STREAM­LIN­ING GLAS­GOW

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY BARRY TOBERMAN

SUR­VEY­ING THE spa­cious syn­a­gogue in­te­rior of New­ton Mearns He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion, David Links says it has a ca­pac­ity of 500 — “enough to hold ev­ery­one who comes to shul in Glas­gow on Shab­bat”.

The 72-year-old New­ton Mearns life pres­i­dent re­calls that at the time of his bar­mitz­vah in 1959, the city was home to five Jewish bak­eries, nine kosher butch­ers, a Jewish poul­terer and halfa-dozen delis.

Now pro­vi­sion for kosher shop­pers is re­stricted to a soli­tary deli and some spe­cial­ist sec­tions in ma­jor su­per­mar­kets.

Mr Links also re­mem­bers grow­ing up in a city of 13 syn­a­gogues. A process of clo­sures and amal­ga­ma­tions has re­duced that num­ber by more than half. As well as New­ton Mearns, there are now just Giffnock and New­lands, Glas­gow Re­form and the city cen­tre Gar­nethill, plus a Lubav­itch con­gre­ga­tion.

The last Scot­tish Cen­sus sug­gested a Glas­gow Jewish pop­u­la­tion of un­der 4,000 — the com­mu­nity num­bered 16,000 in 1960s’ hey­day.

The true cur­rent fig­ure could be as much as 50 per cent higher, given the es­ti­mates of Jews who did not state their re­li­gion on the Cen­sus form and the ar­rival of a num­ber of Is­raeli fam­i­lies.

But even the most op­ti­mistic slant on numer­i­cal strength can­not dis- guise the dilemma en­cap­su­lated by Mr Links. “The com­mu­nity has shrunk but we still have the in­fra­struc­ture of a larger com­mu­nity.”

That in­fra­struc­ture in­cludes a highly re­garded Jewish pri­mary school, Calder­wood Lodge, which in 2017 moved to a shared site with a Catholic school in New­ton Mearns, bring­ing it into the heart of the Jewish com­mu­nity. The tim­ing was ap­po­site, given that in re­cent years there has been a mi­gra­tion from Giffnock to New­ton Mearns, a few miles away.

Ma­jor com­mu­nal char­i­ties are rep­re­sented in the city, as are the Zion­ist youth move­ments and Mac­cabi, and there are three wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Yet the only cur­rent rabbi among the main­stream Ortho­dox and Re­form com­mu­ni­ties is the long-serv­ing Moshe Ru­bin at Giffnock and New­lands.

New­ton Mearns re­cently lost its pop-

The last Cen­sus sug­gested a pop­u­la­tion un­der 4,000

ular min­is­ter Rabbi Eli Wolf­son, who had served from the be­gin­ning of 2015. Mr Links and fel­low life pres­i­dent Syd­ney Bar­mack say a key fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to move to Manch­ester was his chil­dren’s long-term Jewish ed­u­ca­tion.

“We were sorry to lose him and he was very sorry to go.” The shul is now “look­ing for a cou­ple who do not have the prob­lem of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, or whose chil­dren have been through ed­u­ca­tion. We want a rabbi who will put their heart and soul into it — like Eli Wolf­son.”

New­ton Mearns has a mem­ber­ship of 430 adults. Giffnock and New­lands re­mains the largest with more than 650 and is lo­cated on a site also hous­ing a Lubav­itch-run restau­rant and the of­fices of a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Ex-chair Jeremy Freed­man and trea­surer Bernard Co­hen in­sist the con­gre­ga­tion is vi­brant, with all daily ser­vices at­tract­ing a minyan and a range of so­cial and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties. At­ten­dances are some­times swelled by tourists stop­ping off in Glas­gow en route to whisky tours.

“We have just formed a choir called the Bimah Boys,” Mr Freed­man re­veals. “Don’t ask their av­er­age age.

“Rabbi Ru­bin is a very big as­set to us — and to the whole com­mu­nity.”

Like their New­ton Mearns coun­ter­parts, the Giffnock and New­lands lead­ers can look back on an era when shuls were full to over­flow­ing. “When we were kids, I re­mem­ber hav­ing to stand at the back at Yom­tov,” Mr Freed­man rem­i­nisces.

Both the New­ton Mearns and Giffnock and New­lands lead­ers ac­knowl­edge the in­evitabil­ity of a merger on both prac­ti­cal and fi­nan­cial grounds. Dis­cus­sions have been held pe­ri­od­i­cally for years. From the New­ton Mearns side, the con­sid­ered re­sponse is that “progress is slow”. At Giffnock and New­lands, the ques­tion prompts sighs and raised eye­brows.

Mr Co­hen stresses that a merged shul does not have to be on the Giffnock site. Mr Freed­man makes the point that a move to New­ton Mearns would mean a two-mile walk each way for around 20 core shomer Shab­bat con­gre­gants.

But the need for stream­lin­ing goes be­yond syn­a­gogues and a group of Glas­gow lead­ers are work­ing to­wards a blue­print for the fu­ture, which Glas­gow Jewish Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil co-pres­i­dent Ni­cola Liv­ingston hopes will be put up for dis­cus­sion within six months.

The group has the un­en­vi­able task of com­ing up with a plan “that ev­ery­one can sign up to. We are try­ing to move things along but it is cru­cial that we get it right. Some of the build­ings are no longer fit for pur­pose.”

Mean­while, there is no ev­i­dence of a halt to the drift of young com­mu­nity mem­bers to Lon­don, Manch­ester or other larger Jewish cen­tres, even if the ab­sence of tu­ition fees in Scot­land is an in­cen­tive for them to re­main for univer­sity. Yet many par­ents ar­gue that the mi­gra­tion of the young can be a pos­i­tive.

Sue Faber is oper­a­tions man­ager at Glas­gow Mac­cabi, which she de­scribes as ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “a slight up­surge”. She has a son in Gold­ers Green and says she would rather he lived in North-West Lon­don and found a Jewish part­ner than stayed in Glas­gow and mar­ried out.

Whereas a post-Yom Kip­pur “af­ter the fast dance” once at­tracted hun­dreds of young peo­ple, Mac­cabi is this year host­ing an “af­ter the past” event. Those brought up dur­ing the com­mu­nity’s hal­cyon days can dance the night away to the sounds of 70s’ disco.

While they are in Glas­gow, the young do play their part.

A suc­cess­ful sum­mer scheme this year at Mac­cabi was led by vol­un­teers in­volved by UJIA through its ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties in Scot­tish schools.

UJIA’s Joanna Hy­man cites the part­ner­ship be­tween Calder­wood and an Is­raeli school and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a dozen Scot­tish teenagers in Is­rael tours this year as ev­i­dence of the com­mu­nity’s Zion­ist cre­den­tials.

There is even younger par­tic­i­pa­tion at Glas­gow Re­form — Scot­land’s only Re­form con­gre­ga­tion — where one of the most pop­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties is a “tots Shab­bat”, which is not re­stricted to fam­i­lies be­long­ing to the 190-mem­ber shul.

Linda Wolf­son — a ma­ter­nal and child health ad­viser to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, spe­cial­is­ing in nutri­tion — brings pol­icy and strat­egy ex­per­tise to her role as co-chair, along­side Richard Townsend.

She reports an in­flux of young fam­i­lies and re­turn­ing mem­bers. Is­raelis bring their chil­dren to shul on Shab­bat and the con­gre­ga­tion can call on “some re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced ser­vice tak­ers” among the mem­ber­ship.

Good re­la­tions are main­tained with the Ortho­dox syn­a­gogues. “Lots of Re­form mem­bers keep very kosher homes,” Ms Wolf­son notes. “And the com­mu­nity is too small to have all your friends in Re­form or all your friends from the Ortho­dox.”

Go­ing for­ward, the key ques­tions “are how we sup­port the el­derly pop­u­la­tion, how we bring in and sup­port younger mem­bers and how we pro­vide a com­mu­nity for peo­ple who don’t want to be ter­ri­bly re­li­gious”?

On these and wider mat­ters, “the is­sue is how do we make our voice heard? But for our size we are very noisy.”

Is­rael has its own man in Glas­gow, JNF leader Stan­ley Lo­vatt, who serves as hon­orary con­sul. He fields re­quests on is­sues such as pass­port re­newal from Scot­tish-based Is­raelis, pro­motes trade

Some of the build­ings are no longer fit for pur­pose’

and deals with cor­re­spon­dence from crit­ics of Is­rael.

For ex­am­ple, “I of­ten get let­ters com­plain­ing bit­terly about what is hap­pen­ing in Gaza. I feel obliged to re­ply to ev­ery­one. I just tell them the Is­raeli point of view.”

Al­though heart­ened by the sup­port of many non-Jews for Is­rael — “a large num­ber at­tend JNF events” — the hos­til­ity of oth­ers is in­escapable.

In Novem­ber, Scot­land will host Is­rael at Ham­p­den in foot­ball’s new Uefa Na­tions League and JNF is or­gan­is­ing a pack­age in­clud­ing din­ner at Giffnock and match tick­ets. Mr Lo­vatt is hope­ful of a take-up of 200 but adds: “We are bussing them in and out for safety’s sake.”

Fig­ures from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and Crown Of­fice on charges for hate crime for 2017/18 in­clude 21 an­tisemitic in­ci­dents (the num­ber for the pre­vi­ous year was 23). Thir­teen were for threat­en­ing or abu­sive be­hav­iour.

Ephraim Borowski, di­rec­tor of the Scot­tish Coun­cil of Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties (SCoJeC), says that while re­as­sur­ing that the num­bers are down slightly, “it re­mains a mat­ter of con­cern that Jews are 30 times more likely than oth­ers to be tar­geted for their re­li­gion.

“The strapline of Po­lice Scot­land is ‘keep­ing peo­ple safe’. But it’s re­ally about keep­ing peo­ple feel­ing safe — to keep wear­ing a kip­pah in the street or to keep a mezuzah on their door.”

The Glas­gow wel­fare net­work in­cor­po­rates Jewish Care Scot­land, Ne­wark Care (of­fer­ing “res­i­den­tial, nurs­ing and pal­lia­tive care within a Jewish en­vi­ron­ment”) and Cos­grove Care, sup­port­ing those across the age spec­trum with learn­ing dis­abil­ity.

At Cos­grove, chief ex­ec­u­tive Heather Gray says it sup­ports more than 30 Jewish clients. But this rep­re­sents only a small frac­tion of the Cos­grove caseload, an­other in­di­ca­tor of the di­min­ish­ing com­mu­nity.

But the char­ity re­mains com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing Jewish val­ues. “New staff re­ceive aware­ness train­ing on Jewish cul­ture and way of life. We re­tain that ethos and build Jewish fam­ily val­ues into how we work within the wider com­mu­nity.”

Cos­grove is work­ing with young Jews “who will need life­long sup­port — and we will be there for them”.

As­sess­ing the fu­ture, Mrs Liv­ingston adopts the glass half-full ap­proach.

“There is no doubt peo­ple are leav­ing but we’ve also got peo­ple com­ing here — fam­i­lies from through­out the world.

“Some peo­ple are com­ing back to be closer to fam­ily or be­cause they can’t af­ford to live in Lon­don.”

She adds that the in­vest­ment of East Ren­frew­shire Coun­cil in the Calder­wood build­ing “has given the com­mu­nity con­fi­dence.

“Glas­gow is an at­trac­tive place to live. We have a good in­fra­struc­ture, an in­volved com­mu­nity, good value hous­ing, a won­der­ful school and a good qual­ity of life.”

Jews are 30 times more likely to be tar­geted for [hate crime]’

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

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