Scottish Rabbi, Creator of Jewish Tartan Says Country’s Jews Oppose Independence (INTERVIEW)
Scotland’s only local-born rabbi, and the creator of the only official Jewish tartan pattern, believes that, “From the Jewish perspective, we’re hoping for a ‘no vote,’ in the vote for independence,” from the United Kingdom on Thursday.
“From my understanding, a majority of the Jewish community, or ‘the’ majority of the Jewish community wants a ‘no’ vote,” Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, told The Algemeiner Tuesday.
“I don’t think a nationalist country has ever been good for Jews,” Jacobs said of fears within the 10,000-member community, and stressed “that if [the vote] went yes, anti-Jewish sentiments would increase.”
Noting that, unlike some Scottish Jews who have succeeded in resettling elsewhere, including in Israel, “some can’t leave – they’re stuck,” either due to age or infirmities.
“Bear in mind that there’s a large percentage of elderly Jews in Glasgow,” he pointed out, of the small community of some 5,500 souls, and also noted others who reside in Edinburgh and the Highlands.
As for the tartan, when it was unveiled in 2008 Jacobs said “It’s been well received by Jewish people in Scotland and around the world,” and added that it “allowed people to combine their Jewish and Scottish heritage together.”
“For over 300 years Scots Jews have waited for their own tartan and now here it is,” he told local media, beginning with the first Jew recorded to have arrived in Edinburgh in 1691.
“The blue and white represents the colors of the Israeli and Scottish flag with the central gold line representing the gold from the Biblical Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and the many ceremonial vessels. The silver is from the decorations that adorn the Scroll of the Law and the red represents the traditional red Kiddush wine. There are seven lines in the central motif and three in the flag representations – both numbers of great significance,” Jacobs said.
Noting that, “In Scotland, the Jews were never persecuted and there were no pogroms, no Holocaust, no national or state sponsored antisemitic laws,” Jacobs pointed out to electricscotland.com that, “When England was burning and exiling its Jews in the Middle Ages, Scotland provided a safe haven from English and European anti-Semitism.”
But not all Scottish Jews see the issues as being so clear cut, nor as comforting.
Nick Henderson, 26, was born and raised in Glasgow, and emigrated to Israel in 2004. While he’s friends with Jacobs – who is even sending him yarmulkes made with the “Chosen” tartan – Henderson, who holds an absentee ballot, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that he has mixed feelings about Scottish independence, both as a Scot, and as one who left to make his life in the Jewish homeland.
While calling Scotland “a safe place, a warm place, for Jews,” he pointed to unpleasant experiences, as an identifying pro-Israel Jew.
“You’re judged on your Judaism by how much you criticize Israel or not,” he charged.
“When I started at my previous job, the first thing my boss asked me was what I thought about Palestine and Israel,” adding that if Jews don’t hew to the popular anti-Israel tropes, “you’re seen as a Zionist, in a negative sense.”
He noted comments by Scotland’s pro-independence movement leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, who on Sunday equated Israel with ISIS, as exemplifying the hard left attitude towards Israel among some in Scotland.
As a counterpoint to Jacob’s assertion of Scotland as a “safe haven,” Henderson feels those days may be fading fast. He noted the open hostility to Israel in Scottish media over Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, and pointed out that, “the Scottish government doesn’t want to have arms shipments to Israel, and from day one of independence, the pro-Palestinians will be fishing for even harder things.
“I am as much Scottish as I am Jewish,” Henderson, who works for the Livnot.org educational program in Safed in the northern Galilee, wrote in The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“My grandfather was a Jewish surgeon from Dublin who settled in Glasgow; my grandmother was a pillar of the once thriving Jewish community as a lawyer, fundraiser and chairwoman of the synagogue I grew up in. My family are still at the heart of the community, teaching at cheder [religious schools], writing for the Jewish newspaper, organizing Jewish learning conferences and working for Jewish non-profits.”
Summing up, Henderson told The Algemeiner that, “If I was to go with my heart, then I believe that we can create a fair, more free, more democratic society. But if I was to go with my head, I’d ask, ‘what currency would we use; what would our relationship with the European Union be …’ all these things that haven’t been asked.”
He added, “…on top of that, being a Jew and a Zionist – if I were to go with my head, I’d go with ‘no;’ don’t make life any more difficult for the Jews in Scotland, because, with independence, things will get a lot harder for people.”
“But, if I go with ‘yes,’ maybe then all the Jews will move to Israel,” he noted, adding wryly, “so, maybe it’s kind of a Zionist case for Scottish independence – in a roundabout way.”