Problems lie ahead for Jewish schools

LABOUR MP Stephen Kinnock recently said, vis-a-vis the current immigration debate, that "assimilation is synonymous with integration".

Diaspora Jewish communities know all too well to their detriment that this is just not the case.

Wherever they have settled, Jews have disproportionately benefited the communities in which they have lived, but often at the dire cost of assimilation which has greatly eroded Jewish identity and boosted the intermarriage rate in the days when heterosexual marriage was still the preferred choice of co-habitation.

When Jews arrived en masse to America and the UK at the turn of the 20th century - to find that Shabbat observance was virtually impossible if they wanted to work - they fell head over heels to assimilate, largely casting off their Jewish identity and behaving impeccably like native Americans and Brits.

Their host societies greatly benefited from the contributions in all fields, but Jewish life and demographics suffered catastrophically.

A prime example was Manchester Jews' School, where the accent was on producing English men and women with Jewish education at its minimum.

Come the middle of the 20th century and the intermarriage rate was at an all-time high and the size of the Jewish community diminishing rapidly.

Then, miraculously, in the latter decades of the 20th century the tide began to turn as, for the first time for decades, British Jewry began to grow.

Once Jews had successfully settled into British society, they began to realise that something was sadly missing - their Jewish identity.

The radical societal changes of the 1960s and 1970s when sexual moral values, previously pretty much shared by Christians and Jews, were replaced by permissiveness which downgraded marriage, made many want to revert back to traditional values.

That conservative backlash combined with the energy of the 1960s which produced the Six-Day War, the Soviet refusniks and a worldwide ba'al teshuva movement have created the relatively new phenomenon of charedi Judaism, whose large families have tremendously boosted Jewish demographics all over the world.

A similar process has taken place within the Muslim world.

Whatever Kinnock may say, religious revivals are widespread and people really don't want to assimilate, for assimilation has been found so wanting.

But integrated Jews still do.

Even charedim, who often seem to live separate lives, integrate into British life to the extent that they respect the societies in which they live and to which many of them contribute enormously.

The recently launched report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration recommended that immigrants should learn English.

I agree. It is perfectly possible to be a proud Jew who is fluent in - and loves - the English language.

I don't approve of schools whose primary language of tuition is Yiddish, nor of Yiddish language libraries which have asked for local authority grants.

The report also recommends that immigrant communities be spread around the country rather than be allowed to create their own ghettos.

But immigrants - strangers in a new land - want to team up with fellow landsmen who share their culture.

You can't compulsorily separate people for ever. You may settle them in different places, but once they are able, they will move into communities inhabited by people with similar backgrounds to their own. But the rub comes with the current compulsory imposition of British values.

It very much depends on how you categorise British values.

Fifty years ago, these could be defined as politeness, decency and lawfulness, all of which can be wholeheartedly acceptable to Jewry.

But today, British values might include a compulsion to drink to access and treat casual sex as the norm, much more questionable traits for Jews.

Jews in Britain greatly benefited from multiculturalism, whose benefits included the acknowledged right to Shabbat and festival observance and state backing for Jewish schools.

But following the Trojan Horse scandal with its fear of extremist Islamic takeover of schools, Jewish schools are currently suffering a backlash, initially triggered by fear of Islamic terrorism.

Some British communities may live rather separately, but they are primarily law-abiding and have no history of supporting terrorism designed to undermine the country in which they live.

Yet we Jews are currently paying the penalty for Islamic extremism.

Last month, a bid to open in London an extremely left-of-centre Orthodox Jewish free secondary school was turned down by the Department for Education because its plan to devote a fifth of its lessons in the first two years to Hebrew and Jewish Studies was not considered "sufficiently broad and balanced to prepare children for life in Britain". They considered the time allocated to faith-based studies "disproportionate".

Barkai College is not to be a charedi school but one left-of-centre of the mainstream United Synagogue Kavana College, whose rival bid was also turned down.

The bill currently going through Parliament which would make sex education, including about same-sex relationships, compulsory in all schools is also likely to create huge problems for Orthodox Jewish schools.

Make no mistake - the heyday of British state-sponsored Jewish education is over.

But also make no mistake, Jewish education will continue to thrive in Britain, state-sponsored or not.


Site developed & maintained by
© 2017 Jewish Telegraph