The downside of the Jewish school bubble
I AM walking to my next lesson with two of my classmates, Razwana and Aida (not their real names), when the words “Viva, viva Palestina!” ring out in the corridor. We look up and to my horror and their delight, we see a teacher walking towards us, his thumbs cocked up in approval. The object of his approval are the words writ large on the t-shirt Aida is wearing: “Free Gaza”.
Although the school’s dress code prohibits clothing with slogans, no one seems to have said anything. And now, a teacher has gone one step further and actually approved Aida’s politically charged garment.
I am one of a handful of Jewish pupils at my school in a north London suburb that has been home to Jews for generations. But maybe I should be less surprised I am so poorly represented at my comprehensive. Accord- ing to a recent report from the Board of Deputies and JPR, two in three British Jewish schoolchildren now attend Jewish schools.
It’s not always easy being in the minority, that’s for sure. The t-shirt incident is just the tip of an iceberg of what I have experienced at my school, where I have heard everything from “the Jews did 9/11” to “you killed Christ”. Friends at my shul, Finchley Progressive, who also attend mainstream schools report similar experiences.
One boy, who goes to an academy in London where he says he can count the number of Jewish students on the fingers of his hands, says he never tells his non-Jewish friends his mum’s a rabbi “in case they get the wrong idea”. Similarly, a girl at another school says she only reveals her Jewish heritage to people she “trusts”. All three of us have heard schoolmates make jokes about the Holocaust.
Conversely, when I asked Ben, 18, whom I met at BBYO, about whether he’d experienced any antisemitism at school, he said he never had. He’s a pupil at City of London School for Boys, where he reckons around four in ten students are Jewish. From which you could conclude that when it comes to being young and Jewish, there’s safety in numbers.
However, I would put it to those parents who shuttle their offspring off to Jewish “bubble” schools every day that they might be doing more harm than good. Maybe going to a Jewish school, being in such a safe, protected and, for me, unreal environment means you aren’t actually that well equipped to even recognise, let alone combat, antisemitism or anti-Zionism.
My friend Zara, who is at JCoSS, says “she’s never really met people with those views”. If you sit next to “people with those views” in double maths, you’re forced to notice and react to them.
It is not just pupils who need educating. Last month, I told one (very lovely) teacher about this article and she said: “What is antisemitism, Leah?” My initial reaction was one of great surprise. But then when I
thought about it, it made sense. She has never lived among Jews. And since she started teaching, she has — on principle, she told me — only ever taught in state schools.
So, given the exodus of Jews from Britain’s mainstream schools, this means I could, quite feasibly, be her first Jewish pupil. Put another way, she’d never have had to ask one of her pupils what racism and Islamophobia
are: she’s taught hordes of kids who have been the victims of both.
Better informed teachers. That’s another reason why I wish there were more Jews in mainstream schools. Maybe then, instead of being praised, Aida would have been told to change into something less controversial.
All of us have heard jokes made about the Holocaust’
Does the protective environment of Jewish schooling leave children less equipped to combat opposition to Israel in the wider world?