About The Lit

The Lit is a discussion forum for a wide variety of topics covering every area of culture and history with a Jewish connection. For a list of this year’s meetings, details of how to attend (remotely or in person), and information about how to support the Lit, see this page.

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by | October 24, 2021 · 9:24 pm

Monday 13 March 2023, 5:45pm, Chitra Ramaswamy in conversation about Homelands: The History of a Friendship (meeting in person: Elizabeth Templeton Lecture Theatre, New College, Mound Place, EH1 2LX)

This event is co-sponsored by Edinburgh Jewish Studies Network and the Scottish Network for Religion and Literature.

We are delighted to welcome Chitra Ramaswamy to talk about her latest book: a hybrid biography/memoir exploring her friendship with a 98-year-old German Jewish refugee called Henry Wuga. The two of them might seem unlikely friends: one born in 1970s Britain to Indian immigrant parents, the other fleeing Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport in 1939. And yet, Homelands is a book about common ground; a story of migration, antisemitism, racism, family, belonging, grief and resilience. It won the Saltire Society Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2022 and is available in all good bookshops. Signed copies can be purchased at Toppings.

Chitra Ramaswamy is a journalist and author from London. Her latest book, Homelands: The History of a Friendship, published by Canongate in April 2022, is a work of creative non-fiction exploring her friendship with a 98-year-old German Jewish refugee called Henry Wuga. It won the Saltire Non-Fiction Book of the Year and was included in The Guardian’s top memoirs and biographies of 2022. Her first book, Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy, published by Saraband in April 2016, won the Saltire First Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize. She has contributed essays to Antlers of WaterNasty WomenThe Freedom PapersThe Bi:ble, and Message From The Skies and is currently working on a commission from the Alasdair Gray Archive. She writes for The Guardian, is the restaurant critic for The Times Scotland, and broadcasts for BBC radio. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner, two children and rescue dog.

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26 February Film: The Song Searcher: The Times and Toils of Moyshe Beregovsky, 8pm (meeting in person)

This film, directed by one of Russia’s leading documentary film makers, Yelena Yakovich, is the story of a man’s lifelong search for authentic Yiddish folk music and of his unique archive. Moyshe Beregovsky, a musician and scholar, criss-crossed Ukraine with phonograph in hand during the most dramatic years of Soviet history in order to record and study the traditional music of Ukrainian Jewry. Presumed to be lost forever, his archive was only recently discovered on hundreds of fragile wax cylinders in Kiev. His work began in the 1920’s and led to his arrest and imprisonment in a Stalinist labour camp in 1950, while most of those whose songs he recorded were ultimately shot and tossed into mass graves. Although Beregovsky succeeded in saving the musical heritage of Ukraine’s Jews, the personal price he paid was high. Filmed on location in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and loaded with rare, unique video-footage and archival audio materials, this film is much more than an account of Moyshe Beregovsky’s life and work. Using haunting historical images, it tells the story of how Beregovsky and his fellow ethnomusicologists rescued Yiddish song before it was practically silenced in the Soviet Union. The music is heard throughout the film, either in its original archival version or performed live by some of the best contemporary klezmer musicians. The same team very recently made a subsequent audio documentary, Yiddish Glory. It is a remarkable programme and can be heard by accessing BBC Sounds on https://www.bbco.uk/programmes/m001h56n. It tells of the 1.5 million Jews transported by the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan during the War and of the songs, many of which were adapted to the situation which Jews found themselves in beyond the Urals, and which were sent back to Beregovsky in Kiev for safekeeping.

The screening will be introduced by Dr Phil Alexander, who will also be happy to discuss the film and any questions that may arise after the screening. Phil is well known to many of us in Edinburgh for his performance of klezmer, both with and without his quintet Moyshe’s Bagel, as well as tango and ‘salsa celtica’. He is an ethnomusicologist who received his PhD from SOAS, following his examination of klezmer music and performance in Berlin. He is currently a British Academy Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he studies historical Scottish-Jewish musical interactions.

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