Our children are getting a raw deal
Assimilation is our biggest threat. We need more Jewish schools to counter it
Last month saw that annual stressful ritual — a kind of Tisha B’Av — when large numbers of dejected parents receive the dreaded letter informing them that their child has not been accepted to the local Jewish school or, indeed, any Jewish school in the vicinity.
This sad state of affairs derives from the simple fact that the Anglo-Jewish community is not providing enough places to satisfy the demand from hundreds of committed young Jewish parents who seek to educate their children in a Jewish school.
It is clear that, without Jewish education, our battle to eradicate the cancer in our midst — assimilation — will be lost.
Anglo-Jewry is rightfully proud of the excellent communal organisations it has established, supporting all manner of less fortunate members of the community. But it has failed in one imperative area: to ensure our survival as a community, to stop assimilation through the provision of a place in a Jewish school for every Jewish child.
Commissions, reports, and demographic surveys have consumed valuable resources to investigate the state of Jewish schools in Britain. Alarmingly, and contrary to all the evidence on the ground, the findings of more or less all of these warn us that we have too many schools.
Sadly, the Anglo-Jewish establishment has failed our young families who seek places for their children in Jewish schools. The late Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits established the Jewish Educational Development Trust (JEDT) in 1971, specifically to fight assimilation by promoting Jewish education for our children; alas, instead of ensuring that Anglo-Jews do not disappear, the JEDT itself disappeared.
Jewish Continuity was established by Chief Rabbi Jakobovits’s successor, Jonathan Sacks, to ensure that we will have Jewish grandchildren, but never once considered promoting full-time Jewish education. The UJIA sponsors a host of valuable programmes in the UK, but does not support the opening of new Jewish schools.
The Board of Deputies and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) have sponsored inquiries that conclude that the demographics suggest that we already have too many places, and we certainly do not need any more Jewish schools.
Yet masses of young parents are clamouring to get places in a Jewish school. Thousands of interested and enthusiastic parents annually attend open evenings for Jewish schools knowing from the outset that the school is oversubscribed and their child is far from guaranteed acceptance. Prospective parents are demanding more schools. Can we afford to turn a deaf ear?
Is there any reason why, for instance, the hundreds of businessmen working and living in the Canary Wharf/City/Islington areas should not have a Jewish school to send their children to?
And why do we appear to have given up on the many hundreds of children peppering the various private non-Jewish schools in and around Hampstead and Swiss Cottage?
At the new Yavneh College in Borehamwood, an 11-year-old child was asked at a recent event what primary school he had attended, to which he answered that he had gone to a local, non-Jewish faith school. To the question of whether or not he was happy to attend a Jewish secondary school, he replied that he absolutely loved learning at Yavneh. When asked why, he replied that he was relieved not to have to attend the daily Church assembly any more.
It is a tragedy that young Jewish parents feel that they have to send their children to a Church of England faith school because there are no places available in their own faith schools. Why are we not teaching our Jewish children the beauty of our own precious heritage?
We need here and now to resolve to respond to Lord Jakobovits’s cry, to listen to the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks’s call, to understand the anguish of the thousands of parents who want to send their children to a Jewish school, to ensure our survival through full-time Jewish education for our children.
Families in Holland Park, Islington, Canary Wharf, Swiss Cottage, Hampstead — and indeed several new Jewish primary schools in the Hertfordshire area — are waiting for our decision.
The time is now. There are encouraging inroads being made all across the community. Yavneh College is further increasing its student body with its new intake of September 2009. The new Morasha Jewish Primary School opened in Finchley, north London, in September 2008. But more needs to be done. The leadership of our community can and should declare its war against assimilation with an unwavering commitment to the opening of 10 more primary schools and immediately appoint a high-powered and committed team to ensure its goal’s execution and fulfilment.
Benjamin E. Perl is the Chairman of the Huntingdon Foundation, and the President of Yavneh College