The Jewish anarchists fighting to save Langside synagogue

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How a diverse Jewish community is fighting to save the area's synagogue

For decades after it opened in 1927, Langside Synagogue was a hub for a vibrant Jewish community in the southside of Glasgow.

But as Jewish residents moved away, congregations dwindled and it closed its doors for the final time five years ago.

Now a new diverse Jewish community has moved into the Govanhill area intent on saving the building from redevelopment by its new private owners.

In the absence of a dedicated place of worship, they have been holding religious services in their homes.

And they are campaigning for the reopening of the synagogue, near Queen's Park, which they fear will be converted into flats.

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Members of the Jewish community in Govanhill hold services in their homes and outside the synagogue

Standing outside the synagogue

"My hair is wet right now because we were just outside the synagogue singing and being present in that space. And we can't go inside," said Morgan Lev Edward Holleb, who lives in Govanhill.

Morgan is a member of Irn-Ju, a Jewish collective based in Scotland which represents many diverse strands of Judaism.

They describe themselves as an "anarchist diasporist Jewish collective" and their membership reflects a wide range of Jewish background and culture, age and identity.

Like other Jewish communities, they celebrate shabbos on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, havdalah on Saturday evenings, and Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Yom Kippur.

However, the practicality of hosting these services in their homes is a burden they don't want, particularly when a former synagogue is lying empty in their area.

The group said holding these services is "intimate, but ultimately highlights that we don't have a for-purpose space to practise our Judaism".

They jointly added: "The fact that there is a synagogue which we could use so close to us - but which we are denied from using - is painful."

'More than simply surviving and existing'

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Morgan Lev Edward Holleb and other Jewish people from Govanhill hold weekly services in their homes

Many of the members of Irn-Ju are queer, and the community they have formed allows them to celebrate both their faith and their identities.

Morgan sees religion and trans identity as acts of resistance, particularly when anti-Semitism and trans-related hate crimes are on the rise.

But Morgan added: "We strive for more than simply surviving and existing. All the things we're doing to keep Jewish communal life thriving, in the same way that I'm also trying to keep queer life thriving, also bolsters that resistance."

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A havdalah service celebrated in a living room of a flat in Govanhill

Like the Sikh Gurdwara temple in Pollokshields, which regularly helps the local community, Irn-Ju believe the synagogue should be used not only as a religious site but as an "inclusive resource for the wider community".

Members of the group cite "gemilus khasidim", acts of kindness which they say are an important Jewish ethical value, and which provide the rationale for using the building as a community centre and synagogue.

A unique synagogue

Image source, Scottish Jewish Archives Centre
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The interior of Langside Synagogue, taken in 2005

All that remains of the Langside Synagogue is the building, one of only two Eastern European-style synagogues in the UK.

It has a "traditional immigrant shul interior" with decorative details, woodcarving and wall-painting in a folk-art style that was similar to synagogues in Poland, Ukraine, and Romania, according to the South Glasgow Heritage Environment Trust.

A short distance from the Gorbals, once a centre of Jewish life in Glasgow, the synagogue suffered as the community declined and moved in the 1970s.

But the Jewish people in Govanhill now, and others across Scotland connected by the Irn-Ju group, believe a viable community once again exists in the area - they said 50 people attended a local Yom Kippur ball in October.

What could happen to the synagogue?

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Joe Isaac, and other members of Govanhill's Jewish community, want access to the old synagogue for their religious services

Nearby Queen's Park synagogue was closed in 2002 and was later developed into residential flats.

The community is concerned that Langside Synagogue could meet a similar fate.

Joe Isaac, who lives in Govanhill after moving from Huddersfield, said there is "a resurgent Jewish community in Glasgow and in Govanhill that needs a space, that are hosting shuls in their living rooms, that are dying for a permanent site like that. One that is beautiful like that and made for a Jewish community".

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Irn-Ju held a Yom Kippur ball, attended by more than 50 people

An open letter to the owners of the synagogue asking for it to be reopened had more than 800 signatures at the time of writing.

Irn-Ju want the owners to collaborate with them, and the wider community in Govanhill, to preserve the building and bring it back into use, saying the "effects of desecrating the synagogue would be devastating."

The building's owners did not respond to a request for comment.