The down­side of the Jewish school bubble

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BY LEAH PENNISI-GLASER Leah Pennisi-Glaser, 15, is study­ing for her GCSEs in Lon­don

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?

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