The first time SCoJeC held an event in Inverness, in 2012, Kathy Hagler, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who has been in Inverness for over 40 years, told us that she is the only Jew in the area, “I am a community of one”. Now she is the centre of a small community, and we have become very used to hearing people who think they’re the only Jewish person in their town coming to one of our events and meeting several more! This event was no exception – one Jewish lady, a nurse who’d been in the area for many years and had seen the event advertised in the paper, was really surprised to hear about SCoJeC and discover that she isn’t ‘the only Jew in the village’!
As well as bringing Jewish people together, our events also help demystify Judaism and the Jewish Community, and in addition to the Jewish participants who crowded into SHIMCA Chinese cultural centre for our Inverness Chanukah party, we welcomed Bahais, Christians, and others who had come because they were interested in finding out more about Judaism and the Jewish way of life.
After helping ourselves to delicious kosher food, including Chanukah-themed hot latkes, we lit the Chanukah candles and said the prayers in Hebrew and English. SCoJeC’s Projects and Outreach Manager Fiona Frank read the Chanukah story and made links with modern day parallels. Intolerance didn’t stop with Antiochus, and everyone could identify with some examples of governments banning different religious practices. Then some of the group got down on their knees to play the dreidel game.
After that it was time to take part in the Being Jewish in Scotland 2020 focus group, with Andrew Hellyer, one of the Glasgow University students who is working with SCoJeC on this inquiry.
As there were several non-Jewish people in the group, we included them in the discussion, asking everyone to respond to the three key questions from our survey: what’s good about your own identity, what’s not so good about it, and what could a relevant organisation such as SCoJeC do to improve it.
All the Jewish people said that their life would be improved if there was a synagogue in the area – though they all joked that they probably wouldn’t go to it! They all felt that there was little antisemitism in the area, and that it was a tolerant place to live, but that they’d like easier access to kosher food.
The non-Jewish people talked about their identities as English, British, European, or Anglo-Scot; as a woman, a grandfather, a pastor, a Christian, or a member of the interfaith group. Monica, the Chair and Manager of SHIMCA, who was participating in one of our events for the first time, told us about her life as a Hong Kong Chinese person living in Scotland. There was a general feeling among the group that it was a good thing to find out about different faiths and different cultures, with one person saying that when people retreat into their own groups, “by reducing the contact you increase the opportunity for prejudice”. Another said “people fear the unknown”. So there was general agreement that what SCoJeC is doing in the area was much appreciated among Jews and non-Jews alike.
After the event, participants commented:
"It was the first time I’d been to something like this with a Jewish context. I didn’t know what to expect, I thought it would be like a service, with prayers and singing and so on, but I’ll have this abiding memory of watching people kneeling on the floor playing dreidels – and learning a lot by listening to other people talking about themselves – which again was fascinating."
"It was interesting to hear other people voicing their own identity – I found it difficult to put my own identity into words, It’s given me a lot to reflect on."
"It’s been thoroughly enjoyable and I didn’t know anything about SCoJeC or the community here."
And a final request comment to SCoJeC : “Please come back to Inverness!”
We’re already planning to come back, so if you live in the area, please join us, on Tuesday 28th January, when we have been invited as guests of Richard and Barbara Ossias, near Beauly, for an early Tu b’Shvat tree planting event – click here to book a place.