Family & Education

Racial inclusivity report is welcomed by schools

Jewish studies should recognise the need to show the diversity of the Jewish world, Board of Deputies report says


Thousands of Ethiopian Jews take part in a prayer of the Sigd holiday on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade overlooking Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. The prayer is performed by Ethiopian Jews every year to celebrate their community's connection and commitment to Israel. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** אתיופי טיילת אתיופים טיילת ארמון הנציב סיגד חג

Jewish schools have broadly welcomed the educational recommendations in the Board of Deputies’ report on racial inclusivity in the Jewish community, which was published at the end of last week.

Its author Stephen Bush, the political editor of the New Statesman, made 16 proposals for Jewish schools, including teaching about Black history and the legacy of colonialism in the history curriculum.

Jewish studies should reflect the diversity of world Jewry and the experience of Sephardi, Mizrahi and other non-Ashkenazi communities.

Jewish schools should also consider linking with schools with a significant number of Black and Asian students.

Joshua Rowe, the chairman of Manchester’s King David Schools, said the report was “very good and and addresses this hugely important topic which we cover quite comprehensively at King David and Yavneh [King David’s more religious stream].”

However, he added, “The message ought to be much broader. Most bullying and offensive behaviour has nothing to do with racism and more to do with mundane things” — such as calling people “fat, stupid or ugly”.

JFS headteacher Rachel Fink welcomed the “comprehensive and far-reaching report”, which created “a platform for long overdue conversations”.

“While we are pleased that the report specifically recognises the positive changes in recent years to the curriculum at JFS in both the secular and Jewish curriculum, there is still more that we can do as a school,” she said. “We will be endeavouring to implement the recommendations in full through a working party led jointly by staff and students that represent the diverse population of JFS.”

The report noted that the JFS history curriculum includes African history, the slave trade, the American Civil rights movement and the “challenging legacy of the British Empire”.

PaJeS, the Jewish Leadership Council’s schools network, which contributed to the report, said its forthcoming Jewish history curricula “will go some way to addressing some of the issues raised within the report”.

While many of those who gave evidence to the report spoke positively of their experience in Jewish schools, Mr Bush documented examples of failings.

Some books of Bible stories depicted Pharaoh as dark-skinned but Moses as white.

One parent recalled “running battles” with a school to cover the Sephardi world.

The report’s recommendations for the secular curriculum make “complete sense” said Hannele Reece, head of Kantor King Solomon High School, where the majority of pupils are non-Jewish.

Part of the remit of its history department, she explained, was to help pupils understand “the complexity of people’s lives, the process of change, the diversity of societies and relationships between different groups, as well as their own identity and the challenges of their time.”

Year-8 students, for example, completed a unit “dedicated to the British Empire and the impact it has on global communities, linking with themes of identity, religion and colour”.

Through assemblies and cross-curricular links, “we also study culture and context across a variety of subjects ranging from African masks in art to racism in America in the 1920s in English,” she said.

“I would be very surprised if other Jewish schools did not study similar topics and, if they don’t, then I welcome the report encouraging this.”

From the start of the time at KKSHS, students “consider and celebrate the eclectic community within our school through learning about and sharing personal journeys and experiences. They consider the deeper meaning of the Torah teaching that that all are created in God’s image and thus entitled to equal value and respect.

“Jewish diversity in modern-day Britain as well as in Israel are explored in year-8 and we spotlight the journeys of Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia.”


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