There is a crying need in the London Jewish community for a state-funded secondary school which is committed to a tolerant and inclusive modern Orthodoxy. A school which would provide a counter-voice to those who argue for greater isolationism and the rejection of modern culture - this is especially important at a time when we face growing anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
A school which would promote intellectual honesty, humility and inclusivity, grounded in an understanding of Genesis 1:27, which teaches us that all human beings are created in the image of God. A school which would nurture pupils who are fully conscious of their place in the world and their responsibilities to their family, to their Jewish community, to British society and to mankind in general. A school which promotes the central place of the state and land of Israel in modern Jewish religious life and encourages its students thoughtfully to engage with and support Israel.
A school offering a deep skills-based curriculum to its students that prepares them to lead full Jewish lives, enabling them to engage fully in the secular world and to appreciate the value of secular learning not simply as a tool to gainful employment. A school which integrates modern scientific understandings of the world with traditional faith, rather than dismissing, ignoring or banning them.
A school which also considers innovations within Judaism that run with tradition. This includes encouraging women to have more active involvement in Jewish ritual, education and leadership; and asking questions about contemporary issues such as Judaism and environmentalism, Jewish medical ethics, religious pluralism and the concept of the Chosen People.
And a school which encourages debate and provides space for differing views.
We are excited to be including a vibrant interfaith component in our school plans
There is currently a shortage of secondary school places in London for Jewish children who want to attend Jewish schools. All the "mainstream" state-funded Jewish secondary schools in Barnet, Brent and South Hertfordshire are now heavily over-subscribed. As the JC has reported, this had led to a number of worried parents. It has also led the private Immanuel College to increase its numbers - although many of the parents accepting places did not anticipate paying for school and aren't always able to afford the fees. JCoSS, Yavneh and Hasmonean have dropped, or are about to drop, their Jewish feeder primary schools, with the result that without a new school, a number of children at Jewish primary schools will fail to get a place at a Jewish secondary school.
Meanwhile, demand for Jewish secondary school places is predicted to increase, thanks to the current strong demand for Jewish primary school places and the graduation of children from the new primary schools that have been set up.
I am one of a growing group of parents, educators and Jewish communal leaders who are committed to creating a vibrant Jewish school, promoting commitment to the values outlined above: tolerance, community-mindedness and a thoughtful observance of halachah. We want to create a school which fills a gap, and meets a need, within the Jewish secondary school market. There is room for a different kind of school, which strongly identifies with modern Orthodoxy.
We propose to call the school Barkai College. "Barkai", which appears in the first Mishnah of the tractate discussing Yom Kippur, means "dawn has broken". The name is intended to encompass potential, to be unleashed and actualised - which is fitting for children developing into young adults.
Over the past six months we have surveyed more than 900 parents and presented to more than 300 parents at parlour meetings. Some 81 per cent of our survey respondents are members of Orthodox synagogues; a large majority said that modern Orthodox is their ideal ethos for a new school. Most are looking for a school where both the head of Kodesh and rabbinic leadership have made a commitment to modern Orthodoxy and where Jewish education is important to parents.
We are currently preparing an application to be submitted to the Department for Education this September 2016 to develop a free modern Orthodox secondary school with a focus on STEM subjects (science, engineering, technology and maths) with a view to opening in September 2018. As a free school, Barkai will be open to people of other faiths, or none, and we will ensure that we have appropriate provision for all during the school day in all areas, including spirituality, ethics and morality.
Barkai will provide our children with the opportunity to share their beliefs, learn from other cultures and religions, and be prepared to live comfortably as adults in the integrated society in Britain. We are also excited to be including a vibrant interfaith component in our school plans, which seek to promote a moderate religious pluralism that preserves Judaism's Torah- centred approach while recognising that we can learn from other faiths.
Finally, we want to ensure that all of our students have the courage required to face the major challenges arising from modernity, whether it concerns specific questions regarding modern Orthodoxy or more generally.