The story of the great masses of Eastern European Jews who arrived in New York and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is now more than conventional history, but an ingrained narrative of American Jewry. Back on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, a similar history was unfolding on a smaller scale, only the port was Glasgow, and the tenement neighborhood that became home to multitudes of immigrants was called the Gorbals.

Until the influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews at the end of the 19th century, Scotland’s Jewish population had been quite small. Although there are reports of individual Jews who settled there prior to the 1800s, the early history of the Scottish Jewish community is marked by individuals such as Levi Marks a student at the University of Glasgow (where he was able to avoid having to swear a religious oath) and Herman Lyon, a dentist of German origin who was buried in Edinburgh. The first Jewish congregations in Scotland were founded in Edinburgh in 1816 and in Glasgow in 1823.

Similar to the story of the Russian/Eastern European Jewish migration that came to New York in the late 1800s, the Jews who came to Glasgow were often impoverished and uneducated, but dedicated to bettering their lots. As in New York, they too became peddlers and merchants and slowly built successful lives.

As immigration levelled out, the Jewish population of Scotland became more established and then slowly began to decline, particularly as many young adults left to attain a higher education abroad and did not return. Scottish Jews, however, have tremendous pride in their dual identities, as can be seen by the excitement resulting from the recent approval for, and issuing of, an official tartan* for the Jewish people of Scotland.

This Treat is in honor of Tartan Day, a North American celebration of Scottish heritages.

* “A woolen or worsted cloth woven with stripes of different colors and widths crossing at right angles, worn chiefly by the Scottish Highlanders, each clan having its own distinctive plaid” – via 

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