Giffnock Jewish History - part 1

How it all began

The origins of Giffnock & Newlands Synagogue go back to 1932 when Lazarus Cram came to live in the Giffnock area with his mother-in-law Mrs. Pollock. She wanted to spend Yomtov in Giffnock. Realising that he would need to find a minyan, he approached his neighbour Mr. Benson and asked if he would help him find enough men willing to carry out the High Festival services at his home. He immediately agreed and the two men set out one evening walking and knocking on every Jewish door they could find in the Giffnock area until eventually they found ten willing men. An advert publicising that the High Festival services would be held in Mr. Cram’s house at Briarlea Drive was placed in the “Jewish Echo” and he was delighted when so many more men than expected turned up. After that, a working committee was formed and with the help of the police they were given the use of the Girl Guides Hall in Church Road where future services for the High Festivals were held for several years until the first Shul was built in 1938.

By 1934, the Giffnock community had grown to such an extent that it became necessary to have somewhere to hold daily services. With the help of the police once more, a room in the Giffnock Police Court House was made available and daily services and Shul meetings were held there until 1938. Jack Gordon acted as President during these years. The High Festival services continued to be held in the Girl Guides Hall and were conducted by Rev Jacob Vainstein who was later to become the first minister.

Meanwhile a suitable site for the building of a synagogue had to be found and a sub-committee consisting of L Benson, E Naftalin, J Gordon, M Abramson, J Lewis, N Katz, E Levitus and J Markson was formed for this purpose. They inspected several local sites and investigated the costs. Fund-raising events were organised at every opportunity and in 1935 a ladies committee was formed by Mrs C Markson and Mrs E. Silverstone for this purpose. Donations for the building fund were given by members of the community and the seat rent in 1936 of £1.1/- per head and £2.2/- per family, payable in advance for the year, also helped towards the project.

In 1937, a site at May Terrace was considered and the Council agreed that this would be a suitable site on which to build a synagogue. An offer of £5,000 was submitted and duly accepted by the solicitors of Giffnock Estates. Plans for a single storey structure were passed by the Dean of Guild Court and building began in June 1938 with a completion date of September of the same year. The builders finished the Shul in time for Rosh Hashanah. The foundation stone was laid on 14th August, 1938 by E Levitus in recognition of his hard work on behalf of the community. He had been mainly responsible for ensuring that building went according to plan and was invited to become the President of the first purpose built synagogue. The official opening was set for Sunday 18th September, 1938 and 180 invitations were sent out. The synagogue was opened by Solomon Wolfson, J.P. and the service was conducted by Rev Hershaw assisted by the Garnethill Choir. After the service, refreshments were provided in the Tudor Halls in Fenwick Road.


In 1935, following a census of all the children in the district it was decided to set up a Cheder. A public meeting at the Court House, addressed by the Rev Dr I K Cosgrove, was called and this resulted in 24 pupils enrolling for Hebrew classes. Lessons formally began on 2nd December 1935 at the Court House, but shortly thereafter the Cheder moved to Giffnock School where they were given the use of two classrooms. Teachers were provided by the Glasgow Talmud Torah who were interviewed and selected by Rev Cosgrove. Fees per term were 2/- for one child, 3/6 for two and 4/6 for three children of the same family.

The First Synagogue

The first minister to be appointed to Giffnock & Newlands congregation was Rev Jacob Vainstein who had conducted the services during the High Festivals since 1934. He was the son of the Minister of Queen’s Park Synagogue and remained with the congregation until he went to Israel in 1945. He was appointed Headmaster of the Cheder in 1943 on the retiral of the then headmaster, Mr Zwebner.

It was a difficult time during the war years with so many of the members away on active service, but in spite of this the community continued to grow and rallied round in times of need by welcoming Jewish soldiers stationed in the Giffnock area to the Synagogue and offering them hospitality over the High Festivals and Pesach. In 1941 they received a letter from the H.Q. of the Polish Army Corps asking that Giffnock Synagogue be a collection centre for parcels of clothing for the Russian refugees. They were only too pleased to be of assistance. After the war, Rev Vainstein left Giffnock to settle in Israel and a farewell reception for him was held in the Tudor Halls. The following year in 1946, Rev A L Rubinstein came to Giffnock from Clarkston Shul and an induction ceremony officiated by Dayan Swift of London was held in his honour followed by a reception held in the Tudor Ballroom at a charge of 5/- per person. As Principal of the Cheder, he was highly regarded, ensuring that the standard of education was very high, ably assisted by his capable teaching staff. He was given leave of absence in 1947 to go to Gateshead to study for his Rabbinical Diploma. During this time the running of the Cheder was taken over by Isaac Madisky who was subsequently made Headmaster in 1949, a post he held for over 30 years.

Membership continued to grow and by 1947 there were 550 members and a Synagogue with a seating capacity of only 400. The Guide Hall in Orchardhill Church had to be rented once again to accommodate the overflow services for the High Festivals. Building restrictions were still in force after the war and planning permission for a large communal hall with extra classrooms to accommodate the increasing number of children was refused at that time. Sam Barclay organised the building of a wooden hut, comprising a communal hall and three classrooms, at a cost of £2,300. This provided for the needs of the Cheder which now had 120 children on their roll with a large waiting list.

Ladies Guild

Rebbetzin Rubinstein set up a Ladies Guild shortly after her arrival in 1946 in order to raise money for the building fund. As an offshoot of the Ladies Guild, a weekly sewing group was formed at a charge of 2/- per person, the proceeds of which went towards the building fund. At the end of their first financial year, the committee, under the leadership of Mrs Lily Hill, had raised over £400 through sheer hard work. The classrooms and youth centre were completed in 1949. The foundation stone was laid by Myer Newman in recognition of his great interest and support of the Cheder, and on Sunday 18th September 1949, Sam Barclay was given the privilege of opening the new building. It was attended by 250 people and a reception followed in the Tudor Halls.


In 1949, Bertie Rubin was appointed Shammos, a post he held for 35 years until February 1986 when he officially retired. He was well-known for his impeccable memory, never having to refer to a book for Hebrew names when calling up men for an aliyah. A Shabbat Kiddush was held in his honour on his retiral.

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