Reform school slammed by Orthodox parents

By Jay Grenby, February 4, 2010
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The Hertfordshire Jewish primary school supported by the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements has been accused of hypocrisy by Orthodox parents.

Clore Shalom in Shenley has traditionally given preference to children whose families are affiliated to the three movements. But members of the nearby United synagogue — the only shul in the immediate area — claim their children are being unfairly denied places.

The Shenley families are backed by their rabbi, Natan Levy, who wants Clore Shalom to become a community school servicing all within the growing local Jewish population.

Rabbi Levy said that in light of the recent Supreme Court judgment on admissions at JFS, an Orthodox school, “the Clore Shalom admissions policy seems suspect on many levels”.

Angry parents include Steven and Natalie Gurevitz, whose daughter Yasmine could not get a place at the nearest Orthodox school, Hertsmere Jewish Primary in Radlett, which is heavily over-subscribed.

Although an application to Clore Shalom was also rejected, the couple were minded to reapply in light of the legal ruling but say they were advised that the school’s admissions policy remained unaltered.

Mr Gurevitz fully understood why Clore Shalom’s admissions policy was originally framed as it was.

“But with all the Orthodox schools now having to change their ways, their original criteria are no longer valid. Now that proving your faith, special needs, and then simply catchment area, are the only determining factors for admission to Orthodox schools, Clore Shalom ought also to be altering its policies to mirror those. To do otherwise is hypocritical.”

After the first rejection of the couple’s application, Rabbi Levy wrote to Clore Shalom head Irene Kay, pointing out that those behind the establishment of the Shenley community wanted “to create a space that every Jew could come and pray within”.

Having chosen to affiliate to the US for practical reasons, its members now faced the “terrible choice” of supporting the only local synagogue, “or potentially losing out on a Jewish education for their children”.

Mrs Kay responded that while Clore Shalom had adopted “a pluralist ethos, curriculum and practice, this was not possible for admissions”.

Because Orthodox primaries had prioritised US members, “places are not offered in any of these schools to children of members of Liberal, Masorti or Reform synagogues, even if they live on the doorstep, leaving Clore Shalom as the only Jewish school available for them to apply for”.

Governors’ chair Irene Blaston now says that “like other schools, we are constantly reviewing our admissions criteria in the light of current guidelines. But for the moment, our criteria have not changed.”

Reform Movement chief executive Rabbi Tony Bayfield expressed sympathy with parents unable to find places for their children at schools that were “more open, more questioning, more tolerant, more pluralistic and more inclusive”. Yet the network of Reform, Liberal and Masorti schools — also including Akiva in Barnet and Clore Tikva in Redbridge — had insufficient capacity to meet demand.

“No one yet knows what the implications are of the Supreme Court ruling with regard to admissions policy, particularly in the case of primary schools. We still have to see how to respond in a manner that meets the new guidelines, is compatible with a scarce resource and makes this particular kind of education available to those who want it for their children.”

Rabbi Bayfield did not believe that all Orthodox schools had changed their admissions criteria.

    Last updated: 4:23pm, February 4 2010