- Introduction:Narrative Spaces at the Margins of British Jewish Culture(s)
In April 2017, a group of scholars, engaged in the study of Jews in Britain outside of the greater London area, gathered at the University of Glasgow for a two-day intensive symposium entitled "Narrative Spaces in Scottish Jewish Culture: A Comparative Perspective."1 Our thirty-minute presentations were followed by an equal amount of discussion time. What emerged was a snapshot of British Jewish cultures and histories "at the margins" and a determination to move "the margins" to the center. Of course, what is marginal always depends on what is perceived to be central. The numerically strong, culturally productive, and religiously prolificjewish communities in British centers, such as London or Manchester, often dominate what is considered to be Jewish life in the United Kingdom; still, the comparative marginality of Jewish lives, communities, and organizations in less populated locales in Britain does not automatically suggest their irrelevance. What we discovered during the 2017 symposium is that issues of identity, belonging, Jewishness, and other national, cultural, and religious expressions are amplified in these so-called marginal contexts of Jewish life. While metropolitan communities such as London, and in a sense also Manchester, exert a pull on congregations elsewhere in the country, the priority of the most populous centers are by no means a given to those who migrated to and settled in other parts of the British Isles. Migrants and refugees came from vastly diverse Jewish communities with different models of religious authority, factors that undoubtedly had an impact on their perception of the organization of communal life. Contacts between immigrants and their contexts of origin—and their affiliations with the way stations of transmigration or on-migration—remained strong for many Jewish migrants. Thus, we can observe networks of communication that established a strong sense of [End Page 1] purpose, ambition, and belonging—culturally, socially, economically, and politically. Such networks included London, but this particular urban Jewish population and its associated institutions was not always at the center of the ties that bound Jews across Britain to one another and to Jewish communities and institutions elsewhere—whether they be in the "Old Country" or other locations across Britain, the European continent, or the wider Anglophone world.
Speaking solely of volume and scope of scholarly attention, British Jewish history in central and northern England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (north and south) has been neither sustained nor viewed in relation to other local Jewish histories elsewhere. Only in the last two decades has this changed, not least through the Southampton-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research project on "Port Jews" (2000–2005), which investigated the Jewish communities located in maritime cities in Britain and elsewhere.2 Projects such as this not only sparked a further interest in the routes of migration and economic developments enabling or generating these, but strongly contributed to the current interest in the relationships migrants retained and established between their places of origin and their various destinations. Networks of exchange (economic, cultural, and religious, to name only a few) led to the burgeoning field of transnationalism. Transnational perspectives have come to occupy a prominent place in research on Jewish migration across the Anglophone world and beyond, tracing not only the routes taken (primarily) from Europe to destinations in the New World and across the British Empire, but also homing in on multiple onward migrations from original destinations as well as travels back to Europe.3 An occupation with travel as much as with communication between various locations now pushes against a still dominant conceptualization of Jewish history along national lines, pointing to new questions regarding the formation of modern Jewish identities and cultures.
This volume, then, while focusing on religious, cultural, literary, and political issues in a range of locations in the British Isles, contributes to the study of transnational Jewish history. Shofar as a venue is a significant place for this collection, because its very location and primary audience [End Page 2] outwith Britain explicitly points to the relevance of local Jewish history to the ongoing development of Jewish historiography in an interdisciplinary setting. What is uniquely...