Family & Education

Let’s hear it for our school Maccabees

Education lies at the heart of our survival as a people, as Chanukah reminds us


The “Maccabee” brand has evolved in modern times to include an all-malt lager, a Jewish Olympic Games and a variety of sports teams of hugely varying ability. These contemporary incarnations of the brand would no doubt have raised an eyebrow among the original Maccabee heroes of the Chanukah story.

There are nonetheless common themes which pervade all the usages of the name Maccabee: strength (except the beer), skill and above all courage. This year as we commemorate the ancient victory of the brave some 2,100 years ago, we can also celebrate some contemporary heroes.

As schools work valiantly to complete a term whose difficulty has been beyond our imagination, our teachers, administrators and leaders have marched step by step with our heroic Maccabee ancestors, matching them for those very virtues of strength, skill and courage

Sitting at the hub of this incredible effort, we at Pajes have been amazed by the resilience and strength of our wonderful schools’ communities. I cannot bring to mind a single teacher who in the face of the very real danger of serious illness has decided to stay away from their responsibility to their students.

At Pajes we have played our part providing support and training as the entire educational community seeks to navigate a route through frighteningly dangerous waters. Let’s also recognise the contribution made by our students. They have shown real sensitivity to the medical concerns both of school staff and their adult and elderly relatives.

While we are continuously reminding students to wear masks, I have not encountered a single student who has not complied immediately. In each case, an unsolicited muffled apology was accompanied by a cheerfully respectful nod.

It will not have escaped readers’ attention that in addition to the twin application of the ideal of courage there is an etymological connection between Chanukah and teaching. The Hebrew word for education is chinuch, which is clearly part of the word “Chanukah”. This signals another correlation between the Jewish notion of education and our celebration of our Festival of Lights.

Chanukah, in part, is a celebration of the overthrow of the Seleucid rulers of Judea, delivering national independence for the Jewish people for the first time in centuries. Those responsible for the naming the festival were aware that our greatest resource in the struggle to maintain our independence is our genius at education.

It’s a genius not only of teachers or students but of our entire nation. Three times a day in the Shema we remind ourselves that teaching our children lies at the heart of our way of life.

We rightly attribute many achievements to Rav Lord Jonathan Sacks: in particular, raising the profile of Jewish values throughout the world or promoting the quality of Jewish music or perhaps grasping the nettle of contemporary philosophical puzzles and somehow unravelling them.

Perhaps so, but in conversation with him, he would always come back to the explosion of Jewish schools established during his Chief Rabbinate. He was always generous in identifying many of his co-heroes in this accomplishment but his very evident pride confirmed that it was very much his own toil which facilitated this remarkable change in our communal landscape

He realised that Jewish survival, the possibility of many more Chanukah-type events, is totally dependent on Jewish chinuch.

The Chatam Sofer relates the story of a wealthy member of the Bratislav community who came to him to complain that someone had set up a school in his rather grand apartment building situated in the expensive heart of Bratislava. Surely that was not an appropriate place for a school?

The Chatam Sofer replied that the cause of Jewish education is the responsibility of every member of the Jewish people. Some fulfil their obligation by teaching, some donate money, while others contribute by welcoming the sound of students studying, even if it is in the neighbouring flat.

Rabbi Pollak is secondary school projects co-ordinator for Pajes

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