The JC letters page, 22nd December

Danny Pine, Judith Nemeth, Steven Isaacs, Sharman Kadish, Leila Cumber, Terry Bernstein, Pamela Melnikoff, Dr David Fligg and Lynette Ordman share their views with JC readers

December 21, 2017 15:41

Save our shuls!

What a contrast! Go-ahead real-estate developer Michael Levine has saved a “redundant” synagogue that “only” dates from the 1950s in a provincial city in America: Phoenix, Arizona. Besides his own drive and vision, his cause has undoubtedly been helped by “linking in” with the defunct congregation’s celebrity son — Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg, who was barmitzvah there.

Britain’s heritage of historic synagogues goes back much further than America’s. Over the past 30 years since I became involved, the conservation challenge has largely moved on from Georgian and Victorian synagogues to the 20th Century. The older ones that have survived have mostly benefited from statutory protection through Listing/enhanced Listing (four are now Grade I) and generous public funding, primarily through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Synagogues of the 1900s, 1920s and 1930s are currently the most endangered category: three languish on Historic England’s annual Heritage At Risk register: Liverpool’s Greenbank Drive and Manchester’s Withington Sephardi (in the south) and (in the north) Higher Crumpsall. Edwardian seaside shuls at Blackpool and Bournemouth (unlisted) are in immediate danger.

Post-war synagogues (1950s, 1960s and 1970s) are only now beginning to be considered for heritage protection — a 30-year rule applies before Listing. Innovative modern buildings, or examples designed by famous architects, are sadly few and far between, unlike in America. So far, three British synagogues dating from the 1960s have been Listed, most recently Belfast’s Somerton Road. The first in the country designed on a Star of David hexagon plan (by Czech refugee Eugene Rosenberg), Belfast was singled out for praise more than 30 years ago by the same Professor Carol Krinsky of New York University who is supporting Levine’s campaign to save 333 East Portland Street, Phoenix.

Where are the visionary Jewish developers in Britain who appreciate that regeneration of heritage assets can also turn them a profit? You can square your conscience with commerce: both promote the “Green Agenda” and make money.  Cuts to public funding are now biting the heritage sector hard.  Time for you to do your bit.

(Dr) Sharman Kadish, Founder and Director, 
Jewish Heritage UK (2004-2016)

Setting the standard

I was reading the JC online with great interest this week, and came across the article Strong Performance by Jewish Primary Schools
As a Hertfordshire state-aided school, we received exceptionally positive feedback on Friday by the local authority for exceeding the national and local benchmark for pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths (77 per cent) and the national and local benchmark for those achieving the higher standard in reading, writing and maths (20 per cent). This is undoubtedly a great achievement.

We also made great strides with our progress measure. This is a reflection of the article and I fully support celebrating such success. Well done to our Jewish schools. Faith schools are setting the standard in Britain! 

However, I am also acutely conscious of the recent comments made by Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman. 

I always tell prospective parents to consider our broad and balanced curriculum and the importance of preparing children for life in modern Britain. This cannot be measured but is core to life at HJPS as I am sure it is in most schools.  

We ask our children: what does it mean to live in multicultural Britain? What does it mean to be British? What is a democracy? Who is the Queen? I tell the children how lucky we are that we live in Britain, in a democracy where we can express ourselves. 

I am delighted schools will now be judged on how they deliver the broader curriculum beyond maths, English and science. At HJPS we strive so children can achieve in all areas.

There is a place for local and national benchmarks to measure progress and attainment levels, but there is a much bigger picture that plays itself out daily in our schools. 

Headteachers, Senior Leaders and the staff in North and North-West London schools should be applauded for delivering this broad and balanced curriculum. Put data into a context!  

Steven Isaacs
Headteacher of Hertsmere Jewish Primary School   


Not the full story

Simon Rocker takes the bare statistics provided by Ofsted to “prove” that Charedi schools are under-performing.

However, the Ofsted statistics do not take into account the inspection goalposts that keep on changing according to the lens of a particular inspector. Many an inspection team use a disproportionate lens on inspecting one of the protected characteristics to the exclusion of all others and to the exclusion of successful standards in literacy, numeracy and behaviour that may well be superb.  

This results in an inappropriate, inadequate or RI judgment.

If a similar lens was used in non-faith schools in inspecting how well they teach other religions, which is another protected characteristic, we would have many UK schools, state and independent schools, failing across the board. 

Judith Nemeth,
Executive Director, Najos

Facing the bullies

Regarding President Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, you write: “who would ever expect him to reduce, rather than inflame, the temperature in any area?” 

By the same token, who would ever expect the “UK’s number-one Jewish newspaper” to express mainstream Anglo Jewry’s joyous reaction, that at last there is a president with the courage to face down the bullies and do what is right? No, political correctness rules at the JC.

To write that “it is equally true that the Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of any Palestinian state” is to deny history and the oft-expressed aspirations of the “moderate” PA.

As Zahir Muhsein, senior PLO executive member, said in a famous interview: “The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel. The moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine with Jordan.”

Danny Pine, 
London NW3

The fury across the Arab-aligned countries following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has little to do with Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967 but more to do with Transjordan’s annexation of that part of the city in 1948. 

The latter, although viewed internationally as illegal, was, nonetheless, granted recognition by two countries, namely Britain and Pakistan.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation was founded, not as a result of Israel’s victory in 1967, that united East and West Jerusalem, but in 1964. It is as well to ponder what part of Israel this organisation has dedicated itself to liberate, if not Israel within the perimeter of the armistice lines of 1948. The PLO’s promise to amend their charter has not been fulfilled and, thereby, hangs the Palestinians’ leadership mantra to this day of “no peace, no recognition and no negotiation”.

Leila Cumber, 
London N3

Missed chance

A  generation back, as young students on campus, we begged and pleaded for help to combat anti-Israel propaganda. We were told that it didn’t matter; no one was bothered what a few students thought. And so on. Bare ground allows weeds to grow. That generation had grown up with anti-Israel stories embedded in their thinking. But now they aren’t just “a few students”. They are the lawyers, political activists, journalists, parents who form opinions. And are our students on campus better armed against these campaigns than we were those 30-odd years ago? It doesn’t seem like it.

Terry Bernstein, 
London N3

True colours

Ian Kay’s hopes for a rabbinical snooker table (Letters, Dec 15) might at one time have been assisted by my shul, the Chassidishe in Leeds. 
After he retired, the late Rabbi Dr Solomon Brown was one of our regular worshippers, and he invariably sat next to Dr Black. Our former shammas might not have qualified to be on Mr. Kay’s snooker table, but he was nonetheless a shining example: Jacob Silver. 

Dr David Fligg, 
Leeds LS17 

Ian Kay asks if there are any rabbis named Green or Brown.  Many people will remember Rabbi Hugo Gryn, and I once met a girl whose brother was Rabbi Brown.

Pamela Melnikoff, 
Ilford, Essex

Limmud question

One of the sessions to be given at the annual Limmud conference next week reads: “Anti-occupation activism in the West Bank: Hear from three British Jews who took part in peaceful anti-occupation activism in the West Bank this year while living in Jerusalem. We will describe what we did, what we saw and how it felt. Learn how you could get involved, including through joining organised programmes and connecting directly with activist organisations.”  

Unbelievably, a Jewish educational organisation chooses to give a platform to those who reinforce  slander and propaganda that seeks to destroy the Jewish state. But what is even more bizarre is the organisation is helping  these activists to recruit more people to act against  Israel and the Jewish people.

Chanukah is barely over but  it is clear that some Jews are still playing out the opposition to the Maccabees.

Lynette Ordman 
Netanya, Israel

December 21, 2017 15:41

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