Items to usher in a good year

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - GE­OF­FREY AL­DER­MAN

IT IS time — I thought as I re­cov­ered from Yom Kip­pur — to re­flect upon some re­cent good news sto­ries. So, now we are into a new year, let me share with you some of th­ese sto­ries and in­vite you to join me in savour­ing the op­ti­mism that they project. First, we have the story of “Ofra” (not her real name), the Is­raeli-born but Bri­tish-ed­u­cated stu­dent whom I fea­tured in my col­umn of Novem­ber 6 2008. Ofra had ap­plied to study at the Uni­ver­sity of West­min­ster and was of­fered a place pro­vided she ob­tained one grade A pass at A-Level and two grade Bs. Noth­ing was said about the sub­jects in which th­ese grades had to be ob­tained, and there was no in­ti­ma­tion that a pass in a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject would be dis­counted.

In the event, Ofra ob­tained one grade A and two grade Cs. How­ever, know­ing that uni­ver­si­ties rou­tinely ac­cept stu­dents with grades lower than those in­di­cated in the for­mal of­fer let­ter, Ofra asked whether, in spite of her poorer than ex­pected re­sults, she might none­the­less take up the of­fer of a place.

The ad­mis­sions tu­tor re­vealed that the min­i­mum en­try re­quire­ment for this course was in fact not an A and two Bs but, rather, three passes at grade C. So why had Ofra been re­fused a place? The ad­mis­sions tu­tor cut to the chase: “The rea­son why you were de­clined,” the tu­tor emailed on Au­gust 14, “is that your mother tongue is deemed to be He­brew be­cause of your Is­raeli na­tion­al­ity and we do not count A-grades in moth­er­tongue lan­guages of the ap­pli­cant”.

I should ex­plain that, at this point, I was asked — by Ofra’s lawyer — to ad­vise on this case, be­cause the (Jewish) secondary school she had at­tended seemed to be tak­ing the view that the last thing Ofra should do was to make a fuss.

So I made a fuss on Ofra’s be­half. We en­listed the ser­vices of her MP. And we com­plained to the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

The good news is that jus­tice has pre­vailed and that Ofra has now been en­rolled at West­min­ster. Next, I turn now to the case of the Beis Me­drash Elyon school, an ul­tra-Or­tho­dox secondary school for boys which op­er­ates from a house on the Gold­ers Green Road, and which I fea­tured in my col­umn of April 23 last. The prob­lem with BME is not that it is ul­tra­Ortho­dox, or that it op­er­ates from a res­i­den­tial dwelling. The prob­lem is that it has for some years func­tioned in a res­i­den­tial dwelling for which the rel­e­vant plan­ning con­sent has never been granted.

In that same April 23 col­umn, I drew at­ten­tion to the case of the Beis Soroh Sch­neirer school for girls, which oc­cu­pies a con­verted ware­house in West Hen­don. Those who run the BSS school had, in ef­fect, morally black­mailed the plan­ning au­thor­i­ties by open­ing the school at that site in 2004 de­spite the fact that Bar­net Coun­cil had turned down the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion. But what I did not re­veal in that col­umn was the fact that the in­di­vid­ual in charge of the BSS school is also in charge of BME and clearly hoped that the tac­tic that craftily saved BSS from clo­sure would save BME.

Well, the good news is that it has not. A plan­ning in­spec­tor has now up­held the de­ci­sion of Bar­net Coun­cil to refuse plan­ning per­mis­sion. This does not mean that the school must close, but merely that it can­not con­tinue to op­er­ate on its present site. The law of the land has been up­held.

I turn now to the top­i­cal topic of teshu­vah — re­pen­tance — and to the maxim that it is never too late to atone.

You will doubt­less have read the good news about one of Is­rael’s fiercest Bri­tish crit­ics, ac­tress Vanessa Red­grave. Ms Red­grave, pre­vi­ously known as a vo­cal sup­porter of the PLO, has taken it upon her­self to de­nounce those who de­manded that the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val aban­don a cel­e­bra­tion of the city of Tel Aviv. This is good news for the Jewish peo­ple. It’s even bet­ter news for all who value com­mon de­cency over sense­less big­otry.

Fi­nally, let me wish a hearty mazel­tov to pro­fes­sor Ada Yonath, of the Weiz­mann In­sti­tute in Re­hovot, who has been awarded (jointly) this year’s No­bel prize for chem­istry. I will not at­tempt to ex­plain the sci­en­tific in­tri­ca­cies of the re­search for which the prize has been awarded. Suf­fice it to say that Pro­fes­sor Yonath com­pleted both her un­der­grad­u­ate and post­grad­u­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions at Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties. But I must add that three Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties fea­ture in the just-re­leased 2009 rank­ing of the world’s top 200 uni­ver­si­ties com­piled by Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion — not bad for a coun­try that has been at war ever since its foun­da­tion.

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