Denied a Jewish education. Why?

By Victoria Prever, April 28, 2013

Last week, my four-year-old son lost his place at Clore Shalom school. And so, at the end of this term, he will be forced to leave an institution with a religious ethos that mirrors our own Jewish beliefs.

We were awarded his place fairly. A parent who had failed to tick the right boxes challenged the system and forced a rule change. It is unfair but we have no legal recourse. For our son, the door to a Jewish education has been slammed shut.

Why? Because we practise a pluralist way of Jewish life and will not masquerade as Orthodox in order to secure our son a place elsewhere. We are not prepared to play the "faith game" as described by Ellie Levenson in her JC comment piece a fortnight ago.

Contrary to her beliefs, Jewish schools consistently perform better academically. We would also prefer our son to start his day with the Shema rather than Morning has broken. And attending a Jewish school doesn't mean living in a ghetto. They even have non-Jewish teachers. We also have friends of many religions and cultures.

But we refuse to send our children to an Orthodox school only to have them question why we are not practising what they are taught. Friends with children at Orthodox schools scream: "But no one does that here - they're all like us!" Something is very wrong.

We are not prepared to play the 'faith game'

In the year preceding their school application, many families shlep their offspring to synagogue weekly. Having clocked up sufficient visits to fulfil the requirements of forms accompanying the applications, many do not return to shul until the next Yom Tov or until a sibling requires their school place.

And, once at their chosen school, many have lives entirely at odds with the teachings given to their children there. Kippot and tzitzit are explained as "school uniform" and shoved in bags immediately outside the school gates. Kashrut is not followed at home, and families who do observe the laws of kashrut are forced to police which schoolfriends their children can visit, as they cannot be sure they will not be fed treif.

Obviously, many families of children at those schools are shomer Shabbat, but many are pluralist or even secular Jews - choosing them for their high standards of education.

The letters in response to Ms Levenson's piece reveal support for Jewish schools. The skirmishes that takes place between prospective parents every year offer further proof.

The Board of Deputies says its aim is for there to be "Jewish schools for all people who want them". But there are insufficient pluralist schools, particularly in areas that need them. Hertfordshire's Jewish population has increased by nearly 27 per cent over the past 10 years but that has not been reflected in the number of Jewish primary school places there. The Board is failing a large proportion of our kids. It doesn't seem to care about, or is oblivious to, the fact we are not all Orthodox.

Pluralist schools are oversubscribed. This year, Clore Shalom received 60 applications for five free spaces. Alma Primary - Finchley's new school - received 70 applications for its first reception year and Eden Primary in Muswell Hill received 198 applications for 30 places.

The Board claims there are sufficient places for all but that is true only if you are prepared to pretend to be something you're not and, in some cases, travel long distances.

We are not ashamed of wanting a Jewish education for our kids. What the Clore Shalom School complainant has highlighted is that the system - in which the nursery year is a de facto pre-reception class – is an almighty mess, and no one is taking responsibility.

Meanwhile, six innocent children have been evicted from the school in which they had settled. Whether you are for or against a faith education, that cannot be right.

Last updated: 8:45pm, April 28 2013