As part of SCoJeC’s continuing programme of engagement with Scottish political leaders, we were delighted to arrange for the Leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale MSP, to visit Giffnock synagogue and meet a cross-section of communal leaders.
Ms Dugdale and local MSP Ken Macintosh were shown round the synagogue by Rabbi Moshe Rubin, the Senior Rabbi in Scotland, who showed her the Torah scrolls and explained the Jewish view of prayer, the structure of synagogue services, and the significance of various aspects of synagogue architecture. SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski showed her the superb windows by renowned glass painter John K Clark, which had been transferred from Glasgow’s Queens Park Synagogue when it closed ten years ago.
We also arranged for the Labour Leader to meet representatives of a variety of communal organisations to give her a sense of the wide range of activities and services provided by the Community and hear their concerns about the issues facing their organisations, and gave her an advance copy of the “Ten Commitments” from the Manifesto that SCoJeC has prepared with the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council and the Board of Deputies for the forthcoming Scottish election.
Ephraim described the role of SCoJeC as an umbrella body that represents the interests of the Jewish community and also reaches out to people of Jewish heritage throughout Scotland. He explained why SCoJeC believes that there are many more Jewish people in Scotland than the census figure, especially in rural areas, and also outlined the findings of our inquiries exploring the experience of Being Jewish in Scotland in 2012 and What's Changed About Being Jewish in Scotland in 2015, which have provided empirical evidence of the concerns of the Community and reveal some very worrying examples of antisemitism.
Paul Morron explained that the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, of which he is President, represents the largest Community in Scotland, with some 60% of the total, five synagogues, around 40 communal organisations, and Scotland's only Jewish primary school, Calderwood Lodge, where around a quarter of the pupils are Muslims, and which is about to move to a new shared campus with a Roman Catholic school. He said that Glasgow had suffered the worst outbreak of antisemitism for 80 years, resulting in an increased sense of insecurity and vulnerability among the local Jewish community. There was a strong sense in the that Glasgow City Council had betrayed them by flying the Palestinian flag, since that is strongly identified with Hamas, a terrorist organisation whose Charter calls for the killing of Jews worldwide, however after the Representative Council explained the impact on the local Jewish community, the local authority is now very supportive.
Micheline Brannan, Vice-Chair of Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, explained that the situation is very similar in Edinburgh, where many Jewish people feel quite intimidated by supposedly political protests against Israel that in fact target Jewish people, and Nicola Livingston, Chair of Jewish Student Chaplaincy Scotland, told Ms Dugdale that some students have even abandoned their courses as a result of antisemitic experiences.
The Chair and Chief Executive of Jewish Care Scotland, George Hecht and Kevin Simpson, explained the organisation's unique relationship with East Renfrewshire Council, which enables it to provide cradle to grave services for around 500 people each year. They are, however, squeezed between cuts in local authority budgets and the need to compete for qualified professional staff, and are therefore actively exploring sharing resources with other communal welfare organisations. Another pressure arises from funders’ insistence on 100% occupancy, which means that communal organisations cannot hold vacancies for members of the Community but have to fill them with anyone who needs them. As a result places may not be available when needed by members of the Community, who then have to go to non-Jewish care homes, and this can result in quite inappropriate placements frustrating both the purposes of the communal charity and the Scottish Government’s commitment to meeting the needs of Scotland’s diverse communities.
Ms Dugdale also heard about cultural activities such as the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in Glasgow, which collates and preserves preserve the Community’s records and historic artefacts, and the 127 year old Edinburgh "Lit" – the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society – that includes all sections of the community.
Speaking after the visit, Ms Dugdale said: "It was important to meet with representatives of Scotland's Jewish Community and learn more about some of the issues the community are facing. Scottish Labour has a proud history of standing up for all Scots and for championing a more tolerant, open and equal society for all. I want to make it clear to all those from Scotland's Jewish Community that under my leadership, Scottish Labour will continue to break down barriers and condemn all forms of discrimination"