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Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)


What’s Changed about
Being Jewish in Scotland?

31 March 2015

SCoJeC has submitted a preliminary report to the Scottish Government Community Safety Unit on the initial findings of our short inquiry into What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland?

This inquiry, funded by the Scottish Government, has provided an opportunity for a substantial number of Jewish people from throughout Scotland to address some very real concerns about security and about their relationships with the wider community. Based on information from focus groups, individual interviews, and completed survey forms, involving nearly 300 Jewish people across the whole country, the report reveals both positive and negative attitudes to being Jewish in Scotland, with a large proportion of respondents reporting that their experiences have changed as a direct result of attitudes to the changing situation in the Middle East.

Our preliminary report outlines the methodology, summarises the main themes that are emerging, and gives a flavour of the findings. The full report, which will be published in May, will provide a detailed report of responses to the survey, analyse changes in attitudes within the Jewish community across Scotland, and propose recommendations for further action. A special What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland? edition of our quarterly newsletter Four Corners will be published around the end of April.

Neil Hastie, head of the Scottish Government Community Safety Unit, commented: “The emerging themes from this report are particularly valuable; as is the data on how the international context can impact very palpably on the experience of being Jewish in Scotland. There is much in this for us (and ministers) to consider.”

Key issues raised by participants in the inquiry include identity, antisemitism, how changing attitudes to Israel affects people’s lives in Scotland, ways of being Jewish, raising Jewish children, changes in the Scottish Jewish community, and raising awareness of Judaism in the wider community. In particular, one issue that has been much more prominent than in the first Being Jewish in Scotland inquiry is antisemitism in social media, and a number of respondents raised concerns about one particular incident:

I was alerted to a tweet that contained language I consider to be a hate crime against Jewish people. This has greatly disturbed me – I think of Scotland as safe and welcoming place to live, but as the majority of mainstream Jews would define themselves as Zionists, even if they don't agree with everything the Israeli government do, calling on people to make Scotland a 'Zionist free zone' is calling for the removal of Jewish people from Scotland and clearly crosses the line.” (F, 50s, Glasgow)

Several respondents responded positively to the question "what’s good about being Jewish in Scotland?" with comments such as:

living in Scotland is special and being Jewish is something to be proud of. I think the Scottish people on the whole respect and value the Jewish community. I love the sense of community within the Shul and the support of family.” (F, 60s, Glasgow)

The freedom to be able to practice my religion to the standard and degree I desire without restriction or fear. In my experience, Scotland has a very open attitude to newcomers, whether of different religions, race or colour.” (M, 60s, Glasgow)

However, the inquiry has also revealed a large number of negative experiences, many of which relate to views about the situation in the Middle East. Typical responses included one man with dual Scottish and Israeli citizenship, who told us that he has noticed a significant difference in the way he is now regarded:

I have been less welcome in many conversations … to the point that I now keep my mouth shut and keep my Jewish and Israeli identity in a sealed box and hidden from view”. (M, 40s, Highlands)

Two women in the central belt were typical of several who told us:

I have always have been proud to be Jewish, and always will be. But [am] no longer willing to wear Star of David or T-shirts with Hebrew writing etc.” (F, 40s, Glasgow)

"I feel scared to speak in my language or tell people I'm Jewish or from Israel. I don't go to any Jewish gathering unless us at somebody's home, and I try to hide anything about being Jewish when I'm outside my house." (F, 20s, Edinburgh)

As with the original Being Jewish in Scotland inquiry, we combined focus group discussions with other activities, running ‘meet the author’ sessions and klezmer ceilidhs, concerts, and workshops around the country. We know from experience that events like these where people get a chance to speak about their feelings and experiences as well as take part in Jewish cultural activities, especially outwith the larger Jewish communities of the central belt, help to build a sense of community and involvement and make participants feel more secure and connected.

SCoJeC’s Projects and Outreach Manager, Fiona Frank, who is leading the research, said: “SCoJeC is grateful to the Scottish Government for their support, and for their recognition of the dual value of this work in building community as well as finding out what matters to Jewish people in Scotland. In particular, although we had anecdotal evidence of the effect on the Scottish Jewish community of events in the Middle East, we have been disturbed by the extent of the discomfort expressed by many respondents, and we are very pleased that the Scottish Government has demonstrated its willingness to listen to these voices.


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