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


"Being Jewish Around Scotland"

15-18 March 2015
Freilekhs Brider in Dundee

SCoJeC's inquiry into What's Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland, which is funded by the Scottish Government, continued with a tour of Edinburgh, Giffnock, Dundee, Findhorn, and Peebles that included ceilidhs, concerts, and music workshops with French-Israeli Klezmer trio Freilekhs Brider who were joined by local tuba player Simon Carlyle. At each venue there was also a focus group that enabled people to share their feelings and experiences about what it’s like to be Jewish in Scotland.

SCoJeC Projects and Outreach Manager Fiona Frank led the focus group discussions, which were followed by a lively Klezmer Ceilidh ‘tea dance’ at Edinburgh Synagogue, and concerts of Yiddish song and klezmer music at the Synagogues in Giffnock and Dundee.

Klezmer workshop in Peebles

The final events took place at the Universal Hall, the central space in the spiritual community of Findhorn, where the discussion was followed by a concert and dance workshop, and at ‘Nomad Beat’, a beautiful music centre in Peebles, where fifteen budding klezmer musicians – playing fiddles, accordions, clarinets, and even a concertina, tuba, and harp – took part in a klezmer masterclass led by Amit, Jerome, and Laurent of Freylekhs Brider.

"Being Jewish in Findhorn"

As we have heard at other focus groups, most people said they felt comfortable in Scotland, but several mentioned feelings of unease. One participant said there’s "a secondhand nervousness: you don’t know how real or justified it is, but there’s a general nervousness”, and another that “I feel that things are changing very quickly, and we do require to be more vigilant and more careful about places of worship and many other places, as there may well be trouble in the future”. A third participant said that although he finds Glasgow a very warm place to live, “there’s a very strong anti-Israel current which verges on antisemitic views”. In response to a question about whether people talk about being Jewish in public, one participant said “I keep it low key because I’m a bit nervous with all the goings on. I try to keep a low profile – it’s not good”. A student from Europe talked about not wearing her Magen David  (Star of David) during class, as she didn’t want her teachers to make assumptions that her “political views were a function of my Judaism”.

Being Jewish in Giffnock"

Many of the participants talked about the problems of being in a small and diminishing Jewish community. Outwith Glasgow, many experience difficulties in obtaining kosher food and articles they need to celebrate Jewish festivals or life events. Even in East Renfrewshire, the area of Scotland with the largest number of Jewish people, many spoke about their children having moved away from Scotland, often followed after retirement by their parents. In Findhorn we heard that there are a number of Jewish people who get together to celebrate festivals, and one participant told us “When I first came to Findhorn, that  was the first time that I felt safe to say I'm a Jew: because I didn’t feel safe in Glasgow”. However, one woman told us about the difficulties she had encountered due to her daughter being the only Jewish child in her nursery. This was despite the fact that she had been welcomed into her daughter’s class to speak about Chanukah.

"Being Jewish in Edinburgh"

At the discussions in Findhorn, Peebles, Edinburgh, and Dundee, we were joined by several non-Jewish people who were fascinated to hear about the experiences of being Jewish in Scotland, and who also talked about their own identities and experiences. One man, who is married to a Jewish woman, told us that, although on a very different scale, his father’s wartime experiences as an evacuee resonated to some extent with his wife’s parents’ experiences as refugees from Nazi Germany. At Findhorn people from many different backgrounds and origins talked about coming together to listen to stories from different cultures.

Klezmer ceilidh in Edinburgh

Amit, one of the musicians in Freilekhs Brider, joined in some of the discussions, and the Yiddish songs and klezmer music of the group, including a beautiful song, ‘Roumania’ by Aron Lebedeff, expressing nostalgia for the food, wine and customs of the ‘old country’, perfectly complemented the discussions. At each of the venues we and the band were asked to come back – and we hope to do so next year!

Click here and here to watch short videos of the event in Dundee,

here, here, and here for short videos of the event in Edinburgh,

here, here, and here for short videos of the event in Giffnock,

here for a short video of the event in Findhorn,

and here for a short video of klezmer in the heather while travelling between venues!


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Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation no. SC029438