Ed­u­ca­tional (dys)func­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - David Aaronon­vitch

Athat there are for Jews to be Jews (and Lord knows, there are many) why do we need this thing at all?

Most of Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated Jews never went near a Jewish school and some­how man­aged to sur­vive. Sur­vive and play an in­flu­en­tial part in the wider so­ci­ety. In­deed Dy­lan’s par­ents them­selves, who de­scribe them­selves as “a tra­di­tional Jewish fam­ily” at­tended sec­u­lar schools. This at­ten­dance does not seem to have in­hib­ited their Jewish­ness. It is an in­suf­fi­cient an­swer to this prob­lem to say that some of the schools (as we re­ported last week) are among the best aca­dem­i­cally in the coun­try. When you per­mit al­most any kind of se­lec­tion you will dis­cover schools mag­i­cally tend­ing to­wards more com­mit­ted par­ents and more able chil­dren. Sep­a­rate Jewish ed­u­ca­tion has to be de­sir­able in it­self for the sys­tem to be de­fended.

One as­pect of as­pir­ing to a Jewish school ed­u­ca­tion, of course, is to cre­ate a norm sep­a­rate from the ques­tion of its value. Dy­lan’s friends all went to Jewish sec­ondary school, so he feels he must, too.

That his friends were all Jewish is down to the fact that he was ed­u­cated at a Jewish pri­mary school. He wants to be with them and, if he gets his way, he may man­age not to make a friend­ship with a non-Jew from kinder­garten to univer­sity. Would the Chief Rabbi, who com­pli­mented Dy­lan’s par­ents on their stead­fast de­sire for a Jewish ed­u­ca­tion also like to com­pli­ment them on the nar­row­ness of his so­cial cir­cle? I won­der what he made of Dy­lan’s mother’s heart­felt cry that it was un­fair that “non-Jewish chil­dren take up places in Jewish schools when a child like Dy­lan has ded­i­cated him­self to Jewish ed­u­ca­tion all his life.” No, Dy­lan was ded­i­cated to a par­tic­u­lar idea of a Jewish ed­u­ca­tion by his par­ents. He just wants to be with his mates. And if your idea of fair is moan­ing about in­te­gra­tion, then you have a prob­lem.

But this is not Dy­lan’s mum’s fault. She wants what oth­ers want. It’s nat­u­ral. So to my last ques­tion: what prob­lem is this sep­a­rat­ing of Jews from oth­ers sup­posed to solve? Is un­der­stand­ing of Jews and Jewish­ness so wide­spread in this so­ci­ety that de­priv­ing schools of their fair share of Jews is a good plan? Do you think that a so­ci­ety where a child can go from in­fant school to col­lege and never en­counter a Jewish per­son is bet­ter than one where Jews and gen­tiles are ed­u­cated to­gether? Is not an im­por­tant func­tion of a school to cre­ate a sense of wider com­mu­nity than a par­tic­u­lar group and to cre­ate a wider sense of iden­tity than with just one faith? Or is be­ing a Jew or a Catholic or a Mor­mon or a Mus­lim all there is to you? It’s a look-out if it is.

Per­haps he’ll never make a non-Jewish friend up to univer­sity

David Aaronovitch is a Times colum­nist

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