It might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of Jewish education. But 460 Shau Kei Wan Road is a pivotal address for pupils at Hong Kong’s only Jewish school, Carmel School.
Two hundred and sixty children, aged up to 14, currently attend Carmel, four of whose hard-working executive board are British ex-pats. Now, steered by its newly-appointed British head teacher, Rachel Friedmann, formerly deputy head of Hasmonean in London, Carmel, founded in 1991, has big plans for expansion.
Ambitious schemes are in place to extend the school so that it will, eventually, cater to pupils aged up to 18. It will offer the international baccalaureate, and its campus will be extended and shared with Kellett, the British international school in Hong Kong: sharing the renovation and costs will allow both schools to benefit from the most up-to-date facilities and equipment.
Hong Kong’s very remoteness from much of the mainstream Jewish world is both a drawback and a benefit. There are, it is thought, around 3,000 Jews in Hong Kong, and, says board member Jeremy Amias: “Chabad’s Rabbi Mordecai Avtzon sends his children to the school, but it is also attended by children with only one Jewish parent.”
Few questions are asked about religious affiliation: Carmel’s prospectus says the school “caters to all families in the community, regardless of religious background or experience”.
About 40 per cent of the Carmel students are Israeli, children of parents drawn to Hong Kong by virtue of its reputation as a centre for diamonds and hi-tech industries. The other students are from a variety of backgrounds: Australia South Africa, the US and the UK, together with a strong French presence.
Jeremy Amias, chief operating officer for a Hong Kong-based global commodities firm has lived In Hong Kong since 2002. He and his wife Deborah have a nine-year daughter at Carmel, and he has been on the school’s board since 2004.
His fellow Brits include the Carmel board chairman, Mark Konyn, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1989 and married his Israeli wife Lelia at the city’s Ohel Leah Synagogue. The Konyns’ three children, aged five, nine and 11, all Hong Kong-born, attend the school.
Vice-chairman Neil Hyman, originally from Lytham St Annes, is a partner in the City law firm Slaughter and May, transferring to Hong Kong in 2001. He and his wife, who is from Nottingham, have two children, both at Carmel.
The school’s treasurer, Russell Davidson, is a London-trained accountant who is currently chief operating officer of ICAP Asia Pacific. Three of his four daughters attend the school.
The trademark of all four men is their enthusiasm for the school and its plans for expansion. “We do think that once we are able to offer facilities for pupils aged over 14, we will be able to attract more religious families,” says Mr Amias. “The presence of a vibrant Jewish community in Hong Kong really enhances positive Jewish relations with China.”