By Ephraim Borowski
SCoJeC’s inquiry into “Being Jewish in Scotland” was commissioned by the Scottish Government Community Safety Unit (CSU) after we told them about a young mother who had spoken at one of our events about her daughter being taunted in the playground that “you killed Christ”, and the teacher’s response, “Well you did!”
We regularly hold events in remote parts of the country to give Jewish people an opportunity to meet and feel a sense of belonging in the Community, often for the very first time, and we used these to collect their personal stories. We heard concerns about public services, particularly education, antisemitism, and how the community is changing, but the typical response was that “I do count myself incredibly lucky to be Scottish and Jewish. I wouldn’t change either if I had to be born again”.
Sadly, that all changed barely a year later. In August 2014, we received almost as many reports of antisemitic incidents in one month as in the whole of the previous year. So many Jewish people said they felt uncomfortable and anxious and even afraid to go about their day-to-day activities that the Scottish Government was so concerned that they asked us to carry out a further study of how the experience of Being Jewish in Scotland had changed.
Our findings were extremely sobering: no fewer than 10% of respondents could think of nothing at all good about being Jewish in Scotland. 32% talked unprompted about a heightened level of anxiety, discomfort, or vulnerability, and 17% even said they now “considered it risky to show my Jewish identity in public”, that they have changed their conduct to avoid Jewish gatherings including synagogue services, or that for the first time they had “seriously talked about an exit strategy for leaving Scotland.”
This was reflected in a radical change in people’s concerns: in 2012 people spoke about aspects of Jewish and Scottish identity, changes in communal priorities, lack of culturally appropriate public services, education about Judaism, and the importance of interfaith work, as well as attitudes to Israel, antisemitism, and their sense of security. Sadly, this second inquiry was entirely dominated by expressions of insecurity and alienation, and 80% attributed this to attitudes to events in the Middle East. Most tellingly, the person who said in 2012 that Scotland is a ‘darn good place to be a Jew’ now told us “I feel alienated, and no longer Scottish first then Jewish. I feel Jewish only.”
Nonetheless, it is reassuring that the Scottish Government is taking these concerns seriously, and supporting SCoJeC’s work to ensure that Jewish people in Scotland feel safe, supported, and well integrated. Commenting on the new report, the Secretary for Communities and Equalities, Angela Constance said its findings
“help us understand more fully the views and experiences of the Jewish community in Scotland and, while there is much to celebrate, we do, of course, share the concerns raised about a heightened level of anxiety within the Jewish community.
“My message to the Jewish community in Scotland is clear: Scotland is your home, you are welcome, and your contribution to our economy, our society and our culture is valued.”
The First Minister has also made good her promise of “greater engagement with members of the Jewish community”, by attending a number of recent communal events. And she publicly reiterated that “I don’t want to be the First Minister, or even live in, a country where Jewish people want to leave or hide their identity” at a national conference on hate crime.
Scottish Jews are here to stay, and the Scottish Government is working with us to overcome their negativity and alienation. That gives us hope that our next study of Being Jewish in Scotland will find less intolerance, less anxiety, and better understanding between Jewish and non- Jewish people, and that the consensus will again be that “Scotland’s a darn fine place to be a Jew”.
To read the report, use this link:
Ephraim Borowski is Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities