|“My Great-grandfather was a Red-haired Rabbi from Omsk”: Nostalgia for the Past in a Scottish Jewish Family|
|This paper is based on my doctoral research with five generations of an extended Scottish Jewish family, and examines how nostalgia for a possibly non-existent, sweeter, past was reflected in different ways in the oral history life story interviews that I conducted with members of the third and fourth generations of the family. The first immigrants were a rabbi and his wife, Zvi David and Sophia Hoppenstein, who travelled from the Polish/Lithuanian border to Edinburgh in 1882. Several branches of the family still maintain the orthodox Judaism of these first immigrants. Other branches practise a secular Judaism; still others have married non-Jews, and their children and grandchildren have been brought up largely without links to Judaism – though some of those children have chosen to explore their Jewish heritage as adults.
In this paper I suggest that the way in which interviewees discussed their childhood memories of Jewish festivals, prayers, songs, and food has as much to do with nostalgia as with religious practice. I also argue that the cycle of the Jewish festival year, annually recalling previous family occasions with their associated smells and rituals, promotes the production of nostalgia and therefore promotes a desire in its participants to continue the traditions and thus reproduce these same feelings in their children.
As well as in the perpetuation of religious tradition, nostalgia also arises in the interviews in other aspects of links to the past. Although the original family name is now lost, several of the third, fourth and fifth generation children have been given the middle name ‘Hope’ which provides a connection to their immigrant ancestors. Several of the oral history interviews included references to treasured artefacts that had been handed down from unknown grandparents and great-grandparents, long-lost toys they had played with in grandparents’ houses, or half-forgotten portraits of unknown ancestors. And some informants recalled the smells and sounds of the parents’ and grandparents’ workplaces with a similar nostalgic longing to that in which others recalled the Cantor singing at the synagogue.
In this paper, then, I will argue that feelings of nostalgia for the past are part of the reason why Judaism continues to be transmitted to the future generations; and that the holding on to photographs, artefacts, memories and the vestige of old family names, are strongly linked to this nostalgia for past generations.|