[Response] Is there an upside to the Jewish “bubble” or are faith schools part of the problem?

Dora Hirsh
28 April 2017
The Jewish Chronicle

Last week I read an article in the JC entitled The Downside of the Jewish School Bubble.

Having attended Jewish schools since the age of six (I am now 16 and taking GCSEs), I profoundly disagreed with it. In my experience, being at JCoSS has hugely strengthened my sense of identity. This has served to better equip me to stand up for myself and articulate my views rather than being afraid and ashamed, precisely because I have been nurtured in an environment where I am safe to express them. I have been taught to be secure in my identity.

There are a number of kids at my school who have anti-Israel opinions, as well as countless other views with which I disagree. Just because most of us are Jewish, it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks and feels the same. I resent the idea that we are never challenged in our views, because we absolutely are.

Teaching children to be proud of their heritage, whatever that may be, has to be better than putting them in an environment that teaches them to be ashamed. I think many opponents of Jewish schools underestimate our awareness of the non-Jewish world — we too live in multicultural Britain, and school is only one aspect of our lives. Contrary to the assertion made in the article, I feel confident in my ability to operate outside of the Jewish community, to recognise and challenge antisemitism, as well as other forms of racism, injustice and bigotry as my Jewish identity teaches me to.

Dora’s letter is in response to the following Jewish Chronicle blog by Leah Pennisi-Glaser on 24 April 2017.

The downside of the Jewish school bubble

The drift of Jewish children away from mainstream state schools has its disadvantages.

I am walking to my next lesson with two of my classmates, Razwana and Aida (not their real names), when the words “Viva, viva Palestina!” ring out in the corridor. We look up and to my horror and their delight, we see a teacher walking towards us, his thumbs cocked up in approval. The object of his approval are the words writ large on the t-shirt Aida is wearing: “Free Gaza”.

Although the school’s dress code prohibits clothing with slogans, no one seems to have said anything. And now, a teacher has gone one step further and actually approved Aida’s politically charged garment.

I am one of a handful of Jewish pupils at my school in a north London suburb that has been home to Jews for generations. But maybe I should be less surprised I am so poorly represented at my comprehensive. According to a recent report from the Board of Deputies and JPR, two in three British Jewish schoolchildren now attend Jewish schools.

It’s not always easy being in the minority, that’s for sure. The t-shirt incident is just the tip of an iceberg of what I have experienced at my school, where I have heard everything from “the Jews did 9/11” to “you killed Christ”. Friends at my shul, Finchley Progressive, who also attend mainstream schools report similar experiences.

One boy, who goes to an academy in London where he says he can count the number of Jewish students on the fingers of his hands, says he never tells his non-Jewish friends his mum’s a rabbi “in case they get the wrong idea”. Similarly, a girl at another school says she only reveals her Jewish heritage to people she “trusts”. All three of us have heard schoolmates make jokes about the Holocaust.

Conversely, when I asked Ben, 18, whom I met at BBYO, about whether he’d experienced any antisemitism at school, he said he never had. He’s a pupil at City of London School for Boys, where he reckons around four in ten students are Jewish. From which you could conclude that when it comes to being young and Jewish, there’s safety in numbers.

However, I would put it to those parents who shuttle their offspring off to Jewish “bubble” schools every day that they might be doing more harm than good. Maybe going to a Jewish school, being in such a safe, protected and, for me, unreal environment means you aren’t actually that well equipped to even recognise, let alone combat, antisemitism or anti-Zionism.

My friend Zara, who is at JCoSS, says “she’s never really met people with those views”. If you sit next to “people with those views” in double maths, you’re forced to notice and react to them.

It is not just pupils who need educating. Last month, I told one (very lovely) teacher about this article and she said: “What is antisemitism, Leah?” My initial reaction was one of great surprise. But then when I thought about it, it made sense. She has never lived among Jews. And since she started teaching, she has — on principle, she told me — only ever taught in state schools.

So, given the exodus of Jews from Britain’s mainstream schools, this means I could, quite feasibly, be her first Jewish pupil. Put another way, she’d never have had to ask one of her pupils what racism and Islamophobia are: she’s taught hordes of kids who have been the victims of both.

Better informed teachers. That’s another reason why I wish there were more Jews in mainstream schools. Maybe then, instead of being praised, Aida would have been told to change into something less controversial.

Click here to read the original letter  

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