September 12, 2014 admin


Early childhood memories have cast Scotland in a green and lovely light. I remember going to school down the Milngavie Road on a route which eventually arrives at Loch Lomond. Hills, streams and ‘the kiss of sweet Scottish rain’ have a central place in my sense of how the world should be.
I was born in Scotland for reasons loosely connected with Hitler. When my mother was eighteen, my grandparents sent her out of Germany to study in Zurich. At least one of their children would be safe from the immediate Nazi threat. When the whole family finally received permission to enter Britain, on temporary visas with a promise that they would continue on to the States, my mother was in the middle of her degree. Apparently, the only university to accept students from the Continent and credit them for courses already completed, was Glasgow. That’s why she and a group of other German-Jewish girls found themselves together on Kelvinside. Years later, after she’d obtained her PhD, made Aliyah to help establish the German Department at the Hebrew University, met my father, had my brother, and they were making plans to come back to Britain, she recommended Glasgow as ‘a place where she had friends’. Two years later I was born in Bearsden.
Once or twice each year the call of the hills still overcomes me, a longing easily transmitted to the rest of my family, and we board the train to cross the border. (‘Will we need our passports next time?’ the children ask.) Even the dog recognises those happy moments when we walk alongside the carriages at Euston and empties his bladder against every lamppost, knowing it’ll be many hours before we descend amidst fresher air and the prospect of incomparably longer walks.
On those treks it’s not rare to see in the midst of the heather and ferns the ruins of old stone walls. There are whole villages, abandoned. It’s all that remains as witness to the Highland Clearances in which thousands of people were driven from the land they’d crofted for generations in favour of the more profitable (and ecologically disastrous) sheep-farming. The history of the Clearances is complex as well as cruel. It’s often (mis?)connected with the brutal conduct of the Duke of Cumberland after his victory over Bonnie Prince Charlie at the battle of Culloden in 1746, the last real struggle for Scottish independence from England. Whatever the details, the broken byres and crofts testify to what the financial aspirations of the distant rich can do to the lives of the poor. It’s not surprising that in the far north we saw many signs this summer bearing the one word, ‘Yes’.
Does the Torah have anything to teach about the Scottish Referendum? (On my children’s advice I resisted the temptation to tweet: ‘Vote ‘No’ and oppose the two-state solution’. ‘It’ll only be misunderstood’, they said, wisely). The only reference I can find in the prayer-book is the High Holyday plea asking God to direct our hearts so that ‘we all form agudah achat,one union, to do your will with a perfect heart’. That notwithstanding, there’s no evidence that Judaism would define either voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ as a mitzvah or a transgression. The blessing for the Torah which describes God as asher bachar banu, ‘who chose for us’ can thus be claimed by neither side.
Nevertheless the whole affair makes me sad. There’s always tension between our need for commonality and our desire to be different. The renewed engagement with roots and tradition is a positive response to the levelling and dulling effects of globalisation. We don’t want to be stripped of our right to be different and to live as who we are, not as part of someone else’s empire, commercial, religious or territorial. But is the creation of new borders the only way this can be achieved?
A leading question facing not just Scotland but humanity is whether we have the creativity, sensitivity and imagination to foster both our commonalities and our differences and allow them both to deepen our humanity?

Get in touch...