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Diverse Alma Primary School now feels at home

Deborah Lipstadt leads the tributes to cross-communal free school at dedication of its premises

    Photo: : Jo Mieszkowski
    Photo: : Jo Mieszkowski

    The historian Deborah Lipstadt saluted the “crazy visionaries” behind Alma at the cross-communal free school’s dedication of its permanent home in North London on Sunday.

    Opened in 2013, the primary prides itself on embrace of diversity, welcoming not only Jews of different strands but several children from other faiths.

    Professor Lipstadt, a regular speaker at the Limmud Festival in Britain, confessed that when she heard some people there discussing the possibility of a new kind of Jewish school a few years ago, she thought it a “pie-in-the-sky” idea that would not come to fruition.

    “But, o ye, of little faith, among them me,” she told parents, children and local dignitaries. “I, the perennial sceptic, have never been so delighted to have been proved so wrong.

    “When we live in a time of silo Judaism, when one segment of the community barely knows the other, we do know this school has rejected that model and has insisted on inclusivity.”

    Alma spent its first two years in temporary premises in North Finchley and a third year in East Finchley before putting down roots in September 2016 in a converted police station in Whetstone.

    While a government grant allowed for basic facilities, some areas would have remained “greyed-out” were it not for the additional  £160,000 raised by supporters, said Tabitha Sumberg, who led the fundraising. The 150 students include her son, Joe, in year four and daughter Laurel in reception. 

    Happily, for naughty children, the cell block has been demolished. In the new hall, boys and girls recited celebratory poems  and sung songs ranging from Louis Armstrong’s It’s A Wonderful World to Arik Einstein’s Ani V’eata Neshaneh et Ho’alam — “You and I will change the world”.
    Irene Kay, former head of Clore Shalom School, who has four of her six grandchildren at Alma, said it has been “amazing for its high academic standards and the warm, nurturing way in which the children are supported”.

    Displays around the school show its cultural breadth. One celebrates the work of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel  Peace Prize, while a quotation from David Bowie features on another wall: “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

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