SCoJeC's Being Jewish in Scotland project was designed as a series of conversations to encourage participants to talk about their experiences of being Jewish in Scotland, and we have always thought that the questions we asked during the inquiry would lend themselves equally well to a discussion among people from other minority communities – as well as those who are part of the majority. So, when Interfaith Scotland asked whether we would put on an event during Scottish Interfaith Week to bring together members of all faiths and none, we decided to see if we were right!
In the event, thirty people, from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, as well as atheists, and members of the Scottish Secular Society, came together at the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy Centre to enjoy kosher food, find out about Being Jewish in Scotland, think about their own experiences of living in Scotland, and discuss their different identities. The group included people from Scotland, Wales, England, and Israel, and some who had spent many years in Portugal and in India. There were single people, working people retired people, parents, grandparents, students, and even baby twins!
SCoJeC Projects and Outreach Manager Fiona Frank presented the findings of Being Jewish in Scotland, which show that, although Jewish people generally feel that "Scotland's a darn good place to be a Jew", they also encounter considerable ignorance about Judaism, and too many of them experience discomfort and even blatant antisemitism. Many respondents also mentioned high levels of anti-Israel feeling which they found threatening, and which they felt, verged on antisemitism, especially on university campuses. Although the inquiry revealed some examples of good practice, it also showed that front line staff and managers in health and in education are not always as aware as they should be about Judaism and faith-specific needs.
After Fiona's presentation, the audience divided into groups to discuss how they related to the findings. As discussion ranged over the different experiences of people from 'visible' and 'non-visible' minorities, one participant reminded us that the way in which we experience identity can sometimes depend on whether it is something we claim for ourselves, or whether other people thrust it upon us.
One man told us that, as an older gay man, he found it reassuring to hear younger gay people being absolutely open about their identities – something that hadn't been possible for him when he had been younger, and another participant said that she had been very reassured by the celebration of identity in the group, and how well we all got on together. “These were great conversations," said a student from North America. "I'm often the first Jewish person that someone's ever met – and then you have to decide how you will represent yourself as a Jew – and to be aware that you are representing all Judaism!”