6 Millerfield Place / Sciennes Primary School

Daiches crop 2 (1)
Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches (Vilnius, Lithuania 1880 – Edinburgh 1945). Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.)

We are standing here in front of the family home of Edinburgh’s most famous rabbi, Dr Salis Daiches. Rabbi Daiches, the father of literary scholar David Daiches and advocate Lionel Daiches, took office in Edinburgh in early 1919 and remained in Edinburgh as the Rabbi until his death aged only 65 in May 1945, just before the end of World War II. An immigrant himself, his reputation was that of a unifying force, bringing together Jewish communities divided into factions of recent immigrants and established residents. And so, Salis Daiches was employed to do in Edinburgh what he had already accomplished in Hull and continued in Sunderland, namely to create one united Jewish community in Edinburgh. He succeeded, and brought both factions under one roof in the only purpose-built synagogue in Edinburgh which opened its doors in 1932 in Salisbury Road. Salisbury Road synagogue, having room for 2,000 worshippers, opened its doors as the number of Jews in the city already had begun to decline. It is still home to the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, although the community is now very much smaller than it was then.

At the end of this cul-de-sac you see Sciennes Primary School. Until the founding of Calderwood Lodge Primary School in Glasgow in 1962 there was no Jewish school in Scotland. All Jewish children attended mainstream schools, either schools run by the local authority such as Sciennes which had a large proportion of Jewish children, or private schools, such as George Watson’s College. George Watson’s was then situated just across the Meadows and directly opposite the Graham Street Synagogue, leading David Daiches to recall his embarrassment on shabbat and festival mornings when he had to cross the Meadows in his very formal Shabbat or yontef best, past his school friends playing around on the Meadows at lunchtime. From 1914 Hebrew classes for Jewish children in Edinburgh were taking place in Sciennes School on weekday afternoons, the Education Board of the city offering the facilities of the school to the Jewish community free of charge, a feat which Rabbi Daiches managed to negotiate.

Two Worlds and Was by David Daiches are remarkable works in which he demonstrates what it was like to be entirely within two cultures,, never between them. If you want to read brilliant explorations of the Scottish Jewish synthesis by the son of Rabbi Salis Daiches, then these are the books to start off with.

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