Situated in the centre of the Southside, in the heart of Jewish Edinburgh, the life of the Jewish community before and after World War II revolved around Lurie’s butcher shop and its proprietor Joe Lurie.
The shop was established by Joe’s uncle Lewis Lurie, an immigrant from Verbolov in Suvalky gubernia, Lithuania, who had settled in Dumbiedykes in the early years of twentieth century and was then followed by Joe’s father, Abraham. Under Joe’s stewardship, the shop flourished and he made a great success of it. Joe sold kosher wines, and he also sold beer and spirits. But the shop closed when Joe retired in 1986; sadly, he couldn’t find anyone to take it over. Nowadays, kosher meat is delivered from Glasgow and Manchester.
Before World War II, there had been four kosher butchers in Edinburgh but, in due course, the others closed and Lurie’s was for many years, the kosher butcher in Edinburgh. But it was more than that ‒ it was, in many ways, the hub of the community. Joe Lurie was an extremely genial and sociable person with a twinkle in his eye. Everybody loved Joe and he certainly had his finger on the pulse.
As you will see from the photograph of the shop, Lurie’s was a butcher and poulterer. Joe would buy his meat at the meat market and his poultry from local farmers, and this would be slaughtered by a shochet, i.e. by someone qualified to slaughter animals according to shechita, i.e. in the Jewish way.
Lurie’s stocked all the regular Jewish cuts of raw and cooked meat, sold delicacies like pickled tongue, made sausages that were once judged the best sausages in Scotland, and, around the time of Burns Night (in late January) made their own kosher haggis that Joe would send out by post to customers from all over the world. All but one of the ingredients of a haggis – the sheep’s stomach, stuffed with finely chopped sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal and onion ‒ are kosher, provided the sheep is slaughtered in the prescribed way by a shochet. The one non-kosher ingredient is lard but other fat can be used instead.
Joe was extremely proud of his father, Abraham Lurie, who worked in the shop until the age of 95. If you think of cherubs as restricted to the under 5s, you need only look at Joe’s father. Abraham’s father was a butcher in Verbolov and Abraham was experienced with horses, either saddled or harness driven, which were used in their business for deliveries. Verbolov was also an intensely Zionist town.
So, when Abraham was already in Scotland and the idea of a Jewish Battalion in the British Army was mooted by Ben Gurion and Ben Tzvi, he signed up. He first saw service in Gallipoli, as part of the Zion Mule Corps, the British Army being somewhat hesitant to allow its Jewish units to fight in Palestine, lest they get ideas into their heads. He was responsible for bringing water, food and supplies to the troops under terrible conditions and rode side by side with Jabotinsky, then a war correspondent, whom he got to know well. When the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded, he was placed in the mounted section of the Transport Corps, a Jewish unit of the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, which went out as an Expeditionary Force to the Middle East under General Allenby.
For those who knew him, Abraham was a living link to Jewish history. During World War II, his sister and brother who had remained in Verbolov were murdered under the most unbelievably awful circumstances. But Abraham was proud that all four of his sons had served in the British Forces (Joe as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force and Philip as a doctor). Indeed, Philip was amongst the few doctors who, like the Lipetz brothers, not only stayed in Edinburgh following medical school in Edinburgh but also lived all his working life in the very deprived area of Craigmillar, where his GP practice was located. Abraham seemed indestructible until a bus felled him one Purim night, as he made his way home in the rain, in his late 90s.
Opposite here you can see the address 33 Buccleuch Street. The building is no longer the original which would have been more like the one we see to its left. According to the Daiches brothers (David and Lionel, sons of Rabbi Salis Daiches) Number 33, or Dray un draysik became a kind of centre of Southside Jewish life in the 1920s and 30s where one could get a minyan (the quorum of 10 Jewish men required for public prayer) by just knocking on the doors on the stair. In the Census records for 1901 and 1910 there were Jewish families there – but not quite enough for a minyan (especially as women or those under 13 would not count) – but interesting families nonetheless:
In one flat Henry/Hyman Lipitz a Jewellery traveller and his wife Lena, and their 5 children – the aunt and uncle and cousins of Sam and Julie Lipetz who we met at their consulting rooms in Roxburgh Street.
In another Chatzkie/Charles Rif(f)kind, a draper’s traveller, his wife Anne and their children Leah, Bessie, Ester, Hyman, Jacob, David, and Elijah. Elijah was the father of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former British Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland.