THE SCULPTOR WHO NEFFER HEARD OF ME
Work started at the end of 1995 on a restoration programme of Garnethill Synagogue, the first purpose-built synagogue in Scotland, at a cost of almost half a million pounds. Such is the regard in which this great institution is held that considerable contributions to the restoration fund were made by bodies like Historic Scotland, Glasgow City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wolfson Foundation, and the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust, in addition to the synagogue's own capital fund and individual members.
Not everyone approved of the expenditure of such a large sum of money on the synagogue's restoration, least of all the other synagogues and their members, because Garnethill, in the west end of Glasgow, does not have the volume of attendances it once had as most of Glasgow's Jewry belong to congregations in Giffnock and Newton Mearns, on the south side of the city where they live. Some of my co-religionists have fallen by the wayside and don't belong to any synagogue and efforts are made from time to time to attract them back to the fold.
Garnethill and the role it has played in the history of the Jewish community of Glasgow does however attract many visitors and in the past few of years it has been visited by hundreds of school children, students, and church groups. Open Doors Day can attract more than 500 visitors.
Another justification for refurbishing the synagogue at such great cost is that it has housed the ever-growing Scottish Jewish Archives Centre since it was established in April 1987. The centre is visited by almost 1000 people a year, Jews, non-Jews interested in Judaism, students doing research, youth groups, and, like the synagogue, many church groups and schoolchildren. Coincidentally the archives came into being a year after I wrote a proposal to establish a Museum of Judaism at Garnethill to ensure the building's survival..
Garnethill Synagogue is considered by many to be Scotland's premier Jewish house of worship. Although it was the first synagogue to be built in Scotland a number of premises were used as synagogues a long time before that.
Its members also founded a considerable number of communal organisatons; the Glasgow Hebrew Philanthropic Society, the Hebrew Boot and Clothing Guild, the Ladies' Benevolent Society, the Dorcas Welfare Clinic, the Jewish Lads Brigade, Lodge Montefiore and Glasgow Jewish Choral Society. The last three are still flourishing, although the lads brigade now has lassies, too.
The day Garnethill Synagogue opened Queen Victoria still had two more decades to reign, the telephone and the gramophone were grating infants, Tchaikovsky's masterpiece Eugene Onegin was given its first performance in Moscow, and in Glasgow Mr McTear of St Rollox Chemical Works claimed to have made artificial diamonds.
The year was 1879 and on an overcast Tuesday afternoon crowds of people, mostly on foot but some in hired broughams and landaus, made their way up several steep cobbled streets in the West End of Glasgow to attend what the Glasgow Herald called "a unique and attractive ceremony," the dedication of the synagogue.
One hundred years to the day later, September 9, 1979, with a flair that would have impressed that old master interpreter of the bible himself, Cecil B. De Mille, a group of Glasgow Jews, myself among them, produced a spectacular of our own in celebration of the centenary.
Jack Miller, a member of the synagogue's ruling council of laymen, and his friend Dr Sidney Naftalin had a few months earlier conceived the idea of staging a series of celebratory events appropriate to an institution of such importance in the history of Scottish Jewry.
I had no connection with the synagogue but Jack recruited me to the organising committee anyway. As Head of Public Relations for the city it was not difficult for me to negotiate venues for all the events with my colleagues in the council and to publicise them widely. The result was that a local event was made of interest to news media in Israel, Europe and America, as well as of course the rest of Britain.
The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv (Evening) described Glasgow as a noisy, industrial city, the Tel Aviv of Scotland just as Edinburgh is the Jerusalem. The paper went on, Many people who wanted to make a name for themselves in business went to Glasgow. One of the most famous is Sir Isaac Wolfson who still has a faint Glasgow accent although he left the city many years ago in his youth.
The curtain went up on the main celebratory event on September 9 when a cast of 400 gathered on the old synagogue-on-the-hill for a thanksgiving ceremony. This was followed by a banquet in the Victorian splendour of the City Chambers.
A galaxy of stars from a variety of firmaments, politics, the church, medicine, law, science, diplomacy, the halls of academe, and industry and commerce, joined in the celebrations.
Among them were Mr George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Provost David Hodge of Glasgow, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Devine, Lord Galpern (a former Lord Provost), Dr Alwyn Williams, and Sir Samuel Curran, principals of Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities, and retired diplomat Sir Horace Phillips.
The thanksgiving ceremony was conducted by Dr (later Lord) Immanuel Jacobovits, the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Leon Benarroch, minister of Garnethill, and the Rev. Ernest Levy.
At the banquet my wife and I had no sooner sat down when a council usher tapped me quietly on the shoulder and said, "Would you go along to the Lord Provost's room, please, Harry." There I found the Secretary of State, the Lord Provost, and one or two others trying to sort out some difficulty which had arisen with the arrangements for the Chief Rabbi's return to London later that night. By the time I got back to the dinner table the meal was almost over. I was not amused as I had been looking forward to the occasion for months.
Among other events were a "Jewish Way of Life Exhibition" in Hillhead Library, with which we were given great help by Andrew Miller, director of libraries, an exhibition of Jewish art in Glasgow's flagship museum at Kelvingrove, and two quizzes, one for schoolchildren and the other for adults. The two exhibitions were a great success and attracted 38,300 visitors.
The Exhibition of Jewish Art had its own organising committee to assist the city council's very experienced Director of Museums and Art Galleries Alasdair Auld. The members of our committee included my friends Miller and Naftalin, and Mr Benno Schotz, the Queen's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, whom we elected honorary president. The chairman was Mr Michael Goldberg, an Arts graduate of Glasgow University, a director of the Scottish National Orchestra, a former chairman of the Citizens Theatre, a lover of painting and sculpture, playwright, and joint managing director of the department store group of A. Goldberg and Sons. A formidable collection.
At one meeting at the home of Michael Goldberg the subject of publicity was brought up by Benno Schotz. I was sitting next to him and said quietly, "I don't think you need worry about publicity, I'm looking after that."
Benno leaned back, stared at me with raised eyebrows as if I had suddenly been beamed down from the Starship USS Enterprise, and said imperiously, "Vot iss your name?"
"I haf neffer heard of you!" said the Queen's Sculptor in Ordinary.
"I don't think you're alone in that," I told Benno, "but I'm taking care of the publicity anyway." A slight edge had entered my voice as I perhaps arrogantly considered myself quite good at what I did, including convenership of the one-man centenary publicity committee. Benno made no further comment.
In the weeks that followed I organised messages of goodwill from the Queen, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel. In my letter to Begin I told him I had heard him speak at the Methodist Hall in London the previous year and I was taking the advice he had given to the audience, "When you are trying to achieve something worth while never take no for an answer".
I learned later that Begin wrote a lengthy message and told an aide, "See that Henry Diamond gets this message in Glasgow as soon as possible. He never takes no for an answer!" Naturally I publicised the messages widely, not forgetting my own part in the operation.
Not long after the celebrations the synagogue council my wife and I were delighted to be awarded honorary membership of the synagogue, which I have attended regularly ever since. For some years now I have also been a member of the synagogue council.
A year after the centenary celebrations Sidney Naftalin, a close friend of Benno Schotz and his general practitioner, asked me if I could do anything to obtain the Freedom of the City of Glasgow for Benno. I have to admit I was not filled with enthusiasm at the idea. Maybe I was being small-minded about Benno's comment about neffer having heard of me, but Sidney was a man of great charm and persuasiveness for whom I had affection so I finally succumbed and wrote a nomination for Benno, who generated affection and loyalty from his friends despite a tendency to identify himself with Epstein and Rodin in the Mount Rushmore of sculptors. I
I couldn't put my own name to the nomination as I felt I made enough demands on my political masters without that kind of thing so I gave it back to Sidney who had it signed by a number of influential figures including the then president of the Representative Council, Dr Gerald Jesner, Lord Galpern, Harry Barnes, director of Glasgow School of Art and Sir Robin Philipson, president of the Royal Scottish Academy.
I then got it back and slipped it furtively under the door of the Town Clerk and Chief Executive Steve Hamilton who in turn gave it to the leader of the council for consideration by the ruling Labour group. I don't know if Steve knew where it really came from because he never said anything but there weren't many people in the City Chambers who didn't know I was active in Jewish affairs. Besides, I think many people also had come to recognise my flights of rhetoric. I had a few chuckles as I indulged in one or two of them in Benno's nomination.
The accompanying biography will give you the highlights in the career of this distinguished Glaswegian whose work is recognised world-wide and who has brought such credit to the city in which he has lived and worked so long. Conferment of the Freedom of the City would be regarded by this great artist as the ultimate honour.
It would be difficult in a letter of this kind to list the famous and not so famous who have been immortalised in the work of Benno Schotz or the cities and institutions of the world in which his work is proudly displayed. In Glasgow itself his artistry can be seen in many churches and schools and in private institutions, including the Art Galllery and Museum in Kelvingrove. We hope this submission will be given the earnest consideration of your council.
A few days later a senior member of the Labour group asked me, "Did you write the nomination for Benno Schotz?"
"Me!" I exclaimed in feigned surprise. "Nothing to do with me. I'm just an innocent bystander."
Benno was later awarded the Freedom along with world champion lightweight boxer Jim Watt, Sir Samuel Curran, and Nelson Mandela, the black African nationalist leader, who was still confined on Robben Island. Dr Alex Ekwuene, Vice President of Nigeria, accepted the Burgess Ticket Freedom on his behalf.
I'm rather ashamed to admit that when I first heard the name Nelson Mandela I didn't know who he was, but I wasn't alone. When I hesitatingly asked a friend in the City Chambers he said, "Isn't he a pop group leader!"
Some years later Benno Schotz's daughter Cherna Crome, a trustee of his estate, phoned to say she wanted to present one of her father's works to the city council and could I do something to bring that about. She told me it had been his intention to present the work to the Lord Provost as a gesture of gratitude for his Freedom but a combination of circumstances interfered with this plan and he died in 1984 without making the gift.
I wrote to the Lord Provost explaining Mrs Crome's request and a presentation was organised for Wednesday, August 28, 1991, the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The presentation of the work, Dedication, a 5ft 6in welded bronze, valued at £20,000 was made by 14-year-old Avigail Schotz, the sculptor's grand-daughter, who flew from her home in Los Angeles for the event. Her father Amiel flew from the biblical town of Beersheba in the Negev desert of Israel.
Dedication is considered to be one of the sculptor's finest pieces of its kind and is still prominently displayed in the City Chambers.
Cherna very kindly gave me one of the many drawings of stones done by her father but unfortunately it is not signed, which rather diminishes its value.