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March 19, 2015 1:58 am

Jewish Community in Wales ‘Feeling Vulnerable’ Following Record-Breaking Antisemitism in Britain

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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Stanley Soffa said there's "certainly been a decline" over the years in Wales' Jewish community. Photo: BBC screenshot.

The Jewish community in Wales, UK is dwindling in number and its members are feeling vulnerable in light of the record number of antisemitic attacks taking place in the UK, the BBC reported recently.

There are only 2,064 Jews currently living in Wales, according to the most recent census. Cardiff, the country’s capital, holds the largest Jewish community in Wales with less than 500 members, down from 5,500 in the 1960s. In Newport, which has a synagogue that dates back to 1859, only six Jews remain.

“When I look to the future I see decline, I see Newport and Swansea virtually ended like Merthyr did a few years ago,” said Stanley Soffa, chairman of the Jewish Representative Council for South Wales.

Fear of antisemitic attacks is apparent among Jews in Wales. Soffa said the community fears “the person who will do something unpredictable.”

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“It could just be a comment in the street, it could be desecration of a cemetery, it could be daubing something on a synagogue, it could, of course, be much more serious than that,” he told BBC Wales News. “We do not fear action such as we’ve seen in Paris, but we have to be vigilant and careful. It only takes one person to pull a knife and to stab another and so we don’t want people to put themselves in a difficult position if they can help it. Security has obviously increased and the police have been very good.”

Figures released in February showed antisemitic incidents in the UK reaching the highest level ever recorded, the BBC reported. The Community Security Trust, a Jewish security charity that runs an incident hotline, recorded 1,168 antisemitic incidents against Britain’s 291,000 strong Jewish population in 2014, compared to 535 attacks in 2013.

Antisemitic attacks across Europe include January’s deadly shootings in Paris at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and the HyperCacher kosher supermarket. Others died in February during the bloody terror attack at a free speech event and then at a synagogue in Copenhagen.

Soffa said he does not know of any Jewish families in Cardiff who are considering moving because of antisemitism, but added that there is still concern of hate crimes taking place. He urged the Jewish community to be vigilant and careful, adding, “we shouldn’t do anything that is going to draw attention to ourselves.”

Television presenter Lucy Owen’s father was the first boy to have a bar mitzvah at Cardiff’s Reform Synagogue. The event took place in March 1949 and she said visiting the synagogue three decades later was difficult for her. She told the BBC, “To see this community that had been so important to my family, now feeling vulnerable was very difficult.”

“And there was guilt too. My parents left it for me to choose my religion. Despite those early visits to the synagogue, I didn’t become a practicing Jew,” she explained. “I now question whether it’s stories like mine that are partly responsible for the dwindling community here in Wales.”

Professor Nathan Abrams from Bangor University, who specializes in European Jewish diasporas, believes demographics are behind the decline of the Jewish population in Wales. The older generations who are dying are not getting replaced by younger members. It is harder for smaller communities to retain their members because people are attracted to larger cities where there are more opportunities, he told the BBC.

Soffa said the Jewish community in Wales is hoping to boost its official numbers by getting unaffiliated local Jews to join the area synagogues.

“There are a lot of Jews, according to the census at least, in Cardiff and the Vale who are clearly not members of either of the two Cardiff synagogues. We are trying to find out who they are, trying to find out why they are not members of a synagogue and trying to encourage them to join,” he said. “That is the only way we can increase our numbers.”

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