For many months I’ve been trying in vain to find time to sort out and properly follow up the precious scraps of information I gleaned from various sources at the beginning of this project, which coincided with the start of an incredibly hectic academic year. At last the summer vacation provides a breathing space, so the first thing I want to do is properly to acknowledge the great help and encouragement provided to me by the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, who were the first organization I contacted.
I was thrilled to receive an immediate reply from Harvey Kaplan, SJAC’s director, saying that just four years ago he’d done research into the history of the Glasgow Jewish Student’s Society as part of the preparation for its centenary celebrations. Samuel Grasse had been elected its first President in 1911 and Mr Kaplan had been President some sixty-six years later, so he’d taken a personal interest and written a centenary brochure which mentioned Samuel, a copy of which he very kindly sent me. At that time he’d done some research into Samuel’s life and was able to provide me with some key information:
I have spent today absorbed in the political and social life of Jewish students in Glasgow between 1909 and 1919. The morning began with a simple aim of finding the announcement of Samuel’s death in the Jewish Chronicle (JC), but from there I was led into a world of student societies and political discussion, where I remained utterly captivated for the rest of the day.
The one document I have always had in my possession is a carefully kept copy of the certificate of conversion to Judaism of my grandmother, Jane Muir, which my mother Ethel passed on to me. However, another version has just turned up in a recently discovered box that my grandmother had kept and I don’t understand why there would be two versions. Although one says that it is a copy, I don’t understand the Hebrew in either version. I am intrigued and would love to understand more about these certificates. I have found out that Rev E P Phillips, who has signed the certificates, was appointed minister to the Glasgow Hebrew Congregation in 1878 and held the post for fifty years.
Samuel Grasse holding academic certificate, signed as a gift to his wife
I grew up knowing very little about my grandfather, Samuel Grasse, because he died many years before I was born. I knew that he was a Lithuanian Jew who had somehow won a scholarship to study law at Glasgow University at the beginning of the 20th century. I heard that he continued to study for further degrees until he had an entire collection of graduate and post-graduate qualifications. I could never fathom why he had started out as a lawyer and somehow ended up as a London GP. I was told he had spent his final years tending the wounded in the underground bomb shelters during the blitz, until in 1943 he died, aged 55, from what I was told was a stroke. Continue reading