What do Jews and Scots have in common?

It's great, being Jewish in Scotland, says Jamie Rodney

July 11, 2018 15:35

Picture your stereotypical British Jew. If you’ve got Jewish friends, he probably looks like them. (If you’re an antisemite, she’s probably a banker who controls the economy and hates Palestinians) . Beard, kippah, and dark, self-deprecating sense of humour optional. One thing that all these imaginary people have in common - whether dreamed up by Jew or gentile, antisemite or philosemite - is that they probably don’t know what a Deep Fried Mars Bar is.  

Truthfully, it’s not an unfair assumption.  Over 60% of British Jews live in London, with most of the rest scattered around the rest of England. There are historical reasons for this which I don’t have the space to go into, but what does this concentration mean for people like me: proud Jews who understand that “The North” starts at Hadrians Wall, not the Watford Gap? A profound identity crisis born of belonging to two irreconcilable cultures? That’s initially what I was going to write this article about, but I’ve realised that actually, the marriage of Scottishness and Judaism is a happier one than you could find almost anywhere else in Europe, and not just because a kilt and tallit combination would look dapper as hell.

For a start, the stereotypes about Scots and Jews are pretty similar. Both are supposed to be mean with money, and love fatty foods (for the record, the first one of these is untrue, the second, I can categorically confirm, isn’t.)

But there’s more to it than that. Jews and Scots are both members of small groups of people that punch well above their weight. If you don’t believe me, imagine a world without Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, and then throw out Alexander Graham-Bell, Fleming and Hamilton for good measure. Or, to use another metric, consider that one party in the US Senate is lead by a man called McConnel, and the other by a man called Schumer (depending on your political persuasions, that may or may not be something to be proud of.)

But more than that, it’s also the context in which these things were achieved that unites Jews and Scots. While obviously Scots have never suffered anything nearly as bad as the Holocaust, we’re not exactly strangers to being pushed around by larger neighbours.  And remember, Scotland’s very existence stems from it being one of the only countries in Western Europe to resist conquest by the Roman Empire. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the history of the Jewish people’s long struggle for survival against the odds should be able to see the parallels there.

I’m not entirely sure what I hope to achieve by making this point, but I’m just surprised nobody has tried to make it before. Perhaps it’s because of other stereotypes about Jews: of gentility, of urbanity, of - for want of a better word - sissiness, that aren’t often applied to Scots, but that’s a question for another day. For now, I think it’s enough to say that, even if most of my co-religionists prefer the Big Smoke, I’m proud to be a Scottish Semite.


Jamie Rodney is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. He is studying English at St Andrews University

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July 11, 2018 15:35

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