Family & Education

Why Vanessa Feltz changed her mind about Jewish schools

The broadcaster didn't think much of Jewish schools... until her grandchildren started Nancy Reuben


By her own admission, broadcaster Vanessa Feltz had been no great fan of Jewish schools.

She remembered all too well her father Norman’s experiences of being one of the first pupils at the now closed Jewish boarding school, Carmel College.

Its aim was to turn Jewish boys into English gentlemen, she said, by subjecting them “to a regime of extreme privation such as they had never known at home”.

They were made to “run miles in the freezing cold” and eat food “so execrable” that one pupil’s mother was persuaded to send daily supplements of chicken. “My father told me the postal service in those days was so magnificent the chicken was still hot when it arrived,” she said.

And so when she paid her first visit to her grandchildren’s school, Nancy Reuben in Hendon, she had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” there. But what she saw made her kvell so hard “I lost a stone doing so,” she said.

“I was subsumed into an atmosphere of the purest naches,” she told guests at the independent primary’s 20th anniversary dinner on Tuesday.

“It is wonderful in a world which is riven with discord and disagreement… to be lucky enough to watch our children grow and flourish in an ambience which is so encouraging and nurturing,” she said.

“Everything about it smacks of excellence,” she said. It was a place where “you can aim for the stars and if you don’t quite reach them, everyone will love you anyway.”

One of the country’s few Sephardi schools, which attracts a sizeable Ashkenazi intake, was founded by the Od Yosef Hai community. It was named after the late mother of David and Simon Reuben — whose first name Nancy was anglicised from the Hebrew Naima, meaning “pleasant”.

The Reuben Foundation’s ongoing support is one reason its £4,500 annual fees are lower than some other Jewish independent schools. As guests were told, the annual cost of educating its 200 pupils was considerably more, at £7,500 per child.

David Reuben, who with his brother has formed one of Britain’s most successful business partnerships, recalled spending six months in the Jews’ Temporary Shelter after arriving in London from India and being given his first break in business when he was taken on by the metals’ company of the late Sir Sigmund Sternberg.

Forecasting a world in which petrol stations could become obsolete in five to ten years, he hoped many of Nancy Reuben’s children would become “technologists and engineers — because that’s tomorrow”.

A revamped IT programme was one action taken by headteacher Anthony Wolfson, who arrived two years ago; iPads have been introduced as well as workshops on drones and lego robots.

In September, the school will welcome a new deputy head Daniel Sunshine, from Menorah Foundation, as well as a new head of inclusion, Daniela Grossman from Moriah School, as part of a professional team “getting stronger and stronger, “ Mr Wolfson said.

And informal education is being enhanced too. Later this month, the annual year-six trip, instead of the past decade’s venue of Wales, will for the first time go to Rome, where according to learning committee head Professor Daniel Ezra, children will be able to explore “the convergence of Jewish history with classical antiquity".

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