One of SCoJeC’s major successes has been to persuade National Records of Scotland (NRS), the Scottish census authority, to include “Jewish” in the Ethnicity question as well as the Religion question in the Census. This is now taking place over the weekend of 20th March 2022, having been postponed during the pandemic, the first time since 1801 except for 1941 during the War), that it has not taken place in the first year of the decade.
The census asks questions about every household in the country, such as how many people live there and what facilities they have in their homes, and also about each person’s age, sex, employment, education and qualifications, ethnicity, and faith or belief, and it is the only complete official attempt to collect information about everyone living in the country. It is important because the information collected is used by national and local government, researchers, businesses, and others, to help plan services. By giving a complete and accurate picture of your local area, it helps make sure that services that everyone needs, such as education, transport, and healthcare, are provided where they are needed.
It is therefore crucially important for the Jewish Community that we all make our mark (literally!).
The Scottish census differs significantly from the English (which did go ahead last year). In Scotland, the religion question asks “What faith ... do you belong to?”, whereas in England it asked “What faith are you?”. SCoJeC has always argued that that wording may significantly reduce numbers because there are large parts of the country where there are no Jewish organisations to belong to. However, this time SCoJeC persuaded NRS to include a prompt in the Ethnicity question too, so that people who feel they don’t ‘belong’ in religious terms will still be able to record their cultural, ethnic, or genealogical background or affiliation.
That can make a big difference as the census itself has shown. The 2001 census included two questions about religion – current “belonging” and upbringing – and a remarkable 1,785 people said they were Jewish by upbringing, but did not tick a box to say that they currently “belong”. The upbringing question was not asked in 2011, but 812 people wrote in “Jewish” in response to the Ethnicity question despite there being no prompt to do so. All of these are people who identify in some way with being Jewish, and they should all be counted.
This year for the first time the census is “digital first”. That means that every household will receive a letter giving them a unique access code so they can complete the census on the NRS website, or else request a paper form. The Religion question is identical in both forms – you simply tick “Jewish” on the paper form, or click “Jewish” on line. But the Ethnicity question is more complex and requires you to write or type “Jewish” under “Other”. On the paper form this is right at the bottom of a long list, but on the web form you need first to click “Other” and then a second screen will appear which invites you to write in “Jewish”.
It’s not only for statisticians and pedants that this matters. It matters because however people do – or do not – express their Jewishness, circumstances may lead them to need or want specifically Jewish welfare or other services at some time in their lives or the lives of their friends and family. In fact the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) notes in a recent report on Jewish identity, that when people were offered a list of different ways of identifying as Jewish, even the respondents who answered “None of the above” were in fact identifying simply by responding to the survey! Public services need to be aware that there isn’t just one way to be Jewish.
Obviously, the census can only count responses on forms, so everyone who identifies in any way has an obligation to the Community to provide these responses. Your responses help ensure that communal organisations, local authorities, and public services are able to quantify the need for culturally appropriate services and provide them for everyone who would like to use them. We therefore urge everyone who regards themselves as Jewish in any way, whether by background or descent, by religious observance, or culturally, socially, or in any other way, to select the Jewish option under both Religion and Ethnicity.
Please be counted, to help shape our Jewish future in Scotland.