Call for Jewish day school curbs

By Simon Rocker, January 6, 2011
Musicians perform at the open mic night of the Limmud conference, held at Warwick University last week

Musicians perform at the open mic night of the Limmud conference, held at Warwick University last week

One of British Jewry's top educators has said it is too preoccupied with Jewish day schools at the expense of other types of learning.

Clive Lawton, senior consultant of Limmud and a former head of King David High School, Liverpool, called for greater investment in youth movements and adult education.

"The feeling that if we get every Jewish child into a Jewish school then everything will be fine is woefully uninformed," he said. "It's been decided that schools are the way forward, but we're neglecting other solutions. Evidence exists that youth movements are compelling and motivating media to get young people to be committed. But it's fairly clear that the increasing number of Jewish schools has led to
a deterioration of youth movements."

Although not objecting to day schools, he said young people are "capable of leaving behind what they learn when they leave school".

His remarks came during a debate on faith schools at last week's Limmud conference at Warwick University - one of several formal debates on contemporary Jewish issues.

While the vote on schools was declared a draw, at another debate the audience largely agreed with the motion that diaspora Jews need Israel more than vice versa. A third debate on whether it was "time to move on from the Holocaust" ended without a vote because it was thought too emotive.

Limmud debutant Mill Hill Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the United Synagogue's Rabbinical Council, said he had "ventured into the unknown and survived".

His appearance suggested a thaw in the boycott of the event by US rabbis, 15 years after he pulled out at the instigation of the London Beth Din, which disapproved of Orthodox rabbis sharing an educational programme with non-Orthodox rabbis.

"You have 2,000 Jews thirsting for knowledge, it is a shame that some look to deny them the opportunity," he said. "I met so many members from my own synagogue and from other United Synagogues, as well as members from steibls in Golders Green.

"One thing that struck me was the large number of the younger generation who attend. There is an incredible opportunity to study, to learn, to explore, to discover."

Barend Velleman, a member of a London Masorti synagogue who attended a lecture by Rabbi Schochet on the challenges facing British Jewry, said: "Anything that brings the community together is tremendous. I enjoyed his exposition, even if I didn't agree with everything."

Guest speakers also included Christine Elliott, external relationships secretary of the Methodist Church, which published a damning report on Israel last summer to widespread anger across the Jewish community.

She said she "welcomed the opportunity to listen to Jewish perspectives, particularly on land and the State of Israel, and to be given the chance to explain what motivates Methodist people on issues of peace and justice."

Last updated: 1:48pm, January 6 2011