My first year as head­teacher

What’s it like to be the non-Jewish head of a Jewish school? Gary Grif­fin re­flects on his first year at Im­manuel Col­lege

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION -

TWELVE MONTHS ago I be­gan my head­ship at Im­manuel, the first non-Jewish head­mas­ter to be ap­pointed. Hav­ing been at City of Lon­don School for many years I had be­come ac­cus­tomed to some Jewish tra­di­tions and ways of life — 25 per cent of the boys there were Jewish — but to be fully im­mersed in Jewish life and learning has been some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Three char­ac­ter­is­tics come to mind im­me­di­ately: JMT (Jewish Mean Time which seems to run sev­eral min­utes be­hind the rest of the UK, or sev­eral hours be­hind if you are de­pend­ing on El Al), the im­por­tance of food (ev­ery event I have at­tended has been catered for ex­trav­a­gantly — or should that be over-catered for?) and the re­ally ex­cep­tion­ally warm feel­ing of com­mu­nity and pulling to­gether.

Peo­ple asked me what has stood out for me. The first is the im­por­tance of, and com­mit­ment to, the Jewish fes­ti­vals. I had of course been aware of Chanukah, Pe­sach, Suc­cot and Shavuot but these have be­come much more fa­mil­iar now.

The hol­i­day which sticks in my mem­ory most was Purim. If you re­mem­ber, Purim oc­curred on one of three very snowy days.

On the morn­ing of the fes­ti­val I was stand­ing at Wim­ble­don sta­tion at 6am, call­ing our direc­tor of ad­mis­sions and op­er­a­tions, Lynda Dul­lop, ask­ing whether we needed to close the col­lege be­cause of the ad­verse weather con­di­tions. She ad­vised me, quite rightly, that we had to stay open. The chil­dren (and staff ) had been pre­par­ing for months to cel­e­brate with fancy dress, fun ac­tiv­i­ties and lots of food. So we went ahead as planned and I will never for­get the three as­sem­blies I at­tended that day – in the prep school, the Beit and the main school hall.

In each venue, there ap­peared to be ri­ots and chaos . I learnt, even­tu­ally, that it was con­trolled “protest” that oc­curred ev­ery time a par­tic­u­lar name was said aloud from the Megillah read­ings but

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