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