Government cash for Newcastle Jews

Newcastle's United Hebrew Congregation has been rewarded for its education work with visiting schools with a £6,000 Faith in Action grant from the government.

It is one of more than 100 projects promoting interfaith understanding - including several run by Jewish groups - that are the beneficiaries of £2 million in grants from the Communities Development Foundation.

Deanna Van Der Velde, who runs the Newcastle programme, believes the award is "recognition of something important in teaching - learning outside the classroom. Teachers say it's all very well watching a DVD on Judaism, but coming to a synagogue is the real thing. You see the awe and wonder the children manifest when the Aron Hakodesh [the Ark] is opened."

Mrs Van Der Velde - joint president of the Representative Council of North-East Jewry and chair of the city's advisory committee on religious education - estimated that up to 5,000 children now visit the synagogue annually from schools across the region.

"We have groups coming two or three days a week once term starts," she said. "It's really built up over the last five years."

The children are given artefacts to handle and one of her colleagues helps them write their name in Hebrew using stencils.

She said the grant would go towards "buying more artefacts, enhancing the experience and giving a small amount of expenses to some of our wonderful volunteers."

Also celebrating grants worth nearly £6,000 are JAT (Jewish Action and Training for Sexual Health) and the Jewish Community Centre for London.

JAT is running a series of four multi-faith workshops over the next few months examining how Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus deal with sexual issues and how their texts cover "taboo" subjects. JAT director Janine Clements said the grant "recognises that we are a Jewish organisation that has a great deal to offer other charities.

"What I have learned is how much we have in common. People of faith all have concerns and similar ethical positions."

The JCC is offering a film-making course next month for young Jews and members of Muslim group Radical Middle Way.

"We will be able to show the film on our website," said the JCC's Leah Warren. "It will showcase the positive results of creative interfaith work."

Other recipients of Faith in Action grants include the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, Solihull Synagogue, Leo Baeck College, the Jewish Resource Centre in south London and the Oxford and North-East branches of the Council of Christians and Jews.

    Last updated: 9:17am, September 8 2010