While individual Jews were living and working in Glasgow from the end of the 18th century a Jewish community was only established in the city in 1823. Numbers grew slowly in the following decades as Jews were attracted to Glasgow by opportunities for trade and commerce in the rapidly growing city. In 1858 a synagogue for 200 worshippers opened in George Street, replaced in 1879 by the Garnethill Synagogue, an imposing Victorian building, which gave evidence of the community’s growing strength and permanence in the city.
The Jewish community in Glasgow grew rapidly after 1880. Persecution and economic hardships in Russia were impelling millions of Jews to migrate westwards towards the Americas. Thousands of Jews arrived in Glasgow and in many other major cities in Britain and Western Europe. A large Yiddish speaking community developed in the Gorbals with numerous synagogues, educational and welfare bodies, and kosher butchers, bakers and delicatessens. A milieu was created similar to the society left behind in Eastern Europe.
At first Jews were involved in such trades as tailoring and furniture making but the children of the immigrants quickly took advantage of educational opportunities and by 1914 there were around 12,000 Jews in Glasgow with the beginnings of a professional group, mostly in medicine. Jewish integration in Glasgow was aided by earlier groups of Jewish immigrants and by a city council willing to help the newcomers as refugees from persecution with the potential to give much to their adopted city. The challenge to the newcomers was to maintain their distinctive religion and culture while playing their full part in Glasgow's civic life.
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