A diverse group, including members of the Jewish, Baptist, Church of Scotland, and Unification Church, and Bahai communities, got together in Peebles during Scottish interfaith Week to learn about SCoJeC's Being Jewish in Scotland inquiry, and discuss their views of religion and identity.
SCoJeC Projects and Outeach Manager Fiona Frank reported on the findings of that inquiry, which, amongst other things, asked participants for their views of what is good about being Jewish in Scotland, and what is not so good, and whether being Jewish has ever made a difference to the way in which they have been treated. It also provided opportunities for Jewish people, some of whom had thought they were the only Jewish person in the local area, to meet one another, and develop friendships and support networks. One man said he was very moved by hearing how happy many of Being Jewish in Scotland participants had been, to discover that they were ‘not alone’ as Jewish people.
In 2012, the majority of people told us that, although there were pockets of ignorance, and, unfortunately, rather too many instances of antisemitism, Scotland was a "great place to be a Jew", and that was reflected by one of the participants in the Peebles event. "Being both Scottish and Jewish can feel like being part of a very close family", she said, adding that when someone says "I know someone Scottish and Jewish," it often turns out to be a relative or friend. Recent events have, however, resulted in less positive experiences, and another Jewish participant who has lived in Scotland for many years, and had always been very open about her Judaism, told us she has recently felt "quite fearful" as a result of workplace comments during last summer's conflict in the Middle East. Hers is not an isolated experience, and, in direct response to this summer’s unprecedented surge of antisemitic incidents, the Scottish Government has agreed to fund a short-term study of how this has affected the Scottish Jewish community.
A Japanese participant event talked about the racism she had experienced when she first came to the UK, "not by words but by actions such as the way children look at me, and make slitty-eye signs". Another participant said that it can sometimes be uncomfortable to talk about your religion in public – but felt that “you have to stand up and be counted”. The Bahai lady told us that she was asked whether she was Catholic or Protestant when she first moved to Scotland – the actual question being “what foot do you kick with?” – something that made no sense to her at the time, but which resonated with a Jewish woman who remembers her father being asked "are you a Billy or a Dan?" when he went to school. He had answered "I’m Jewish", to which the other children responded "yes, but are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?".
Diversity within individual communities was also discussed, and another participant spoke of his surprise when he visited an area of Glasgow where a substantial number of Jewish people live, to discover so many different levels of observance (and non-observance).
Two women, who usually have to travel to Edinburgh to take part in Jewish activities, were delighted to be able to attend a Jewish-themed event in Peebles. Another participant summed up the atmosphere of the evening as “Enlightening, with a warmth to it that I really like” and another participant talked about the excitement of meeting people of different faiths. “A garden is made up of flowers with different shapes," she said, "it would be so dull if it were all the same” The group had arrived as strangers, but left as friends, exchanging contact details and planning when they would meet again.
SCoJeC is grateful to Interfaith Scotland for their financial support for this event.