The First Minister, Alex Salmond, visited Calderwood Lodge Jewish Primary School and Giffnock Synagogue, before attending a meeting with a cross-section of communal leaders in the Jewish Community Centre. The visits were arranged by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities Mr Salmond's request.
He spoke warmly of his previous tour of communal facilities, and asked that SCoJeC arrange another visit, when he met Ephraim Borowski (Director) and Leah Granat (Public Affairs Officer) at a reception in Edinburgh Castle to honour those involved in combating sectarianism and religious hatred.
After signing the visitors’ book at Calderwood Lodge, the First Minister joined the Primary 7 class for a Hebrew language lesson, during which the children read from the Bible in Hebrew, and showed their ability to converse in Modern Hebrew. Calderwood Lodge is the only Jewish school in Scotland, and teaches modern Hebrew and Jewish religion and culture, as part of a full, varied, and balanced curriculum.
Mr Salmond chatted to the children about their school show, a musical performance of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", and the biblical story on which it is based, as well as about the eight-day festival of Chanukah, which began the previous evening. He then joined the rest of the school in the hall to light the "chanukiah" (the branched candelabrum or menorah used on Chanukah). Before leaving, Mr Salmond received a gift of a chanukiah, and presented the school with three books for the school library.
At Giffnock Synagogue, the First Minister admired John Clark’s painted glass windows, each of which depicts a Jewish festival or event. Philip Mendelsohn, former Chairman of Queens Park Synagogue, explained that these were originally commissioned as part of the Jewish community’s contribution to Glasgow European City of Culture in 1990, and were moved to Giffnock with the assistance of the National Lottery fund when Queens Park Synagogue closed in 2003.
The visit concluded with a business meeting between the First Minister and a group of leaders of communal organisations, representing, amongst others, SCoJeC, the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, the Board of Deputies, Orthodox and Reform religious communities, Welfare and Educational organisations, and the youth.
At the meeting Rabbi Moshe Rubin of Giffnock Synagogue and Ephraim Borowski asked about the new Scottish Government’s commitment to interfaith and multi-cultural projects. Confirming his commitment to the "One Scotland, Many Cultures" initiative, Mr Salmond talked about the contribution made by all Scotland's diverse communities, and said that "faith-based education in Scotland will continue, and probably grow. ... Calderwood Lodge is a great example to celebrate".
Mark Gardner (Communications Director, Community Security Trust) expressed the community's concern at the recent increase in antisemitic incidents and Paul Edlin (Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) sought assurance that the Scottish Government would combat other religious hatred as forcibly as it opposed sectarianism. The First Minister expressed concern at the number of antisemitic incidents in Scotland, and condemned all types of religious intolerance. He emphasised the need to make full use of the existing "religious aggravation" legislation and also to change social attitudes.
Eliot Leviten (Chair, Giffnock Synagogue) and Philip Mendelsohn (President, Glasgow Jewish Representative Council) informed Mr Salmond that lack of funding has hindered the implementation of police advice about security. He reiterated his support , expressed during a previous visit, for financial assistance for this purpose, and restated it again the following day in Parliament. At Question Time, Mr Salmond said, "I pledged yesterday to give sympathetic consideration to requests that the Scottish Government receives. Security is important, as is dealing with any religious, sectarian or bigoted attack in Scottish society." (Click here to read the full exchange in Parliament.)
In response to a question from Paula Cowan (Trustee, Holocaust Education Trust) Mr Salmond recognised the value of Holocaust Education, and said he hoped a member of the Scottish Government would be able to participate in a future schools visit to Auschwitz.
Paul Livingston (Vice-Chair, Jewish Youth Forum) described his involvement with multicultural initiatives at school, and asked about Scottish Government support for projects promoting community cohesion amongst the youth. Mr Salmond replied that the Commonwealth Games will provide many opportunities, not only to promote sport, and healthy activities, but also to internationalise the Scottish perspective, and to provide a focal point for multicultural initiatives.
Replying to a question from John Dover (Chair, Cosgrove Care) Mr Salmond said that his Government's recent Budget would provide each Local Authority with greater flexibility to allocate resources where they were most needed.
Also present at the meeting were Malcolm Livingstone (Chair, Glasgow Jewish Community Trust), Howard Beach (Chair, Newton Mearns Synagogue), Natalie Millar (Senior Warden, Glasgow Reform Synagogue), Adam Berkley (Chair UJIA Renewal), Daniel Clapham (Treasurer, SCoJeC), and Leah Granat (Public Affairs Officer, SCoJeC).
Closing the meeting, Chair, Stephen Kliner (SCoJeC), thanked the First Minister for taking the time to listen and respond to the concerns of the community.
Speaking after the meeting, the First Minister said:
"Scotland's diversity of cultures and faiths has always been a source of strength. Each culture brings with it values, ideas and innovations that enrich our arts, our language and our lives.
"It is a privilege to visit another faith's place of worship and the welcome that I have received is testament to the goodwill that is born when people of different religions or backgrounds seek to grow their friendships.
"I have been particularly impressed by the work of Calderwood Lodge Primary School. This is a great example of the benefits that faith-based schools can bring when they are matched by local demand and married to their communities.
"The Jewish community sits at the heart of our modern Scotland and shares a great deal of common ground with the other religions that make up our nation. The core values of family, faith and hospitality run strong through all and it's from these shared principles that the future of what it means to be Scottish will grow.
"That's why I want to take this opportunity to encourage others to develop their understanding of the different faiths that enrich our culture, and to embrace the principles we all share. I want the common ground across all the strands that make up our Scottish tartan to be the foundation for the New Scotland."
SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski welcomed Mr Salmond's statement, saying:
"We were delighted when the new First Minister, at one of his first engagements, asked to meet us in order to ask us to arrange a visit to the school and the Community. We are even more delighted that he was able to hear and respond to the concerns of representatives of all sectors of the Community, and that we have his personal commitment to a diverse multicultural Scotland in which the safety, security, and development of the Jewish Communityare assured."
Scottish Government press release: FM meets with Jewish leaders
Jewish Telegraph report of the First Minister's visit