The potential of the South London Jewish Primary School to regenerate Jewish life in the region is evidenced by the number of inquiries to project leaders since its application was approved.
SLJPS co-chair Eugene Ryvchin said the response from both the Jewish and wider community had been “overwhelming. The school is likely to be oversubscribed.” The heightened interest included emails from parents “asking where the school might be as they are thinking of moving to the area”.
South London congregations have united behind the project and 60 Jewish families are among the 80 or so who registered for the 30 places for the first year in September 2013.
The project team is considering six sites in the Wandsworth area. “We want the school to be commutable for the Jewish community,” added Mr Ryvchin, who will be applying for a place for his daughter in the first intake. The search for a headteacher would now begin in earnest and the winner of a contest to find a name for the school would be announced shortly. “All the names which have been shortlisted will be put to the vote, but South London Jewish Primary is among them so we may stay as we are.”
Mr Ryvchin recalled that, when his family moved to Wimbledon a few years ago, “we picked it because it had synagogues. Naively, we didn’t look into education until we came here. Now we want the school to be a mezuzah on the bridges to south London.”
At the 1,000-member Wimbledon (Reform) Synagogue, Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild said the steering committee had “worked incredibly hard for something the community wants.
“We have a flourishing cross-communal Israel forum and the school will continue that ethos. On the whole, we don’t have the territorial aspects of some north London communities.”
Kingston Liberal Synagogue’s Rabbi Charley Baginsky observed that a common fear of families in smaller communities was that their child would be the only Jewish pupil in their class — “it can be quite isolating”. The free school would offer both a Jewish environment and the opportunity to mix with children of other faiths.
In a wider sense, SLJPS would have a positive impact on Jewish life.“I think it will not only attract people to south London. People who might have moved away will now stay.”
Among potential pupils are three-year-old twins Hannah and Simon Kupfer, whose family live in Wimbledon. Anne Kupfer said her children attend the Wimbledon Synagogue-based Apples and Honey, south London’s sole Jewish nursery. She was “very excited” by the primary project.
“We have chosen to apply to SLJPS on behalf of our children because of its cross-communal ethos and emphasis on Jewish values and academic achievement. We find the school’s vision to offer its pupils a blend of Jewish studies with the national curriculum, while being cross-denominational, a very attractive proposition.”
The mother of another Apples and Honey pupil said the school would “be incredible for the south London community”. Carra Kane explained that three-year-old Devin and elder sister Jadyn both attended the cheder at Wimbledon Synagogue, where the family are members.
Her daughter’s Church of England school had “a strong Christian influence in the daily activities and learning. We love our life and our community and do not want to move just to have the option of a Jewish primary education.
“The school’s vision reflects the strong cross-communal ties we enjoy in south London. We love it that the 50/50 [pupil] ratio will reflect the wider community in which I choose to live.”