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Decision to attend Jewish school in UK complex

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Jewish education in the United Kingdom has been a contentious issue for thousands of parents comprising the Jewish community of approximately 300 000. The question of whether or not to choose a Jewish education for one’s children brings with it a complexity of factors.
by SHIRA DRUION | Aug 05, 2015

During his tenure as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks embarked on a very vocal campaign to encourage Jewish communal life and he succeeded in making enormous strides to help improve education in Jewish schools.

His campaign to strengthen areas of observance for British Jewry recalls the dramatic advert in 1993 which launched his call to bolster Jewish education. It depicted lines of young people queuing like lemmings to tumble off the edge of a precipice, with the headline: "Today, we'll lose another 10 Jews".

The campaign had the desired effect and served as a catalyst for a staggering growth in enrolment into Jewish schools. Attendance grew from 24 per cent of Jewish youth to 68 per cent in only two decades.

“In a world spinning in a kind of values vertigo, Jewish education is the only means we have of ensuring that the next generation will cherish their cultural heritage,” says Elliot Wolf, former headmaster of King David Linksfield and now director of the King David Schools Foundation.

“A Jewish education is all-embracing and draws on our long religious and cultural history, nurturing a love for Israel, confidence and pride in one’s identity, knowledge of one’s past, and commitment to preserving one’s heritage,” says Wolf.

Former South Africans who themselves went to Jewish day schools, often feel a desire to offer their children the same kind of experience they had.

Lori Tanur Hudalay is an expat who now lives in North West London and is a parent at Kerem, a private Jewish school in Hampstead Garden Suburb. She comments: “I attended Jewish schools all my life. I went to Yeshiva College Primary and King David Linksfield High. They were both very traditional Jewish schools and definitely instilled strong Jewish values in me.

“I have chosen to send my kids to Kerem because we live in the area; it's a very small school and the community is a close-knit one - which I love.

“I think all Jewish children should be afforded the chance to receive a Jewish education because it imparts the fundamentals of Judaism, which are lessons which stay with you for life. I think South Africans would probably want that outcome for their children because that is what is familiar to us from back home.”

These sentiments are echoed by Lindsay Shapiro, a former King David Linksfield pupil who has also chosen to send her children to a Jewish school. 

“King David Linksfield was instrumental in nurturing my love of Judaism and friendships and has helped me to stay connected. I have chosen to send my children to Mathilda Marks Kennedy in North West London because it is a lovely Jewish school, and providing my children with a Jewish education was a non-negotiable for me.”

Parents feel, however, that it is difficult to replicate the King David experience entirely. “Unlike South Africa, there do not seem to be schools in London which combine a Jewish ethos with outstanding academics, great facilities, good sport and other extracurricular activities,” says Shapiro.

“So, by deciding to go to a Jewish school, parents might need to accept lower standards on some of the other areas of education.”

And still others feel that although they would have liked Jewish day schools for their children, these schools don’t always offer the kind of education that would prepare their kids for the best British universities.

 “The Jewish Lives Project, a study of the impact of secondary education on the lives of Anglo-Jewish families, has shown that those opting not to send their children to a Jewish school do so because they want private schools with a good academic record,” says Jeffrey Leader who has 45 years’ experience in Jewish education and is the director of Pikuach, an organisation that inspects Jewish religious education in Anglo-Jewish schools.

“This could suggest that academic achievement is seen by many families as more relevant than Jewish religious development,” says Leader. “It’s interesting to note that the popular private schools in London such as City of London Boys and Girls, Haberdashers and UCL, all have large numbers of Jewish children and therefore wealthy families are comforted by the fact that their sons and daughters will be mixing with other Jewish children of the same social class.

“Some parents also feel that Jewish education is ethnocentric and view a faith school as a narrow option. They want their children to understand that at least from a British perspective, we live in a multi-ethnic society and it is better their children are introduced to this reality sooner rather than later.”

 

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