Rockets Can’t Keep Scots from their Israeli Roots
THEY are two proud nations separated by 2,500 miles, 14 inches of annual rainfall and 13 degrees centigrade in annual temperature. And while one enjoys calm and stability, the other is besieged and clinging to a fragile peace.
But the crisis in Israel is not stopping Scottish Jews setting off for a new life in one of the world’s most troubled regions.
Adam Jacobs, 22, an engineering student from Giffnock, arrived in Israel 10 days ago in the certain knowledge he will be signed up for military service next month.
Jacobs, who quit his degree to make the move, is staying with other young arrivals near Jerusalem, and will head north to a fruit-growing kibbutz called Sasa near the Lebanon border later this month.
“I’m coming here because I feel closer to my Jewish roots,” he said. “I want to explore my heritage and I feel at home here. I feel freer and that I can express my Jewishness as I want to. There’s a real energy and vibrancy here that I want to be part of and the Jewish community in Glasgow is in decline. Over the past five years, I have felt a growing realisation that I wanted to come to Israel.”
And on a flight east last Wednesday was Glaswegian Jack Coutts, 70, with his wife Alice, 66. Both worked for decades in the Scottish newspaper industry, but have now realised their dream of retiring to Israel, even if it means living in a war zone. “I wasn’t afraid of the violence. I was actually more stressed about the packing than the rockets,” said Jack.
“Every house here has a bomb shelter and we have been visiting Israel a lot over the years and have survived all kinds of scrapes. We have wanted to come to Israel for years and have been planning it and this wasn’t going to stop us.”
Across the world, migration to the Jewish state is either declining or levelling off – but not in the UK. Figures show that despite the long-running threat of suicide attacks within Israel, endless skirmishes with Palestinian militants and the current hostilities in Lebanon, 480 British Jews took Israeli citizenship last year.
The Jewish Agency – which promotes and organises migration – says that up to the end of July, 328 Britons had arrived in Israel. That figure is expected to rise to 550 by the year end.
Jacobs is unsurprised. “I feel that a lot about Israel doesn’t come across in the British media. Israel is actually a very multicultural place, with Jewish people from all over with their distinctive cultures.
“You have Jews from Eastern Europe, the Middle East itself, North America and Britain. You have the Ethiopian Jews here and you have Arab Christians and Muslims. Over a million Arabs are citizens of Israel and they have all the rights to public service that other Israelis have.”
Under Israeli law, all Jewish males must serve for three years in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Jacobs said: “I didn’t come here specifically to go into the army, but I came here fully realising that I would be called up. It’s compulsory here and I think it’s only right that I do my duty for the country, just like everyone else does.
“After that, I want to continue my studies. I’m not sure exactly what I want to study, but I think I’d like to do engineering.”
On the recent fighting, he said: “I’m as upset as anyone to see the pictures of people being killed on both sides. I want to build bridges between people and I don’t want anyone to live under occupation or live in danger of suicide bombs.”
He added: “Some of my friends thought I was crazy coming here; they were worried for me. I will miss Scotland, I’ll miss my friends, I’ll miss the football. I’m a Rangers supporter and I’ll be keeping in touch with the football news.”
Some emigrants have blamed what they see as growing anti-semitism in the West for their decision to move to Israel. But Jack Coutts, who is staying in temporary accommodation near Jerusalem but will live in Netanya, 60 miles from the border with Lebanon, insisted: “There wasn’t anti-semitism. Scotland is a good place, very tolerant, but I am concerned about what I see as support for Hezbollah in Glasgow.
“I was dismayed when someone painted ‘Hezbollah’ outside the Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow.”
Shira Immerglueck, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Agency, which helped to organise both Jacobs’ and the Coutts’ immigration, said: “We did worry that some people would change their minds and cancel because of the current situation, but they didn’t.
“A lot of Jewish people have the attitude that this is the time Israel needs them.”
Meanwhile in Scotland, members of the Jewish community admit many are nervous about being too upfront about their origins and faith. The community is in decline, with about 6,000 Jews north of the Border compared with a peak of 80,000 in the middle of the last century.
Rabbi Nancy Morris, of the Glasgow New Synagogue, said: “I notice that the community feels more compelled to lay low compared to North America and not be very open about their Jewishness.
“Scotland is a friendly place and I have not experienced anti-semitism myself, but some of the commentary around just now is incitement against the Jewish community as well as against Israel.”
Rabbi Gerald Levin, of the Garnethill Synagogue, said: “One feels under pressure, apprehensive, that something could happen.
“I personally feel that Scotland is tolerant, but next month will be interesting because we have our annual open doors’ event, in common with many other bodies. It will be interesting to see how many people come to the building.”
And Fiona Brodie, honorary secretary of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said: “People should remember that not all Jews have the same view of Israel or the government’s actions and not all Israelis approve of everything the government does, just like people have different views in this country. It’s a democracy.
“I have no plans to move from Scotland; I’m settled here and it’s home. It’s important for me that Scotland has always been a friendly country. It’s never had anti-Jewish legislation, for example.”
BIRTH OF A COMMUNITY
SCOTLAND’S modern Jewish community is believed to have begun with migrants from Holland and Belgium who came to settle in Edinburgh in the 18th century.
Many worked in professions connected to the tailoring industry, including furs and leather, as well as jewellery and watchmaking.
The first Jewish congregation in Edinburgh was founded in 1816, and in Glasgow in 1823. The congregation in Aberdeen was founded in 1893.
Scotland’s first fully fledged synagogue was set up in Edinburgh 1825.
Prior to that, a small number of Jewish students had come from south of the Border to Scottish universities. Scotland was attractive because students did not have to swear a religious oath to study.
The Jewish community grew dramatically towards the end of the 19th century with waves of migration from the Russian empire to the UK. It was during this period that the focus of Jewish life in Scotland moved decisively from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Scotland’s oldest synagogue, at Garnethill, was founded in 1889.
Scotland’s Jewish community was not without its own divisions, mostly linguistic. Rather than attend the Garnethill synagogue, which was mainly English-speaking, many Polish Jews opted to found their own synagogue in the Gorbals.
The population peaked at about 80,000 in the mid-20th century and began to decline after the war, as many left for England, the United States or Israel. There are about 6,000 Jews in Scotland today.
Prominent members of the Scottish Jewish community include former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lady Cosgrove, Scotland’s first female judge.