Our Jewish schools are any­thing­but­calm— and we love them for it

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY EMMA JA­COBS STU­DENT RE­PORTER

SEVEN YEARS ago I turned up at JFS, clad in the com­pul­sory over­sized blazer and un­sure of what I had signed up for. Hav­ing gone to a small Church of Eng­land state pri­mary, I was used to singing hymns in an un­der­stated en­vi­ron­ment. JFS was to prove to be the storm af­ter the calm.

It is an over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when you start. Three hun­dred pupils per year and so many class­rooms that even new teach­ers are given maps. Peo­ple may be put off send­ing their chil­dren to Jewish schools be­cause of fears of in­doc­tri­na­tion, lack of sec­u­lar teach­ing and nar­row­ness of ex­pe­ri­ence.

In truth, com­pul­sory Ju­daism lessons and in­volve­ment of groups like Aish in in­for­mal Jewish ed­u­ca­tion can seem out of place in a state school. There is no opt­ing out of these ac­tiv­i­ties that only re­flect the Ortho­dox view­point, which many in the school do not sub­scribe to.

But it is not as co­er­cive or mono­lithic as it sounds. There is scope for de­bate in Jewish Stud­ies lessons and the teach­ers are will­ing to hear views that may con­tra­dict their own. Many stu­dents jump at the chance to chal­lenge their teach­ers.

For many, hav­ing the fes­ti­val days off is in­valu­able. Many young Jews at non-faith schools are faced with the dilemma over whether they should miss school to go to shul. Ran­domly timed hol­i­days of­fer fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties for off-sea­son travel but they do de­lay progress in the early months of each aca­demic year.

At JFS, there is al­ways a buzz around the fes­ti­vals. Purim is hi­lar­i­ous, with teach­ers and stu­dents dress­ing in some of the odd­est out­fits imag­in­able. The cos­tumes have in­cluded a pe­ri­odic ta­ble, Jewish Stud­ies teach­ers

A class in full swing at JFS and (be­low left) Em­maand friends dress up at school for Purim

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