SCoJeC's Being Jewish in Scotland project last year wasn't just an academic exercise. Its underlying motivation was to find out what matters to Jewish people in Scotland, and what would make them feel safer and more at home, and then to bring that to bear on public policy and practice. As part of this exercise, at the beginning of September, the Tayside and Fife Jewish Community invited staff from Police Scotland to Dundee synagogue, along with the senior Dundee Sheriff, Procurators Fiscal, and representatives of the NHS.
The presentation, by SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski and Projects and Outreach Worker Fiona Frank, who conducted the research, started off by asking the guests a series of questions – in a very Jewish way: "Which is the odd one out: a cow, a camel, a duck, or a giraffe?" Explaining that the camel is the only non-kosher animal, Ephraim challenged the guests to think 'differently' and to understand that reality may look different from the perspective of a different culture.
Jewish people are scattered across Scotland, many living in remote and isolated areas. We may be a small group, although, as Ephraim explained, the census figures are likely to be a considerable underestimate: when a Jew in the outer Hebrides is asked "to which faith group do you belong?", the only true answer is “none”, because the nearest community to 'belong to' is hundreds of miles away.
The point was further explored by Fiona who offered vivid examples of responses to the Being Jewish in Scotland survey. She referred to the tensions people told us they experience when identifying themselves as Jews, how they relate to the wider community, and how that community regards them in return, and she shared some of their personal stories of bigotry and discrimination, such as the 10 year old child who was told “You killed Christ”, and whose teacher agreed! Such fragments of Jewish life in a civilised, modern, Scottish society in the 21st century chilled the audience, and one of the participants later commented: “police colleagues and partners from other agencies all agreed that it had been a most enlightening dialogue about what life is really like for some Scottish Jews. There was sadness and disappointment that a significant level of bigotry and antisemitism seem to be accepted by victims as a 'normal' occurrence, and therefore a part of life, not worth reporting to police. This is contrary to police Scotland’s Zero Tolerance approach – we want all incidents where prejudice may be a motivating factor to be reported.”
Members of the local community then gave the guests a tour of the synagogue and explained its religious significance. Conversations continued over lunch, and in conclusion Sharon Levy of Tayside and Fife Jewish Community affirmed the need to continue and build on the excellent relationship the community enjoys with the local police.
It was clear from the lively discussion that followed the presentation and over lunch that those attending had understood the key messages, and the importance of collaborating with local communities to support preventative action. We have been invited to repeat the seminar for senior police officers who have a national strategic responsibility.