Who needs Jewish schools?

Jewish Schools - Past Their Sell By Date?

Jewish Schools - Past Their Sell By Date?

Something unprecedented has happened on the pages of the Jewish Chronicle lately. Debate has broken out! Instead of all the tired orthodoxies and cliches being regurgitated with just the headlines changing weekly, there has been open disagreement among contributors and correspondents to the paper.

What’s it all about?  It’s over the JFS “who is a Jew?” issue. Should the JFS be able to say which kind of Jews can benefit from its education facilities. Or should a Jewish education be defined by its content and not by questioning the Jew-credit-rating of those who want to sign up for it?

Fascinating as far as it goes, but so frustrating that the much bigger question has been avoided, which is: why are so many Jewish parents so desperate for their children to go to a Jewish school in the first place?

Sure there are a proportion of ghettoised right-wing Jews whose racism and commitment to social snobbery puts them in fear of mixing with non-Jews/working class/black children. And their numbers may be growing, What do they think is going to happen? That their boys might start growing their foreskins back, that their girls might think there is more to life than lighting candles on a Friday and shopping in Brent Cross?

And, of course, there are those parents who are susceptible to the constant  drip-feed of “don’t trust the goyim/let’s keep to ourselves/antisemitism is everywhere” messages, that slip without effort (or thought) from the tongues of our communal leaders.

But I would guess that there are a lot of Jewish parents who send their kids to Jewish schools for none of these reasons. Perhaps it is fear or at least a terrible lack of confidence – that they cannot successfully transmit Jewish culture to their children, so they will send them to an institution that can.

Real, organically evolving Jewish culture is precisely what emerges as a result of and at the point of Jewish contact with the surrounding society. What is given to them in hermetically-sealed totally Jewish schools can only be an ossified, plastic, conservative version of Jewishness.

And what does it say about these Jewish parents’ vision of the future? While many cities in Britain are becoming much more diverse, exciting places to be where cultures mix and develop, do they really want to lead a voluntary return to the ghetto? Or do we want our kids to be part of the society around them, proud of who they are but also able to treat other cultures as equals?

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6 thoughts on “Who needs Jewish schools?”

  1. First off, allow me to make correction to your article. During my many years at JFS I mixed with many working class, and (some) black children, but actually, there are probably hidden away in a cupboard on the open days!

    JFS is the safe, easy option. It is a ‘good’ school that gets decent exam results, and you dont need move house in order to get your kids in to a decent state run school, all you need is to be a Jew.

    I was at JFS from the age of 11-18, and in hindsight, being in that environment can be very damaging to children. Looking back, those ‘don’t trust the goyim/let’s keep to ourselves/antisemitism is everywhere’ feelingsbecame a part of me. I’m not sure how, but they did. Again looking back, at school there was alot of inbuilt racism against anyone non Jewish, not just with the children but also subtle messages from the Jewish Studies department in lessons. And as we never had any contact with people from another background or religion, we didnt need to worry.

    Things have changed now, and I fell lucky enough to overcome the infiltration. I would never send my kids to JFS, not just because of the above but for other reasons too, which i wont go in to.

  2. As anon alludes to, another aspect of Jewish schools and indeed faith schools in general is the ‘good’ status and corresponding ‘decent exam results’. Whilst there are compelling reasons to oppose Jewish schools on the grounds of racial segregation, we should also remember to situate the question in the wider context of educational discrimination which allows faith schools to provide selective education within the state system. As a teacher, it seems to me that anything that undermines the comprehensive nature of state education fatally undermines the whole system which relies on an even spread of students, particularly the nice middle class kids from nice middle class families who flock to JFS and other faith schools. Really, it’s bad enough having a private education sector and it ought to be abolished, but there’s no need to add insult to injury through faith schools.

  3. but of course there is more to life than brent X – there is Kenyon Malcha…..

  4. When working supply in London, I was sent to state funded Yavneh College, Borehamwood, a new Jewish school boringly modelled on new labour academies where important people with walkie talkies walk about purposefully and where teachers complain repetitively about students in the staff room.

    I had to teach a Year 7 science lesson on genetics: Here is a transcript, imperfectly remembered, of part of the lesson:

    Teacher: Shut up all of you or I’ll send you to the nasty state school down the road where you’ll have to confront the material realities behind the horrible stereotypes of your snobbish parents.
    (Hush descends immediately)
    Now, didn’t you have a question?

    Precocious girl: I don’t mean to sound racist or anything, but why do black people exist?

    Teacher: Well, as all humans originally come from Africa, it might be better to ask ‘why do white people exist’?

    Chorus of lots of well-brainwashed children: But we don’t believe that, we believe in Adam and Eve.

    Teacher: Ok, but according to the bible, the Garden of Eden appears to have been in what is now Iraq – so Adam and Eve may have looked like Arab-Iraqi people.

    (Sounds of incredulous children. Attempts by teacher to remember the lines from the Bible about the rivers. Was it the rivers? Maybe that was something else…)

    Some other child, maybe the same one as before, they all look the same anyway: We were told that black people are descendents of Cain.

    Teacher: Are you saying that black people are all descendents of a murderer?

    Child: No, it’s not a bad thing, God made him black as a protection against people who might not have liked him.

    Teacher: But Cain was branded because he killed his brother and was made to walk the earth for the rest of his life as a punishment. Anyway, this is not what it says in the Bible is it? It is just one reading of the text, not the only way to read it.

    … So anyway, I got them all to agree that it was only an interpretation of God’s words and if that had been the way that melanin came upon the earth, then God is a little ambiguous about it. The class had a little discussion about the idea of Cain and black people which ended when one boy said, “But isn’t that racist?”. I revealed my true feelings at this point and said that I too thought that saying that the ‘black race’ was created by God as a way of branding humanity’s fraticidal outcasts was indeed a racist myth – some, though not all of the class, concurred. After the lesson I went to find the Jewish Studies teacher though he had slipped off somewhere and I never found out where and from whom they had learned this ‘fact’.

    My conclusions were as follows:
    1. The 6 day creation / Adam and Eve bullshit is a harmless fairy story. However, it is plainly not how the world happened (see Rebbe’s article about metaphor), and when weilded by bigots may well lead to other much more harmful myths implanted in our children.
    2. Religious schools seclude children in an institutional ghetto, from which they are TAUGHT to be scared to leave. And it is not just the walls of the school that keep them from the rest of the world it is the ideas of the school too, leading children to defy their own common sense and start sentences with things like ‘But WE believe etc.’
    3. The state should not spend money for this sort of thing to happen. If religious bigots want to pass on their bigotry and parents wish their children to have it implanted in them, then they should do all this in their own time and with their own money.

  5. I have to say that it just breaks my heart and wrenches something in me when I am confronted, over and over, with this stuff. I am a Black Jewish woman, child of a Jewish Euro mom and Protestant African American, and my experiences in the Jewish ‘community’ have gotten better over time, but those schools I attended were something else. Makes me so angry and sad. Might as well be an insular version of an already insular white supremacist ‘children’s activiities’ center.

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