A new book, written by Fiona Frank, with support from members of Lancaster University’s Continuing Learning Group, will have its Lancaster launch on Wednesday 13 February – at a group the author herself set up 12 years ago.
Fiona, who lives in Halton, will launch Candles, Conversions and Class: Five Generations of a Scottish Jewish Family, in a special question and answer session, to which all are welcome, with Continuing Learning Group member Janet Ross-Mills. The book started life as Fiona’s PhD, completed in 2012 at Strathclyde University, and it was shaped, in part, by her membership of Lancaster University’s Continuing Learning Group which evolved from the Senior Learners’ Programme, which she founded in 2006.
Fiona said, “I got loads of help from the Continuing Learning Group’s amateur – but no less expert – historian Rita Gerrard, who lives in Morecambe. She advised me on how to access information about census data and other historical records, and set up appointments for me at relevant archives offices. The Continuing Learning Group’s Research Circle provides mutual support and encouragement to people engaged on independent research, and through the years I was doing my PhD I remained involved with the group, talking about the research process and sharing my struggles!”
Candles, Conversions and Class tells the stories of Rabbi Zvi David Hoppenstein and his wife Sophia, who arrived in Edinburgh in the 1880s, and their descendants. Fiona tracked down and interviewed these descendants across the UK and as far as Cape Town.
The book launch takes place between 1 – 2 pm, on Wednesday 13 February at Lancaster University, Fylde College, Lecture Theatre 3.
Written in a lively and accessible style, the story reveals the changing nature of Scottish Jewish identity through the last century and the differing reactions of the host community to Jews across a century. It looks at the changing experiences of Jewish women, education and work, Jewish life in the home and the public sphere, and the changing experiences of antisemitism through the decades. Previous studies of Jewish immigrants to the UK have tended to ignore the experience of people on the margins, for instance, those who married out, something that this book addresses.
“The story of the Hoppenstein family recalls that of every immigrant family – with the pull of the new country clashing with the culture, traditions and language of the first immigrant generation. One third-generation son, Leslie, married a non-Jewish doctor, changed his name, moved down to England, and never told his parents that he’d got married or that they had three grandchildren. They only found out many years later when his wife contacted their family doctor asking him to let the family know that he was very ill. Leslie’s father came down to Leicester to see him. In the taxi outside the station, Leslie’s wife told his father “I’m Leslie’s doctor, but I’m also his wife and you have three grandchildren!”
Fiona interviewed Leslie’s children, who told her that they were very surprised to find that they had Jewish heritage and Jewish grandparents in Glasgow. They subsequently met their Glasgow relatives and are still in touch with them today. She carried out oral history interviews with 23 other members of five branches of the family as well as conducting ‘online’ discussion groups with the later generations. Their memories and thoughts about their identity provide fascinating reading.
“The book will interest anybody interested in oral history, Jewish history or today’s immigrant communities,” Fiona said.
Kenneth Collins, Chair of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre who have published this book, spoke at last week’s Glasgow launch of the book. He said: “I feel this book, and Fiona’s PhD, is of considerable importance – not just as a record of one particular family, but of for the universal story it tells as one couple arrive in Edinburgh at the end of the nineteenth century, and what happens as the five generations pass. Oral history tells more than you can get just from documents; – the words of people as they express the story of their lives, their opinions about their place in society and what has brought them to that particular place.“ He wrote in the introduction to the book: “Through the five generations studied every aspect of the Jewish experience in Scotland, integration and assimilation, Scottish and Jewish cultural identities, religious practice and secularisation, comes to vivid life. The use of oral history, and written documentation for the earlier period, enhances the story and gives it an endearing immediacy.”
Fiona developed a programme to involve older people within Lancaster University in 2006 and it has since involved many hundreds of older people across the district. She divides her time between Glasgow and Lancaster, where she lives in an ecological cohousing project at Halton and helps to run Halton Mill, a coworking space and events centre. Fiona’s late aunt, celebrated Glasgow artist Hannah Frank (1908-2008) married into the Hoppenstein family in 1939. Fiona is also a research affiliate at the Scottish Oral History Centre at the University of Strathclyde, and part time Projects and Outreach Manager at the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities.
Lancaster University’s Continuing Learning Group’s programme runs on Wednesdays and consists of regular Lunchtime Lectures on a range of topics.
- LANCASTER LAUNCH AND MEET THE AUTHOR Wednesday 13 February 1 – 2 pm, Lancaster University, Fylde College, Lecture Theatre 3. Fiona Frank in conversation with Janet Ross-Mills. Includes refreshments. Free.
- Candles, Conversions and Class: Five Generations of a Scottish Jewish Family is published by the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, 3 February 2019. £12.50 (early bird/presales price £10 plus p&p, from www.trybooking.co.uk/4826or from www.sjac.org.uk
- More information on the Continuing Learning Group can be found at https://seniorlearners.wixsite.com/lancaster