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
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