JFS: Tell us your story

By Jessica Elgot, July 6, 2009
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Did you go to JFS in the seventies - before regulations were changed regarding pupils' Jewish status?

If so, we want to hear from you. Perhaps you were eligible to attend the school but your children today might not be.

Contact us and tell us your story on editorial@thejc.com

The debate has continued on the JC's pages, on the web and in your letters, and here are some of your early reactions.

For most of its long history JFS was open to the whole Jewish community, without question. It was only after the retirement of Dr Edward Conway as Headmaster in 1976 that documentation began to be requested, and little by little, stricter criteria have been applied. Those rejected have not only been children of converts. In my own community work, I have found myself counselling distraught parents unable to get the school to accept their children, simply because they did not have acceptable documentation
- Rabbi Michael Hilton, Kol Chai Hatch End.

I am reminded that when it came to the Exodus from Egypt we went out as a Faith - the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. we went out also with an Eruv Rav - a mixed multitude (Exod 12, verse 38). Did Moses and Aaron go amongst the people, filtering carefully as to who were the genuine descendants of Abraham? Their good fortune was to live before the Common Era, and though enduring an exhausting physical and spiritual upheaval, they did not have to confront an inflexible British Chief Rabbi and his equally inflexible Beth Din in the year 2009 C.E.
- Dr Sonia Goldrein, Liverpool

The British Beth Din makes it so incredibly hard to convert and is so fanatical about examining conversions that occur outside of Britain that, practically, the only way one can be considered to be an Orthodox Jew in England is to have a Jewish mother. The Court of Appeal is correct. Orthodox British Jews are a race. The miniscule numbers who are able to make it through the conversion ordeal only serves to re-enforce the Court of Appeal's verdict. Sadly, the British Orthodox Rabbinate is racist.
-Mike Harper, Oxford

The Chief Rabbi says that the judgment in effect declares Judiaism racist. This is not the case. The judgment in effect is a declaration that the United Synagogue does not have the right to decide who is entitled to entry into the JFS. This dispute arose due to the United Synagogue's intransigence and could have been resolved without the courts. The community should resist the Chief Rabbi's invitation to unite to fight Boy M's entry into the JFS to the House of Lords. Does the United Synagogue consider the need to keep Boy M and others like him from receiving a state funded Jewish education so pressing that it justifies the substantial negative publicity generated by this case?
- Kathleen Ezekiel

All of us have benefitted hugely from Race Relations and anti-discrimination legislation and the change in public sentiment which has gradually developed. We are equal at work, at schools, in politics and at leisure.It seems that JFS Governors just do not get it. They have excluded pupils without explaining why, without publishing proper criteria, and have left decisions to Rabbis who are not part of the school – and then are outraged when they predictably fall foul of the law.
- Dudley Leigh, London

Imagine going to JFS as a child and then, decades later, not being able to get your kids in, when your halachic status hasn't changed but the schools ethos has. The very essence of JFS used to be its welcoming spirit for all Jews alike. But it got a new building in a new location and the United Synagogue movement decided to go back to the middle ages with their ridiculous, overpowering, antiquated ways. It didn't look at the bigger picture and continues to be stubborn and blinkered in its thinking. Shame on you.
- Hayley Herman, Radlett

There is a Talmudic ruling called dina demalchusa dina (Nedarim 28a) that states that the national court of whichever country the person lives in is the supreme law maker and its decisions are final and are to be obeyed. The refusal of the British Orthodox Beth Din to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli Beth Din must come under close scrutiny. This is yet another example of the debilitating pandemic of in-fighting, arrogance and general demeaning of us Jews as a race (or a religion?)
- J. Mockton, Hendon

The JFS was established primarily to provide Jewish children with a socially acceptable framework within which they could receive a good secular education without risking intermarriage. The parents who now wish to have their own children re-defined as Jews in order for them to be accepted at this school have no regard whatsoever for the other children at the school, or for their families; or indeed for the Jewish world as a whole. Having intermarried themselves and seen with their own children the problems this causes, they now wish to send their children to a school that was set up essentially to avoid this exact predicament, by ensuring Jewish children mixed with other Jewish children whose status was not in issue.
- Tony Drake, Rawcliffe, East Yorkshire

Last updated: 10:56am, July 7 2009