Scottish Jews are continuing to abandon the country amid a rising tide of anti-Semitism, local leaders have said. They point to incidents such as the Palestinian flag being flown by Glasgow City Council as signs that they are being made to feel increasingly unwelcome in their own cities.
Jews have lived in Scotland since the late 18th Century, with the community swelling to peak numbers of around 20,000 by the early 20th Century, mostly driven by migration from Eastern Europe as Jews sought to flee the rise of Nazism.
Most of those settled in and around the Gorbals area of Glasgow, but the community has been in steady decline ever since, and that trend does not seem to be letting up. Between the censuses of 2001 and 2011, Glasgow lost some 20 percent of its Jews, with the population dropping from 4,222 to 3,396 in number.
The city is still home to the fourth largest Jewish community in Britain, but the trend continues.
While some of those leaving were following a general trend of looking for opportunities in places like London, others have made for Israel and America, citing growing concern over the way Jews are viewed by their fellow Scots, and especially in the face of rising Islamic attitudes across Europe.
“There has been a palpable shift in people’s attitudes,” Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (ScoJeC) told The Guardian. “Significant numbers have been telling us they don’t feel safe, that for the first time ever they are wondering whether to stay in Scotland, or they’re reluctant to tell people they’re Jewish. People are feeling anxious, alienated and fearful.
When you see an attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris, you think ‘I go to kosher supermarkets’. You think, if it can happen in Paris or Copenhagen or Brussels, it can happen here.”
He cites a survey by ScoJeC, updated last year, which found that one in five Scottish Jews reported being the victim of a hate crime, while more than half said that the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza, the catalyst for a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment across Europe, had affected the way they were seen by non-Jews.
“One woman said she’d stopped wearing her Star of David necklace. We heard of people who had taken down their mezuzah [Jewish doorpost],” Borowski said. “A health worker said she had started referring to ‘church’ rather than ‘synagogue’ to her colleagues. A significant number of people said they no longer felt comfortable declaring their Jewishness.”
“There’s an undercurrent,” said Helen, 91, who declined to give her full name. “It makes people feel uneasy.”
Paul Morron of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council was keen to give a positive impression of his community, pointing to Calderwood Primary, Scotland’s only Jewish school. Children there are taught Hebrew and Judaism, alongside the mainstream curriculum, and celebrate Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) on Friday afternoons.
Morron is also proud of the school’s multicultural outlook: one third of the intake is Muslim, although those students follow the same Jewish syllabus as their classmates, and next year the school will be moving to new premises which will be shared with a local Catholic school. “This is a big filip for the community, and sends a great message in this day and age, that we can all cooperate with each other,” he said.
But a few months ago the school nevertheless hired a security guard as part of a UK-wide Home-Office funded program to tighten security at Jewish schools, in the wake of terror attacks targeting Jewish schools on the Continent.
And Morron admits that a run of anti-Semitic incidents throughout 2014, including graffiti being sprayed on three synagogues and a rabbi receiving Nazi abuse in the streets came to a head when Glasgow City Council opted to fly the Palestinian flag from its main building.
It triggered a wave of insecurity in an already fevered situation,” he said. “The Jewish community had contributed so much to the city, and this felt like a betrayal.”
Community leaders met with local and national politicians to have their concerns heard, but the feeling of vulnerability has not gone away. “It’s now under the surface, rather than on the surface, but it’s still there,” said Morron.