It is now getting on towards half a century since I left Carmel College. After this long period of time, how do I view the school? Do I feel it achieved its aims?
Almost all my life, (until my recent retirement), I was in education, including seven years as Director of Jewish Education at the King David High School in Liverpool. I can therefore reflect on these questions in the light of my experiences in Jewish education.
I have come to the conclusion that it is very easy to criticise what others are trying to do in Anglo-Jewish education. It is much harder to actually do anything positive.
In Liverpool, I was in a day school, and as a result was limited almost entirely to the classroom. In a boarding school, one has, on one side, the advantage, and on the other, the great responsibility, of having pupils under one’s authority for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which includes Shabbat and almost all the Festivals.
Having pupils with you all day and every day enables you to be an example and also to train them in the full life of a Jew, namely: Tephillot, Tephillin, Kashrut, Berachot, Birchat Hamazon, Shabbat and Festivals.
It was Rabbi Kopul Rosen’s special aim to bring in boys from communities where there was no or little Yiddishkeit. As he wrote in his “An Appraisal of Carmel College, published in about 1961: “... but when boys from Winchester, Pontefract, Norwich, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Peterborough, Aberdeen, Kettering, Boston (Lincs), Stoke, for example, apply for admission and their parents plead that we must find a place for their sons who are growing up estranged from all Jewish life, we feel under a moral obligation to take the boy into the school...” There were also boys who came from strictly religious homes in established Jewish communities. In addition boys came to Carmel from all over the world, from Israel, France, Germany, Sweden, Gibraltar, Iraq, Persia, Curacao and so on.
The policy of Rabbi Rosen was to fit all these boys into a uniform framework of Yiddishkeit. Both those who came from totally non-religious backgrounds and those who came from totally religious backgrounds found it necessary to adapt their ways.
On reflection, on this score, Rabbi Rosen deserves high marks. All boys attended services every day, put on Tephillin, experienced a traditional Shabbat every week and (with the exception of Pesach) also observed the various Festivals at least several times during their stay at Carmel.
The next question concerns the Religious Instruction. It is easy to talk about good Jewish Religious Instruction, but from personal experience much harder to deliver. I know the problems I had in the 1970s in Liverpool to find good and suitable teachers for this subject. In the 1950s in Carmel it was much harder. It was not practical for teachers who lived in London to return home every day. They would have to live in Carmel. And if they had daughters of any age or sons under the age of seven, where would they go to school? A teacher of Religious Instruction would not want his children to go to a local school in Wallingford where all the other children were non-Jewish. It would even be difficult to persuade an unmarried Religious Instruction teacher to live in Carmel. For the very limited number of such teachers in 1950s, it was much more convenient to live and teach in a Jewish school in London, who were also then crying out for teachers.
From this one can see that one could not pick and choose, but one had to take who one could get. And that’s who we got. With the best will in the world, it was fairly rare, until my last year at the school, to find a good Religious Instruction teacher.
In addition to the staffing problem, in those days there were virtually no good teaching books and there certainly were no any teaching aids for Religious Instruction. Even in the 1970s, they were only just beginning to be produced.
Despite all these limitations, the Religious Instruction lessons, especially the voluntary ones such as Gemara, gave one a basis and an inclination to continue with one’s Torah studies after leaving Carmel. I studied for a number of years in Yeshivot and Kollel in Israel, and although one learns Torah for its own sake and not for gaining a Rabbinical diploma, I gained one signed by leading Jerusalem Rabbis, including Rabbi Mordecai Eliahu, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Rabbi Rosen did his best to ensure that as many boys as possible would lein and take service. For this I am ever grateful to him. If I had not been at Carmel, I feel pretty sure that I would not have mastered these techniques. As a result, I have for a number of years, leined the whole Sidra in my Synagogue - (where I am the Honorary Rabbi) - each week throughout the entire year, and regularly conduct services even on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When one sees, even in Israel, how many people are unable to conduct even a weekday service and certainly are unable to lein, one can understand Rabbi Rosen’s insistence that his pupils performed these functions in the Carmel Synagogue - or else take the consequences!
It was easier to find teachers for secular subjects than for Religious subjects and here Rabbi Rosen succeeded in appointing a first class staff. As result of the start they gave me, I was able to continue at London University and first of all gain a B.Sc. with First Class Honours and then continue to a Doctorate in Chemistry. Later on I also gained a B.Phil in Educational Technology, with my thesis being on the “Evaluations of Audio-Visual Aids in Jewish Religious Education.”
Carmel College also provided a whole range of extra-curricular activities, in debating, in sports and in many other activities. I am sure that every boy in Carmel found something to his interest, within the framework of these activities, in which to aspire.
As I wrote in the first chapter of this book “A Bomb Falls on Anglo Jewry.” This is what its closure was. As I understand, very few boys found a satisfactory alternative.
The half century which Carmel College served Anglo-Jewry must never be forgotten. Let me conclude this book with a prayer that Anglo-Jewry will do the maximum to try and reopen Carmel College and thus fulfil the dream and life work of its Founder, Rabbi Dr. Kopul Rosen.