Five decades on, longest-serving rabbi proud still to be fulfilling his mission. His mission has been to watch over the Jewish community in Scotland’s largest city, reach out to wayward members and steer them back towards the faith.
Chaim Jacobs, 70, is Scotland’s longest-serving rabbi, having served the Jews of Glasgow for nearly five decades, and is proud to say he is still going strong.
However, Glasgow’s Jewish population, mostly confined to the south side of the city, has been in decline and now numbers about 4,000.
Many of them will have taken part in programs and classes run by Rabbi Jacobs and his wife Sora, or eaten at L’Chaim’s, the Kosher restaurant they established.
Rabbi Jacobs said: “A number of synagogues have closed because the community has contracted. You have a married couple and they have two or three children who go off to university or college and they don’t come back to Glasgow after that.
“Either because they find a better Jewish social life down south or overseas, or they find better job opportunities. They don’t settle in Glasgow, so now a family of two adults and two or three children is just down to the two adults.
“And then very often, when they come to retirement age, they are moving to where their children are.”
Rabbi Jacobs is part of the Lubavitch movement – the world’s largest Jewish educational outreach organization, headquartered in New York and with branches in 90 countries.
Not tied to any one synagogue, his role is at the heart of the community, inspiring and encouraging Jews to learn about their faith.
He came to Scotland in 1969 and despite the many changes he has witnessed during the intervening years, is still working as hard as ever. “The main function of the organization is to try and inspire and encourage Jews to come back to their faith”, said Rabbi Jacobs.
“One time, one of the rabbis of our organization was being interviewed on the BBC and Robin Day asked him ‘in other words, you are the Jewish Billy Graham?’ and the rabbi replied ‘No, Billy Graham is the Christian Lubavitch’.
“The main function of a synagogue is basically holding services on a daily basis and the rabbis are mostly involved with hatches, matches and dispatches.
“The Lubavitch came into the community primarily to reach out to the community. We are not tied down to these functions on a day-to-day basis.
“When we came to Scotland we were a breath of fresh air for the Jewish community.”
Mrs. Jacobs, 65, added: “We started off with a lot of youth work when we first came. We did day camps for 150 children every year, we took them out on day trips on buses and did children’s clubs, cooking and baking and handicrafts.
“We had a nursery school for more than 30 years in the Giffnock synagogue and in Clarkston Synagogue. At one point, we had more than 60 children of a morning.
“Then we did adult education programs, kosher food exhibitions, cooking demonstrations. We have dealt with the children and now they are becoming parents themselves and we are dealing with their children. It’s lovely, wonderful.”
Having raised a family of six together – one of their sons, Mendel, is also a rabbi – the couple could be excused for thinking about retirement.
But Rabbi Jacobs said that there are no plans to sit back any time soon.
He added: “As long as we are here, as long as there are Jews here that we can preach to or reach to or connect with, we have our work cut out.”
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