SCoJeC was delighted to arrange for the Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government, to visit Giffnock Synagogue, where he was greeted by Rabbi Moshe Rubin, Micheline Brannan and Ephraim Borowski of SCojeC, and Evy Yedd, Joint President of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.
Rabbi Rubin first gave the Mr Matheson a tour of the synagogue, showed him the Torah scrolls, and outlined the structure and demography of the Community. He explained how the role of a Rabbi has changed over the decades and his own involvement in matters affecting the whole Jewish community and going wider than his own synagogue. For example, his wide pastoral duties include being chaplain to Calderwood Lodge Primary School. Mr Matheson was particularly interested in the role of synagogues as a community hub where people can meet each other, whether or not they are members and whatever their level of observance.
In a short round table discussion after the tour, Ephraim said that the community was in general very grateful for the support it received from the Scottish Government, the police, and prosecution services, although there continued to be deep-seated feelings of anxiety and vulnerability that could unfortunately be brought to the surface by events in other parts of the world. Mr Matheson agreed that it is important that people should feel safe and reassured, and reiterated the commitments of the Scottish Government to the Community.
In the context of hate crime, discussion then focussed on the role of social media, and its capacity both to target and harass individuals, and to amplify their prejudices. It was noted that young people are particularly vulnerable. They may be bullied at school, then go on to be bullied online at home and be unable to confide in parents. Mr Matheson assured us that much thought is being given to what can be done to prevent this. He also thanked SCoJeC for our response to the recent consultation on the proposal to repeal Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act. We reiterated our view that this would leave a gap in the law and would be better tackled as part of Lord Bracadales's comprehensive review of hate crime legislation.
At the end of the meeting Micheline presented Mr Matheson with copies of two recent publications about the Jewish Community, Scotland's Jews and The Jewish Experience in Scotland: from Immigration to Integration, by former SCoJeC Chair Kenneth Collins. Mr Matheson said that this was the first time he had visited a synagogue, and expressed an interest in attending a Shabbat service.
Following the meeting he said:
"The visit to Giffnock Synagogue was truly insightful and I am very grateful to Rabbi Rubin for taking time from his duties to welcome me to the unique Shul of Scotland's largest Jewish religious congregation. The Scottish Government recognises and values the significant contribution made by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities to maintaining and supporting community cohesion and interfaith dialogue in Scotland. We also appreciate the Council's on-going work to promote a wider, better understanding of the Jewish community."
"We are most grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for spending so much time with us on a busy Parliamentary day. He showed a warm and genuine interest in the shul and in the wider issues affecting the Jewish Community."