Farewell to the school that changed our lives

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

ACOU­PLE OF weeks ago we at­tended an event which I sup­pose comes to all par­ents. A mo­ment of hap­pi­ness tinged with melan­choly, of pride tinged with a lit­tle re­gret, of look­ing to the fu­ture tinged with nos­tal­gia for some­thing ir­re­triev­ably gone. It was the last day of pri­mary school for my youngest son.

And we said good­bye to Mo­riah Jewish Day School af­ter 14 years and three sons. There was a touch­ing, joy­ous, farewell evening and then, at the end, I was seized with the thought that I’d prob­a­bly never stand in the school hall again. Well, maybe once or twice per­haps, though I re­ally can’t think why it might be even that many.

Af­ter all those mock seders, and Chanukah bazaars and plays and par­ents evenings, this was it.

Send­ing the boys to Mo­riah hadn’t been the nat­u­ral thing to do at all. First there was us. Nei­ther my wife nor I at­tended a Jewish school and we are both Lib­eral Jews. Mo­riah is a United Syn­a­gogue school. We won­dered about hav­ing the boys wear tz­itzit to class. And would they find it con­fus­ing that our own prac­tices were dif­fer­ent to those be­ing taught in school?

My dad told us not to worry. We shouldn’t fuss about the whole thing too much. He said his en­tire for­mal school­ing had been a few weeks in the Trans Siberian Rail­way school, which hadn’t stopped him be­com­ing a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor. Would they come home Or­tho­dox Jews un­able to re­late to our Ju­daism? He laughed: “It will prob­a­bly be an in­oc­u­la­tion”.

A turn­ing point came for me when I picked up my old­est from a lo­cal nurs­ery and he started singing Christ­mas car­ols in the back of the car. I thought “Well, if he’s go­ing to start singing re­li­gious songs any­way, they may as well be ours”.

But once we were sure in our own mind that we wanted to go ahead, we found that it wasn’t as sim­ple as that. Mo­riah needed a cer­tifi­cate that proved we were Jewish and we couldn’t pro­vide one. We had mar­ried in a Re­form syn­a­gogue and, un­usu­ally, so had both sets of par­ents. Be­yond that, be­ing the chil­dren of refugees, the ev­i­dence was hard to come by.

I spent ages on the phone to some­one charged with cer­ti­fi­ca­tion un­til even­tu­ally a doc­u­ment was ac­cepted be­cause it showed my wife’s grand­mother had at­tended a Jewish kinder­garten. It wasn’t an ex­pe­ri­ence I’d wish One son starts sixth form as his brother leaves pri­mary school Mo­riah made the case for the good that faith schools can do on any­one else and I was de­lighted when the courts ren­dered it un­nec­es­sary.

What started as slightly un­fa­mil­iar to us, quickly be­came un­re­mark­able. We stopped think­ing of the tz­itzit as any­thing more than school uni­form. We for­got that ev­ery­one else’s chil­dren weren’t cel­e­brat­ing the same fes­ti­vals. I still re­call the be­muse­ment on the face of our nanny as she ex­plained that the boys would need to bring in some grapes to­mor­row. “Be­cause it’s new year for…” She glanced at me, wor­ried she’d mis­un­der­stood some­thing, “for…trees.”

The boys didn’t ques­tion that our prac­tices were dif­fer­ent at home. Never once. School was school and home was home and it seemed never to oc­cur to them to ask.

But they did gain a knowl­edge of Jewish law and cus­tom, an abil­ity to read He­brew, a knowl­edge of how to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­vals and a con­fi­dence, an at home­ness, with their re­li­gion, that has helped them iden­tify as Jews and feel com­fort­able in the com­mu­nity. I think it has given the boys some­thing pre­cious.

And I think it did make the case for the good that faith schools can do. There was a warmth there, a feel­ing of be­long­ing, some­thing be­yond an or­di­nary school­ing.

I think we ben­e­fited enor­mously from that. Mo­riah is a small school and like all such in­sti­tu­tions it will go up and down, have good years and bad years and be enor­mously af­fected by the com­ings and go­ings of staff. And it faces the same de­mo­graphic chal­lenges as many other Jewish schools.

It’s an odd feel­ing that those chal­lenges won’t be ours, that who parks in the school car park, and whether they had the right sticker, is now some­one else’s prob­lem and some­one else’s gos­sip.

I mean what­ever will we talk about? Good­bye old friend and thank you.

Daniel Finkel­stein is As­so­ci­ate Edi­tor of The Times.

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