It doesn’t take much to bring out the Jewish parent’s competitive side. The Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue top brass think they are being reassuring when they talk about “inclusion” and “setting the bar low” when formulating the new admissions policy for Jewish schools.
But they ignore the frenzied panic which grips any parent — Jewish or not — when there is the possibility they may be denied a place at their chosen school.
If we have to pass a test, bring it on, spell it out. No one is going to outdo our efforts on behalf of our treasured children.
Religious tests for Jewish schools are not new. In the past, though, if you passed a test to get your child into, say, Hasmonean by claiming to be totally shomer Shabbat, you would almost certainly be quite religious in the first place — maybe just gilding the lily a touch. Now we face an evidence-based religion test for people who would never send their children to a frum school. How are we going to be tested? And who will gather the evidence?
Christians have long faced this faith test. My friend wanted to get her child into a Church of England school. She had to go to one particular church, and sign her child up for Sunday school. Her husband refused to go, so she attended every week. A register was taken. The vicar sent a report to the school. It was clear, it was simple and it caused no end of marital discord. But it worked. The child was awarded a place.
But as we all know, there can be no register taken at synagogue. And if one’s completely hypothetical husband — I name no names —is not keen on prayer then what is a desperate mum to do?
Wear a huge, unmissable hat and chuck sweets at the rabbi in an attempt to breach the anonymity of the ladies’ gallery?
Sing very loudly behind the mechitzah, occasionally jumping up and waving at the bimah to get noticed?
How about observance? Perhaps we could have JFS loyalty cards to brandish when shopping at kosher butchers and shops and eating at kosher restaurants — with triple bonus points at Pesach.
What if you’re vegetarian though? Does Tivall count? Will there be Friday-night spot checks by a rabbinic flying squad to see if challah, wine and candles are all in place?
Perhaps the JFS loyalty card scheme could be extended to charities and acts of loving kindness. Can I get credits every time I drop off a bag of old clothes at All Aboard? Is that better than taking it to Help the Aged? When I perform one of my legendary acts of kindness— I have called ambulances for two totally random strangers in the last fortnight alone — should I whip out my mobile phone and record a video for YouTube?
One might imagine an enterprising rabbi setting up a whole new community aimed at prospective JFS parents.
It could include a course of Torah lessons, a programme of charitable works and a special minyan where everyone can keep tabs on each other.
Alternatively, parents may prefer the JCoSS queue-jump option. At London’s newest Jewish secondary school the admissions policy favours children who are not US-approved halachically Jewish.
Perhaps we should all join the Progressive movement, and claim our children are only Jewish via their fathers.
Hard to prove otherwise, and you go straight to the top of the list. Until, that is, someone decides to challenge the policy at the Court of Appeal.