow to North America or further. The existing communities expanded rapidly, and new settlements were established. At its peak in the 1930s, the Scottish Jewish community of around 18,000 supported a network of synagogues and religious institutions, as well as social, cultural, educational, political, Zionist and philanthropic activities, and a variety of Jewish shops and businesses. Today, due to factors such as emigration and assimilation, there are much smaller communities in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and only tiny communities remaining in Dundee and Aberdeen.
The main source for Scottish Jewish records is the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, Garnethill Synagogue, 129 Hill Street, Glasgow G3 6UB; tel: 0141 332 4911 (open only by arrangement); website: Scottish Jewish Archives Centre. Based in Scotland’s oldest synagogue (opened 1879), the centre contains a treasure trove of material, including:
- records and correspondence relating to Jewish organisations, businesses and individuals
- synagogue and circumcision registers
- copies of the records of fifteen of the sixteen Jewish cemeteries in Scotland
- a large collection of photographs; an oral history collection; brochures, annual reports, minute books and membership lists
- back issues of Scottish Jewish magazines and newspapers (such as the Jewish Echo 1928-1992).
The centre’s Historical Database of Scottish Jewry collates and cross-references over seventy lists and sources, with records on over 28,000 Jews who lived in Scotland. This computer database, available only at the centre, is the best starting point for Scottish Jewish research.