Glasgow’s Jewish community

The first Jews settled in Glasgow in the 1790s – predominantly Dutch and German merchants, furriers, businessmen and craftsmen, and more for economic reasons, rather than as refugees. Isaac Cohen, a hatter from Manchester, was admitted as a Freeman of the City of Glasgow in 1812.

A synagogue was set up in a tenement in the High Street about 1821, and Moses Henry Lisenheim acted as minister, Hebrew teacher, and schochet (ritual slaughterer). In 1832, a Jewish enclosure was purchased in the newly-opened Necropolis, beside the Cathedral. The community grew steadily, reaching around 800 by the opening of the showpiece Garnethill Synagogue in 1879.

In the late 19th century, thousands of Jews passed through the port of Glasgow en route for America and beyond. Others settled in the ‘Second City of the British Empire’.

A thriving centre of Jewish life grew up in the Gorbals area, where around 9,000 Jews lived by the First World War. They supported many synagogues and religious institutions, as well as social, cultural, educational, political, Zionist and philanthropic activities, and a variety of Jewish shops and businesses.

From a post-war peak of around 14,000 in the 1940s, the Jewish community of Glasgow has declined numerically in recent years, to around 4,000, and the Jews have moved out of the Gorbals into the more affluent southern suburbs.

Today, there are three synagogues, a primary school, two nursing homes and sheltered housing for the elderly, a welfare centre, facilities for those with learning difficulties, a golf club, a sports centre, a community newspaper, youth groups and a delicatessen.