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A schooling in Love Your Neighbour

The Scholar’s Festival at KKS marks a break in the period of semi- mourning between Pesach and Shavuot and Redbridge families are taking full advantage

    On a playing field at Kantor King Solomon High School in Redbridge, young children are sliding down a bouncy castle, whirling round on a train ride, stretching out their wrists for a glitter tattoo and queuing up for a hot dog or candyfloss.

    It’s Buckhurst Hill Chabad’s annual Lag Ba’Omer barbecue and for a third year in a row the sun has stayed out.

    “Chabad has been doing barbecues for 15 years,” said Buckhurst Hill’s director Rabbi Odom Brandman. “This is the third year we have done it at King Solomon as a cross-communal event.”

    The Scholar’s Festival, as it is sometimes called, marks a break in the period of semi- mourning between Pesach and Shavuot and Redbridge families are taking full advantage.

    At KKS, the afternoon’s festivities have been preceded by a learning programme throughout London’s most multi-cultural Jewish school, where two-thirds of the pupils come from other faith backgrounds.

    “The idea we have pushed is ‘Love your neighbour’,” said Melanie Shutz, head of ethos at KKS. “We’ve looked at the story of Rabbi Akiva [the talmudic sage] and why his students died — because they didn’t honour and respect one another.

    “All the Jewish studies classes have looked at our theme: what does it mean to care, to respect, to listen to someone else’s point of view.”

    According to tradition, the plague that afflicted Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased on the day of Lag Ba’Omer.

    “We use Jewish values to push a universal message throughout the school,” explained Ms Shutz “that Judaism has ethical values that can be embraced by any person.”

    The new senior prefects team put up a heart-shaped poster in the dining hall, on which it encouraged pupils and staff to pin appropriate messages. “Love and care for the people who love and care for you,” read one.

    “I’m blessed to have amazing friends,” said another.

    Head boy Joshua Carmel-Brown, from year 12, who is Jewish, said, “It is about everyone being part of a community. No matter what religion you are, we all work together. It is so important no one feels left out.”

    Fellow-prefect Maisha Rahman Sheikh, a Muslim, said, “I love it here. You learn to accept other people even if they are different from you.”

    Even though her family moved some way from the area, to Plaistow, after she had started King Solomon, Maisha chose to remain at the school.

    The prefects run activities for every festival. Her favourite is Purim.

    For Harry Markham, it was the last Lag Ba’Omer at the school as he is shortly due to sit his A-levels with the hope of studying theology at university.

    For Ms Shutz, the religious studies A-level, with its strong philosophical component, is the “most challenging” she has taught.

    And Harry agrees that having students from different faiths in the class adds an extra dimension to the discussion.

    “You need to hear different perspectives, it enhances the subject,” he said.

    The wide-ranging A-level has encompassed feminism, euthanasia, sexual ethics and Holocaust theology — including a look at radical thinkers such as Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, who questioned the traditional notion of God after Auschwitz.

    Like other pupils, Harry believes King Solomon’s religious mix enables its students to “go out into the world with an understanding of each other.”

    At the same time, it imparts a positive image of Judaism to those from other cultures. “When we went to Poland, we had Muslim kids walking around Auschwitz with an Israeli flag. That’s a testament to the school.”

    A passionate Zionist, he said he attends many communal Israel-related events. “The best is the Yom Ha’atzmaut event we had had here. It teaches you can be truly proud of your identity and at the same time it’s message of tolerance and respect.”

    Zach Igielman, also an A-level student, who comes from a local Reform family, was until recently the prefect attached to the Jewish studies department.

    Yom Ha’atzmaut was memorable for him, too, where KKS students were joined by guests from their twinned school in Northern Israel. Some students had never met an Israel before.

    As blue and white balloons were released to the skies, “it’s unique to have such a variety from different religions doing Israeli dancing and singing Am Yisrael Chai,” he said.

    “We’re a role model for the Jewish community of how we can co-exist.”

     

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