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Jewish Book Week: Celebration of Jewish literature, art and philosophy

F16Deborah  Butcher


Jewish Book Week has become something of a national institution:  but few realise that this popular annual celebration of Jewish literature, art and philosophy originated in Glasgow.   The brainchild of the Women’s Lodge of B’nai Brith – operating under the capable direction of its founder Maud Joseph – the first Jewish Book Week in Europe assumed the form of a two week exhibition in the McLellan Galleries in 1937.  The objectives were two-fold: firstly to dispel the ignorance of Jewish thought and creativity, and thereby dissipate anti-Semitism; secondly to foster appreciation and pride amongst Scottish Jewry of their rich and dynamic literary heritage, and thereby catalyse Jewish cultural and spiritual revival.   The promotion of Jewish culture and civilisation was rendered all the more urgent by intensification of the Nazi persecution of European Jewry during the late 1930s, the troubling reverberations of which were acutely felt by Jews throughout the global diaspora.


Examples of Hebrew, Yiddish and English Jewish literature, children’s storybooks, religious artifacts and manuscripts, and contemporary art and sculpture were all selected as exhibited to showcase the full spectrum of Jewish cultural accomplishment.   This pioneering event was a resounding success, emulated in Manchester, London and Leeds:  in subsequent years, the Glasgow Women’s Lodge received requests for advice and guidance on staging similar events across the UK.


This educational and cultural initiative can be largely attributed to the vision, energy and enthusiasm of Maud Joseph.   In 1934, she became first President of the newly instituted Women’s Lodge of B’nai Brith.   In this role, she was involved in orchestrating various communal activities, assisting German Jewish refugees during wartime, and forming a Friendship Club in Garnethill, to reach out to the lonely, elderly and vulnerable.   Additionally, her lodge extended a hospitable welcome to international Jewish students in Glasgow, offering introduction to their local co-religionists.

Maud Joseph (standing) speaking at Jewish Book Week in Glasgow, with her husband Victor and Rev Dr and Mrs Cosgrove
Maud Joseph (standing) speaking at Jewish Book Week in Glasgow, with her husband Victor and Rev Dr and Mrs Cosgrove


After her death in 1958, the Jewish Echo paid tribute to her “wonderful record of social service” and lauded her as an exemplary citizen and Jewess.   Growing up in the East End of London, Maud passed her formative working with the Jewish Girl’s Club movement, and teaching Hebrew and Religion.  During the First World War, she threw herself into assisting Belgian refugees.   She relocated to Glasgow after her marriage, where she established the first Jewish Company of Girl Guides in Scotland, the first Jewish Brownies and was also instrumental in birthing the first Jewish Scout Troop.   Many of her interests seemingly coalesced around furtherance of the educational well-being of Jewish girls and young women.


Outside of the Scottish Jewish community, little is known of Maud, or of the fraternal organisation which facilitated her novel attempts to ameliorate understanding and relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish community, and to assist her co-religionists.   My research, which is still in its infancy, explores the changing role of Scottish Jewish women’s in friendly and fraternal societies from 1880-1950.

If you, or a loved one, have memories, photos or documents relating to female fraternal lodges, it would be fantastic to hear from you.




Deborah Butcher is Research Associate on the ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces Project’ which explores the history of Jewish migration to Scotland in relation to several themes.   To discover more about the Project, please visit email

Photos are copyright to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre and are published here with their permission. We appreciate the generosity of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in providing them.


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