‘Jewish Eton’ bonds are still strong 60 years on

Alumni of Whittinghame College in Brighton continue to gather, laugh and reminisce six decades on


In a world where time often strains even the strongest bonds, a heart-warming exception exists.

The alumni of Whittinghame College in Brighton, despite six decades having passed since their school days, continue to gather, laugh, reminisce, and maintain the ties forged during their youth.

Established in 1931, Whittinghame College was founded in Hove by Jacob Halevy, a British Zionist who envisioned a “Jewish version of Eton.” The school closed in 1967.

This institution nurtured Jewish students’ identities while integrating them into British society. The college evolved from educating British Jewry to welcoming students from more than 25 countries

David Azagury, originally from Tangier in Morocco and now residing in Geneva, was one of the alumni who recently gathered at Brighton’s Leonardo Hotel for a reunion.

He told the JC: “I joined the school in 1956, not quite 12 years old and stayed for eight years. Whittingehame College was extremely international, and although the first few months were difficult, as I did not speak a word of English, the camaraderie was such that, very quickly, we became part of a large family.

“You quickly learned to be a team player. I believe that the strength of the school was its headmasters and the competence of the teachers.
David said that while the school was a Jewish school, it was open to other faiths.

“For one year in my eight years at the boarding school, the head boy was a Muslim from Iraq which demonstrates the vision of Mr Halevy.”

Jack Abraham, originally from Afghanistan, credits Whittinghame College’s headteacher, Halevy, and deputy, Mr Smith, a Christian Zionist, for shaping his future.

“We were away from our families and so the relationships we established were more than friendships. We became what I refer to as ‘brotherly friends’”, said Jack.

The owner of a precious gems company and a founding member of the Afghan synagogue in New York, Jack said it was his time at Wittinghame which gave him the confidence to approach the great and the good in later life.

“How did I have the courage to invite members of Congress, the ambassador of Afghanistan to the US and the president of the US to an event in New York to commemorate 2,600 years of Jewish history in Afghanistan and celebrate our new roots in the USA? My time at Whittinghame is what gave me the strength to do such things.”

So great was the impact of the school on his life, that even Jack’s son and his business partner in New York, also the son of a former Whittinghame College pupil, decided to name their real estate companies, Whitnick and Brighton Management, in honour of their fathers’ school.

“I had no idea that they had chosen these names and was so touched when I found out.

"The legacy of Whittinghame College continues!” said Jack with evident pride.
Whittinghame alumni include notable figures like Israeli-American business executive Eli Harari, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman and renowned winemaker Eli Ben-Zaken whose recently published biography, Domaine du Castel, written by English-born Jerusalem Post wine writer Adam S Montefiore, mentions the part that Whittinghame College played in his life.

Originally from Egypt, Ben-Zaken explained: “Whittinghame came into my life at an important time of awakening, a time of asking questions: ‘Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What kind of society would I prefer to live in?’

Ben-Zaken eventually chose Israel as his adopted country and after taking up winemaking as a hobby, he turned professional, and his wine has since became an Israeli icon.

Danny Unger, a film producer from London known for Return from the River Kwai, said he was thankful to Whittinghame College for nurturing his independence and resilience.

He humorously recalled being the only one who didn’t cry during his first night in the Israeli army.

“After I left Whittinghame College, I was with 12 new recruits in a tent on our first night in the Israeli army. I was the only one who did not cry out for his mother! I had the English boarding school upbringing.”

Also present at the reunion were Professors Magnus Marsden and Paul Anderson from Sussex and Cambridge universities, who interviewed several of “the boys” for their anthropological research, which focuses on the cultural and religious plurality of countries in central Asia and the Middle East.

Professor Marsden said afterwards: “Attending the Whittinghame old boys’ reunion was fascinating.

"At one level, the fact they had managed to sustain friendships over so many decades since leaving the school and in the context of being globally dispersed, pointed to the intense nature of their experiences at the school.

“At another level, it was eye-opening to hear that many of the boys travelled to the UK from countries that were undergoing tumultuous changes.

“During my conversations with the men, I gained the very strong impression that not only did they have unique stories to tell, but also that they were repositories of knowledge from a period that remains little understood.”

Today, as they gather for annual reunions, it is not just memories of youthful adventures that they bring to the table. These gatherings are a living testament to the power of a nurturing educational environment.

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