Jack Mindel thought he would never set foot in JFS again. But on Sunday the 95-year-old joined up to 2,000 former staff and pupils at a reunion at the school’s current Kenton campus.
Mr Mindel left JFS in 1929, when it was sited at Bell Lane in London’s East End. He found the modern school “amazing, in comparison to what it was like when I was there — and it wasn’t a small place in those days”.
He was one of a number of pre-war pupils at the reunion, held to mark the school’s 280th anniversary and 10 years since its move from Camden. Many travelled for hours to attend and there were participants from France and Israel.
Michael Webber, an art teacher when JFS relocated to Camden in 1958, recalled the move from the East End as the school grew in numbers. “It bound us together,” he said. “In that first year it was more like an overgrown family than a school. It was an experience that was unlike any that staff had had before.”
He was pleased to meet many former pupils on Sunday. “It was lovely — in many cases people who hadn’t seen each other for 30 or 40 years were there. I’ve always kept in touch with many of my pupils but you can’t keep in touch with them all.
“I saw a lot of people that I used to know. The odd thing is that to me they look quite different, but they probably always regarded their teachers as old.”
For Mr Mindel, the invitation to address the reunion was “not only a privilege but an honour”. Reflecting on his schooldays, he remembered his older brother Mick winning a London-wide cricket accolade. “He caused a sensation — a Jewish boy winning an award for sport.”
JFS had been a good place to go to school, giving poor Jewish boys, many from immigrant families, a decent start in life.
“I read the alumni magazine and so have an idea what the school is like now,” he said. “But I couldn’t believe how many people there were at the reunion.”
He was impressed that it was “promoting mitzvah” by “sending boys and girls out to help at Jewish Care — that never happened when I was at school”.
Simone Russell, who left JFS in 1983, welcomed the opportunity to chat to old classmates, carrying on the socialising in a pub.
“We didn’t want it to end — we’re going to meet up again,” she said. “It’s the start of something.
“What was really interesting was that everyone has done really well and found their place, which was nice to see. We started talking about how we were at school and how we perceived ourselves. It was just brilliant. I’m still thinking about it now.”
JFS head Jonathan Miller said it had been special to welcome so many former pupils to mark the double anniversary.
“While we continue to look to the future and develop new opportunities for our current students, we are mindful of the impact that those who came before us had in helping JFS to become the leading educational institution that it is today.”