harry diamond's memoir


can you get me into the papersThe Jewish Echo did not publish a notice of my birth in 1926 because it had not yet appeared, but it published everything else about me, my bar mitzvah, marriage, the birth of my two sons, their marriages, the progress of my career, and Jackie's death.

The Echo appeared for the first time on January 6, 1928 and not once until May 29, 1992 did it miss a single edition despite illness, staff difficulties, fire and flood, paper shortages, and a world war.

Like many other members of the Jewish community of Scotland I regret its absence, not just because it also published the many stories I wrote about the Jewish community over the years, but because it was such an important cohesive, unifying force in the community.

Its place has been taken by the Manchester-based Jewish Telegraph, which has established an office in Glasgow to collect news, advertisements and communal announcements.

The London-based Jewish Chronicle, which modestly styles itself "The World's Leading Jewish Newspaper" made a brief appearance in the arena but quickly withdrew leaving the field clear to its Manchester rival.

Most Scottish Jews don't like buying a Manchester newspaper to read about themselves. Apart from the fact that is is not printed in Scotland it has a tendency to sensationalise the most trivial of stories but if people don't buy it, and many don't, they have to rely on friends to tell them who was married and who died during the week.

When the last edition of the Echo appeared on that fateful Friday it proved such a traumatic experience for its readers that Glasgow Jewish Representative Council published a communal newsletter "to cut down the serious effect of living without the Echo." But as many others have learned, newsgathering is a time-consuming and expensive business and the communal newsletter lasted only three issues.

Mr Harvey Livingston, president of the council and director of a bedding company, then called a special general meeting to explain to a baffled community the reasons for the Echo's closure. The meeting was told that despite a massive injection of cash by Glasgow Jewish Community Trust, which had bought the paper's title in l988, the paper had to close because of ever-spiralling losses.

The 120 people present passed a resolution asking the council to investigate the feasibility of starting another newspaper in Glasgow to serve the community, a proposal fraught with innumerable difficulties.

Mr Livingston later reported that a special committee he had formed to carry out the feasibility study had concluded that a Glasgow-based Jewish newspaper was a viable proposition and invited anyone who was interested in managing the paper to contact him. The fact that no-one on the committee had the slightest idea how to run a newspaper did not inhibit their conclusion in any way.

Plenty of wannabe press barons volunteered to be members of the board of Jewish Echo 1992 Limited but financial backers were as scarce as pork pies at a bar mitzvah. An appeal for a grant of £40,000 to set up the new Echo was made to Community Enterprise in Strathclyde but apart from a few phone calls back and forward not much else happened.

Even if the grant had been approved the Jewish community would still have had the problem of finding money for running costs and editorial staff qualified to run their newspaper, a task which would have been even more difficult than raising the start-up money.

The Echo's founder, Zevi Golombok, was 24 when he arrived in Glasgow from Birzi, a small town in Lithuania, in 1904. He left his native country, like so many others, to escape the pogroms in Europe. He could speak and write Russian, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish (a Judeo-German dialect) but not a word of English.

In the years that followed Zevi worked hard to learn English, reading everything he could lay his hands on. His habit of reading in bed by candlelight late at night almost cost him his life on one occasion when the candle set his bed on fire.

Like many people who conscientiously apply themselves to a foreign language he used words unfamiliar to the native speakers around him. He was fond, for instance, of describing himself as an autodidact, someone who is self-taught.

Zevi worked with his older brother Israel who had preceded him to Glasgow and set himself up as a printer. As a fervent Zionist convinced that the Jews of the diaspora were doomed to extinction without a land of their own in which they could live without persecution, Zevi encouraged his brother to publish a newspaper to spread the Zionist message and in 1914 they brought out the Jewish Evening Times in Yiddish.

This lasted only a few issues and then came the Jewish Voice, also in Yiddish. This didn't last very long either and eventually in 1928 when Zevi had learned enough English he founded the Jewish Echo.

In the early days he went out among his fellow Jews, mainly in Gorbals, to gather the news of what they were doing, went back to the office, laboriously wrote his reports in longhand, set them in type, printed the paper - and then went out to deliver them at a penny a copy.

In the second issue Zevi chided Glasgow Jews for ostentatiously flaunting their wealth by spending large sums of money on bar mitzvahs and weddings. He suggested they reintroduced the old Jewish custom of holding a dinner for the poor to celebrate a joyful occasion. This did not meet with any great enthusiasm.

From June to September in that first year Zevi serialised a book, Michael's Return, a bodice-ripper described as "a romance of absorbing interest." Zevi himself translated the book from the German.

One of the newspaper's earliest contributors to the Echo was George Stewart, who founded the Rex Stewart Advertising group for which I once worked. Zevi allowed Stewart to write film notes on the condition that the cinemas' performances were advertised in the paper.

Two attempts were made by others over the years to start another Jewish newspaper in Glasgow, the Jewish Leader in 1932 and the Jewish Times in 1964. Both lasted only a few months because it was impossible to match the dedication, integrity, skill, and reputation of the men who ran the Echo.

Attempts were also made to buy the newspaper but neither Zevi Golombok nor his son Ezra considered the making of money to be their first priority, a nobility of character which did not always appeal to their families. They did not think anyone else could sustain the character and quality of the paper the aim of which had always been to be a serious provider of information not available anywhere else.

Zevi Golombok lived long enough to see come true his dream of the return of the Jews to their promised land but when he died six years later he had still not managed to visit the new state.

His son may have been dedicated to the service of the community but that did not prevent him from refusing personal announcements or advertisements from time to time because he did not approve of their wording, an attitude which sometimes generated some heat among his subscribers; especially the ones who wanted to put a bit of shmaltz into their birth or death notices.

Ezra was a 26-year-old research chemist at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1948 when, at the request of his 70-year-old father, he abandoned the halls of academe and what many think would have been a distinguished career to come back to Glasgow to help him run the Jewish Echo.

Two years later the Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Philosophy took over the editorship and guided its fortunes for 42 years. The 64 volumes of the Echo are now in Glasgow's Mitchell Library for future generations to study.

Ezra Golombok is now director of the Glasgow-based Israel Information Office, a facility opened by the Israeli government to keep Scots better informed about the complexities of Middle East politics, the peace process and other aspects of Israeli life, commerce, industry, the arts, technology and medicine.