Scotland‘s Jewish population is small and in decline, but within the community are some dynamic ventures encouraging lapsed individuals to give their religion a re-think. L’Chaims is Scotland’s only Jewish Kosher restaurant, named after both its owner and a traditional Hebrew toast: “To life”. Situated within the heart of Glasgow’s Jewish area and run by local rabbi, Chaim Jacobs, and his wife Sora, it has become a potent symbol of rebirth in a community that is battling a slow yet steady decline.
Across the country Britain’s Jewish population is falling. “People are marrying out of the faith, they’re having fewer children, daring to be gay, living an alternative lifestyle. As Glasgow-born Rabbi Malcolm Herman, director of another London-based Jewish educational initiative called Seed, points out in the documentary: “We’re talking about applying ancient wisdom to contemporary living.”
I meet Rabbi Jacobs, who as well as owning L’Chaims is a community rabbi in Giffnock and runs the Scottish arm of a Jewish educational organisation called Lubavitch, at his Giffnock home. Rabbi Jacobs is on a mission to bring lapsed Scottish Jews back to their roots. Via Lubavitch, the New York-based Jewish educational initiative that is the world’s biggest Jewish outreach organisation, he hopes to offer secular Jews who have abandoned their faith a reason to return.
“Formal practice of religion is on the decline, but there is still an interest in spirituality and Judaism within our community,” says Rabbi Jacobs. “There isn’t really a Jewish community centre like there used to be,” Rabbi Jacobs replies. There are around 5,500 Jews left in Glasgow’s community, by far the biggest in Scotland. Walk through Giffnock today and you will see traditionally dressed Hasidic Jews, Kosher delis, a synagogue, a Jewish primary school and two Jewish care homes for the elderly. “We don’t seek non- Jewish people but we welcome them,” Jacobs says. There have been Kosher wine tastings on the calendar, and a children’s birthday party with Kosher McDonald’s-style food. Jacobs’ son Mendel, also a rabbi, even launched a Jewish tartan in the Spring – made with Kosher non-wool linen of course.