The establishment of the Liverpool Jewish Schools began with a meeting of seven Liverpool Jews on 17 December 1840 at the Angel Hotel, when it was recognized that there was a need for a school to educate the Jewish people in the community. One of these seven Jews was Louis Samuel, the grandfather of Herbert Samuel. On 21 June 1841, the boys’ school opened with sixteen pupils. At first there was no permanent building and as a result the school found it necessary to move about frequently and this caused rumours to circulate (helped on by certain pupils!) that the school had ceased to exist. In common with the prevailing national pattern, the attendance at the school was poor. Discipline was firm and it seems that the punishment of pupils by suspension was often resorted to.
In 1846, the girls’ school was opened. General supervision of the girls’ school was undertaken by a Ladies’ Committee, but its powers were very limited since it was subservient to the male Board of Governors.
In the 1840s, an Endowment Deed of these schools was drawn up. The earliest printed edition of this deed in existence today dates from 1853. In the fundamental laws embodied in this Deed is given the object of the schools:
The object of the Institution is the instruction of the Hebrew faith in the principles of their religion, in accordance with the regulations of the recognised Ecclesiastical authorities of the united congregations of Great Britain; in the Hebrew and English languages, and in such branches of useful knowledge as shall from time to time be determined on.
Every school day began and ended with prayers which were conducted by one of the pupils.
In its early years, the school day was five hours long in the winter and six in the summer and each week ten hours were devoted to Religious Instruction and Hebrew. There was a dearth in suitable textbooks for children in Jewish Studies and some Bibles ordered in 1867 were found to be unsuitable for Jewish use.
In the 1840s the parents contributed a weekly sum ranging from nothing to 6d (two and a half pence) to pay for their children’s education. The first Jewish Studies teacher received a salary of twenty pounds a year. For the second one, the salary was higher - forty pounds a year, on condition he gave extra tuition.
The Ministers of the Liverpool Synagogues were ex-officio Visitors of the schools and officially had the power to comment even on matters not concerning the Jewish aspects of the schools. A special book was kept into which these Ministers were “empowered to make such remarks as may be needful on any points connected with the regulations or discipline of the schools.” This book was submitted to meetings of the Board of Managers.
On the short Fridays in winter, the schools closed at two o’clock. The school holiday dates were built around the Jewish calendar. The schools were closed for a month at Rosh Hashanah and two weeks at Pesach. This arrangement enabled them to be closed not only for the days of Yom-Tov but also on Chol Hamoed and furthermore gave the pupils time to make preparations for the Festivals.
In 1852, there were about 120 pupils in the school and it then moved to a larger site in Hope Place, where it was to remain for over a century. A Clothing Society was established in 1866 and a Soup Fund in 1870 to ensure that the pupils were suitably clothed and adequately fed.
By the end of the Second World War the main concentration of Liverpool Jewry had moved to Childwall. In September 1957, the King David School became the first Jewish secondary school to be opened under the provisions of the 1944 Education Act and it was opened on the same campus as the Childwall Synagogue. In 1964, it was joined by the King David Primary School, which had held out until that year in Hope Place. Harold House, the focus of the Jewish youth organisations also build its new building on this campus and in the mid-1970s, the Communal Mikva, which had been until then in the centre of Liverpool, was built in a room of Childwall Synagogue.
This campus included allotments, where some local residents grew their vegetables. I understood from the Headmaster of the High School, that when they came to build the Primary School, there were problems with these allotment holders and it even reached a state where the King David Foundation had to employ legal counsel. On this I asked the Headmaster, “What is more important, cabbages or education?” He replied that he agreed with me but there were others who thought otherwise.
What was the School like when I arrived at the end of 1971?
There were about 500 pupils aged 11 to 18. But not all the pupils were Jewish - about one-third were non-Jewish. The school had chosen to be a three form entry and the Jewish community was not big enough to fill it. The School and prominent Jews in Liverpool always claimed that about 85 to 90 per cent of the Jewish children of Liverpool attended it. However the booklet “Let my People Know, Proposals for the Development of Jewish Education,” brought out by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in 1971, quoted rather different statistics. It said that 45.5% attended the High School and 56% the Primary School. I never researched the figures myself and so I cannot say who is correct. All I can say is that when I looked at the announcements of Barmitzvahs in the “Liverpool Jewish Gazette,” I saw quite a number of names of boys who did not attend the King David High School.
As the High School had a three form entry, it meant taking in roughly 90 pupils each year. The Jewish community of Liverpool at that time could only supply about 60; hence the quota had to be filled with non-Jewish pupils. It was therefore suggested in 1974, that the school open a dormitory to take in Jewish pupils from other provincial centres which did not have a Jewish School. The plan never got off the ground. I cannot remember the reason but possibly it would have required the agreement of the various local councils, which wasn’t forthcoming.
[The size of the Liverpool Jewish Community is continually on the decline and I understand that by the start of the third millennium, the percentage of Jews in the School had decreased to only 30 per cent, which meant that the Jewish pupils were in the minority in a Jewish School! However this is still much better than the Jewish Schools in Zimbabwe, where the figures were in Harare, 16 per cent and in Bulawayo, 8 per cent. In these two Zimbabwe schools, kashrut was maintained, yomim tovim observed and Hebrew was compulsory.]
The secular subjects taught in the school could broadly speaking be divided into academic subjects, craft subjects and physical education. The academic subjects included English, Mathematics, French, German, Latin, History, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Economics. The craft subjects included Woodwork and Metalwork for boys, Cookery and Needlework for girls and Art for all pupils. Physical Education was, of course, separate for boys and girls.
Games also formed part of the school’s curriculum and in addition to its extensive playing fields, the school also had its own swimming pool. The playing fields were owned by the Foundation, and rather an amusing and beneficial thing emerged from this. The Local Education Authority (LEA) had to pay “rent” to the Foundation for the use of these fields by the King David Schools!
Every school has its own curriculum and a pupil or his parents cannot choose not to take a particular compulsory subject. This is up to the discretion of the Headmaster.
When I came to the school, I was not told that the Headmaster had exempted a boy from attending Jewish Studies lessons and Religious services at the request of his parents. The parents of this boy exhibited an extreme case of anti-religious bias. In reply to a request by a Jewish Studies teacher to the parents, to assist their younger son in his Jewish Studies homework, they wrote, “Kindly be informed that we are totally unreligious, never visit the synagogue, nor encourage our children to do so….” The Barmitzvah of their elder son was held on Minchah on Shabbat, which is unheard of in Britain. I don’t know what happened with the Barmitzvah of the younger son.
This withdrawal from Jewish Studies can easily be contagious and I think I first heard about it when another mother wrote to the school requesting likewise. In her letter she quoted from the 1944 Education Act and I believe she also brought down the precedent of the other boy whom the Headmaster had exempted.
The Chairman of the Governors, Henry Lachs, who was a barrister, and was later raised to the bench, was rather surprised to learn from the Act of 1944 that the right of a parent to withdraw a child from Religious Instruction was not limited to state schools but also applied to voluntary aided schools, such as the King David Schools.
Lachs had a meeting with the mother. Afterwards he told me that the mother had admitted that her letter was a silly one and she withdrew it. She explained that she was having religious problems with her son. For example after eating meat, he would immediately want milk and it would thus seem that out of desperation she had written the letter.
I made it clear that the exemption given to the other boy must be withdrawn. Lachs had a meeting with this boy and afterwards I spoke to the boy about this meeting. He said that “Henry Lachs is a barrister and he thus has a silver tongue.” Although this boy was a very intelligent boy and was good at arguing, it would seem that he was no match for Henry Lachs!
The Governors then decided that all Jewish pupils must attend Jewish Studies lessons and this was communicated to the boy’s family. The Headmaster then received a telephone call from the Local Education Authority (LEA) who said that a parent had complained that the school was forcing their child to take Religious Instruction and that was contrary to the law. The Headmaster explained to the LEA that Jewish Studies was the raison d’etre of our school. The Headmaster realised that it was a very delicate situation and asked me to say nothing on this matter to the boy that might antagonise him. The boy returned to Jewish Studies lessons.
About that time, I saw a draft letter which said that parents of pupils about to enter the school would have to sign that their children would attend services and Jewish Studies lessons. This letter was never sent, presumably for legal reasons.
The bottom line of all this was, when I heard that of these two boys whose parents had wanted to withdraw them from Jewish Studies, one was seen in the Jewish Assembly showing the other how to lay Tephillin! Everyone can do Teshuvah!
To implement the school curriculum requires an extensive staff and there were about 35 members of staff teaching secular subjects. The majority of the secular staff were non-Jewish, although there were a number of Jewish ones. According to a specific formula, the LEA would pay the salaries of a certain number of members of staff. If the school wanted to exceed this number, then the money for the extra staff had to be found privately, in our case, by the King David Foundation. In theory the school could decide that the LEA pays the Jewish Studies teachers and the Foundation the History and Chemistry teachers. In practice however it was the Jewish Studies staff that were paid by the Foundation. The Foundation also supplemented the salaries of certain secular staff, although this fact was not mentioned in the Treasurer’s Report or at the public Annual General Meetings of the Foundation!
Although the finding of good secular staff was generally speaking not too difficult, this was not the case with the Jewish Studies staff and the use of shlichim was far from ideal. Therefore, on a number of occasions, the School put an advertisement in the “Jewish Chronicle” for Jewish Studies teachers. I told the Headmaster that such advertisements should say that the teachers must be Orthodox, but for some reason he wouldn’t include this.
We saw from the curriculum vitae of one applicant that all his teaching had been in Liberal congregations. I pointed this out to the Headmaster and we immediately rejected him. On another occasion, the curriculum vitae stated that the applicant had trained in one of the Leo Baeck Colleges, which are Reform. A representative of the Zionist Federation Educational Trust was present at a meeting when we were discussing this applicant. He tried to pass this off by saying it’s not Reform but Conservative. Needless to say, even Conservatives were completely unacceptable to me as teachers. This application was never followed up.
Most of the staff who taught academic subjects, whether secular or Religious, had a University degree and those who taught a craft subject some sort of diploma. In addition most of the staff had some sort of teaching or educational qualification. Those who had a University degree would appear each year at the Annual Prize day in their academic robes. When I first came to the school, they would also wear them at the Annual Founders’ Day service, but for some reason they stopped wearing them at this ceremony.
Almost all the staff were class tutors. During some of my years at the school, I was also a tutor to a general class and also taught a few secular periods each week, such as Physics or Mathematics - I had studied these subjects at University. I think this improved the status of the Jewish Studies staff in the eyes of the pupils, since they could see that their Director of Jewish Studies was not “narrow-minded.”
Every member of staff was designated by two letters from his surname, the first a capital letter and the second a small letter. The two exceptions were the Headmaster who was designated HM and myself by the letters RS. Rabbi Solomon also had these same two letters. I never knew whether they stood for Rabbi Simons (and Rabbi Solomon) or Religious Studies.
Almost every teacher belongs to a teachers’ Union, the main ones being the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters (NAS). There is also a specialised Union, called the National Union of Hebrew Teachers (NUHT). I was a member of both the NAS and the NUHT.
Headmasters are also members of one of the Unions, and a question could often arise when a teacher went to his Union with a complaint against his Headmaster who was also a member of the same Union. I once asked an official of the Union what he would do in such a case. He replied that the Headmaster could look after himself and he would fight for the interests of the teacher.
On one occasion, the Unions proclaimed that teachers were not to do any work out of school hours, which meant, for example, not supervising pupils during the dinner break each day. This of course caused problems in the school. Our Headmaster wrote to the Governors outlining the problem but added that since he was a member of the Union, it was not for him to suggest solutions. It was during this period that the Foundation’s Jewish Studies sub-Committee had a meeting in the evening. Due to the sanctions, I could not attend. Those present thought that I must be ill, but I later told them the reason.
It is within the powers of a Headmaster to decide what each teacher will teach. Perhaps, theoretically, he could decide that the Chemistry teacher would teach only History and the History teacher only Chemistry! However, if a complaint were to be lodged with the LEA or one of the Unions, I don’t think they would support the Headmaster in this matter.
However, a case of a teacher being allocated a subject she absolutely knew nothing about did occur. It was a few months before I came to the School, that a Cookery teacher who was Jewish joined the staff. The Headmaster put her down to teach one of the Jewish Studies groups four periods each week. She might have been a good Cookery teacher, but she knew literally nothing about Jewish Studies. She therefore just acted as a child minder for that class, who, as a result, lost out on their Jewish Studies. I believe that for one period each week, she told them some Bible stories and Rabbi Solomon managed to fit this group in his timetable for one period a week. As soon as I joined the School, I immediately allocated all the periods of the group to the Jewish Studies staff.
Many of the teachers at the school wanted to prepare teaching materials for their pupils and for this purpose there was a spirit duplicator located in the staff room. (I still have a sample of many of the numerous pages I prepared for my lessons using this spirit duplicator.) There was also a more conventional “Gestetner” duplicating machine in the school office. Examination papers would be typed out, at the teachers’ request, by the secretary. However the school did not have a Hebrew typewriter and I had to add by hand any Hebrew words on the stencils of the examination papers.
Whilst I was at the school, the question of buying a photocopier was investigated. We did have a rather primitive one where one had to first make a negative and only then a positive and in addition it had to be used in an almost dark room. If there were a lot of photocopies to be made, it took a lot of time and patience.
Various suppliers of photocopiers would put their product in the staff room for a week’s trial. During that period the staff would make the most of (and I stress make the most of!) the opportunity to do all their photocopying. On one occasion, I believe we exhausted all the paper in the stockroom! On another occasion, the salesman put a photocopier in the staff-room, which made only third-rate copies. One of the staff then rightly commented that this was hardly conducive to persuading the school to purchase their merchandise!
Although the school sincerely wanted to buy or rent a photocopier, calculations showed that it would be much more expensive than duplicating.
What the school did buy was a stencil maker. This machine would convert a page of print or pictures to a stencil which could then be run off on a duplicator. It was rather a tedious process since it took about ten minutes to produce each stencil. However we found this machine very useful.
There are numerous things required by a school but which are not provided for by public funds and it is therefore good for a school to have voluntary organisations that are prepared to raise such moneys.
In the King David Schools there was such a body which was called “the Joint Four.” Why this name? It consisted of four bodies who worked in harmony. The Old Boys, the Old Girls, and the Parents-Teachers Associations of both the Primary and the High Schools. Every year they would, on a certain Sunday, arrange a fete with various stalls in order to raise money for the schools. I would go each year and amongst other things enter the tombola, but I never won a prize. One year there was a prize of a trip to Israel. Who won it? The Chairman of the Governors! In all fairness, he probably bought a lot of tickets thus increasing his chances of winning. Soon after I began work at the school, I told the Headmaster that I needed some sort of tape recorder for my lessons. He suggested that I write to the Joint 4 for such a recorder. I am happy to say that they immediately supplied the Jewish Studies department with the requested cassette recorder.
In addition to the regular curricula subjects, the School also had a Music Department which had been established a few years before I joined. During the lunch hour, teachers of various musical instruments would come to the school and teach the pupils who were learning to play these instruments. Once a week, all such pupils had an orchestra practice. These pupils knew that even if they had to be in detention, it would not be the night of the orchestra practice! However, they would have to make it up some other evening. There was some nominal charge to the parents for the music lessons.
This orchestra would perform a few pieces each year on the Annual Speech day held at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The morning of the Speech Day was spent in taking all the musical instruments to this Hall. Fortunately, since it was a Philharmonic Hall, there was a piano on the stage and so they didn’t have to take the school piano there.
Incidentally, the school piano had a plaque on it giving the name of the donor. I mention this point here, because the school had a firm policy that no plaques would be put up for donors. A parent donated another piano and wanted a plaque attached to it. He was told however that school policy does not allow plaques. However the son of the donor had noticed that the other piano had a plaque on it. When the donor brought this fact to the attention of the school, I believe that they had to relent and allow him to affix a plaque.
In addition to making a charge for those pupils who learned music, the Jewish parents were asked to give a voluntary fixed sum each year (but which seemed to increase from year to year) to help defray the costs of the Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew lessons. This sum could not be enforced - it could only be voluntary. The parents of pupils in the lower classes usually gave it. The problem was with the higher classes, where, since the number of Jewish Studies lessons was very small indeed (as we shall see later), the parents did not want to pay. The Foundation would urge these parents that, since in the past their children had received more lessons, they should still continue paying.
Other Jewish schools, such as JFS also asked for these Jewish Studies payments. When someone objected to the JFS that they were voluntary, the Chairman of the Governors replied, that what is voluntary is that you send your children to the school. Once you send them, you have to pay for the Jewish Studies. I don’t think this answer would stand up before the LEA or the courts!
However, payments by the parents only covered a small amount of the expenses for Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew. The remainder was paid for by the King David Foundation and the Zionist Federation. A number of Jewish schools in London and the provinces are affiliated to the Zionist Organisation - some with the Zionist Federation Educational Trust (ZFET) and others with the Torah Department. The latter, as the name implies is a religious organisation. However, under an agreement signed with the Chief Rabbi, the former must also run their schools according to orthodox practice.
At the time, the ZFET brought out a number of booklets on their schools. In one of them they wrote “Day schools [are] based on traditional Jewish orthodoxy.” In another appears “Jewish Orthodoxy is ensured through the authority of local rabbis, who take a close interest in the religious welfare of the children and frequently act as Honorary Principals of the Schools.”
An agreement had been signed between the King David Foundation and the ZFET, which included the principle that the “education shall be based on Orthodox Jewish tradition.”
However, as one well knows, sometimes there might be a difference between theory and practice. This was obviously the reason for the question asked by Yaacov Lehman in my meeting with him (described earlier). The King David Schools in Liverpool were affiliated to the ZFET, as was, for example, the JFS in London. At one school meeting I attended, one of the participants said that the Liverpool King David should be affiliated instead to the Torah Department, but he was immediately shouted down.
The ZFET had their headquarters in Rex House in the centre of London. On occasions when I visited other Jewish schools in London, I would, at the Headmaster’s request, make a courtesy call there. Needless to say, the ZFET and I were on different wavelengths! From my various contacts with them and their inspectors who would periodically visit the school, I got the distinct impression that they would have liked the Jewish Studies/Modern Hebrew lessons to consist of the teaching of just the Modern Hebrew language and Tenach with only a minimum of religious instruction thrown in for good measure. To illustrate this point, on an occasion when their inspector visited the class of Michael Rothbard, and found him teaching berachot, he was asked why he was not teaching them Tenach instead. In all fairness I must add that this is what they sincerely believed. Until he passed away in the July 1976, their Education Officer was Levi Gertner. I found him a very pleasant and likable person. When he died, I wrote a condolence letter to his widow, saying that he always did what he considered best for Jewish education. I really believe this, even though I could not agree with all his views on Religious education.
I also had my doubts on the ability of these inspectors to report on the state and level of Religious Instruction. On one occasion their inspector arrived at the school and visited a number of classes in both Religious Instruction and Modern Hebrew. Afterwards he submitted his report on the Modern Hebrew teaching and wrote that he would give his report on the Religious Instruction at a latter date. I am still to this very date waiting for this report!
Needless to say, I did not change my teaching programme even one iota to fit in with the ideas of the ZFET.
One of the functions of these Zionist educational organisations was to send teachers as shlichim for a period of two years to their schools in the various countries of the Diaspora. The teachers were supposed to be observant Jews, but again here theory did not always equal practice. When I arrived at the school, there was one shaliach, Shmaryahu Yahav. He was religious and taught Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew in the High School whilst his wife did likewise in the Primary School. He brought his brother over to help baby-sit for his children whilst he and his wife were teaching. He returned to Israel in the summer of 1973. A few months later the Yom Kippur war broke out, in which Shmaryahu’s brother was amongst the over 2000 soldiers killed.
Just before September 1973, two new shlichim for the High School arrived to teach Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew. Before they arrived, I had planned what each was going to teach. One of them came to my house to make my acquaintance and to my great sorrow I saw that he was bareheaded. I offered him some light refreshments. He did not cover his head nor make a berachah. After he had left, I contacted Henry Lachs, and told him that I was not prepared to have a non-observant person teaching Religious Instruction. Lachs agreed with me and we accordingly changed the timetables of the two shlichim such that the non-religious one would be limited to teaching Modern Hebrew and modern Jewish history, whilst the other one would teach a greater amount of Religious instruction.
The inspector of the ZFET was furious at this and he came to my study and starting threatening that if we did not reinstate the non-religious shaliach to teaching Religious Instruction, the ZFET would cut off the money they paid to the school each year. I ignored his threats and the money they paid continued as before.
Two years later the shlichim changed. They had obviously learned their lesson, since this time they sent two shlichim, one religious to teach Jewish Studies and the second, non-religious, to teach just Modern Hebrew.
As I have already said, the use of shlichim to teach Jewish Studies was not a satisfactory arrangement. We were therefore always on the look out for British teachers. It was an uphill battle. On one occasion we found a very suitable young lady, but she decided she wanted to study a year or so before she started teaching. We never heard from her again. On another occasion we paid for a candidate to come over from Israel. All the time he was in England, he was running off to other places, presumably for other interviews. The Headmaster was most annoyed and felt that since we had paid his fare, he should be at our beck and call. Finally in my last year at the school we were successful and found a suitable local teacher called Michael Gillis. The shlichim have to live somewhere during their tenure at the school. They are not going to buy a house just for two years and it is not fair to encumber them with visits to local rental agencies.
I also had this same problem when I first began at the school. Fortunately, at the time, the Foundation possessed a house in Crondall Grove, which was just a few minutes walk from the school. Until I purchased a house a few months later, my family lived in this house. It was then in a terribly neglected state with furniture fit for the incinerator. However, a few years later, it was done up from top to bottom and new furniture was bought. The Foundation also bought a house in Childwall Valley Road, just a few doors away from where I lived. This was also beautifully furnished. The families of the two shlichim afterwards lived in these two houses.
Whilst on the subject of buildings, let me say something about the school building. It was a modern airy building set in attractive surroundings. In addition to the classrooms, there were science laboratories, workshops for the various craft subjects, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a big hall, a dining hall and kitchen, and a library for the sixth form. Some smaller sized classrooms were reserved specially for the sixth form. On one occasion, I used one of these classrooms for a Jewish Studies lesson. Even though it was vacant that period, the Headmaster told me afterwards that it was reserved exclusively for the sixth form.
The Headmaster, the Deputy Head and the Senior Mistress had their own studies. But when I arrived at the school, there was no such study for the Director of Jewish Studies. I immediately told the Headmaster that it was essential that I have a study. The school was very tightly pressed for rooms. However there was a room officially called the “Hebrew stock room.” It was however more of a dumping ground for old textbooks which had once been used in Jewish Studies lessons.
Any other department could and would throw such textbooks in the nearest dustbin. However, this cannot be done with Jewish holy books. They have to be buried, usually in a Jewish cemetery, or stored in a genizah. When I received this “Hebrew stock room,” there was an abundance of such books, some of them possibly lying there for decades! I packed some of the books in boxes and sent them to the local Jewish cemetery for burial. I soon however, received a telephone call from the cemetery officials complaining about my sending them all those books for burial but they did not return them to the School. Rabbi Solomon, who was still in the School, told me to take no notice of the complaint. However, I did succeed in finding a large unused cupboard in one of the classrooms, which I then used as a genizah for any unneeded religious books.
The Headmaster then ordered a desk from a second hand shop, and “lo and behold” my study was ready. Apart from all the bookshelves in it, there was a big cupboard where I was able to store all the models and materials to be used in the Jewish Studies lessons.
There were high windows in this room which faced the playground. This as I soon learned, was very risky in a school where the pupils loved to kick a football around. On two occasions when I returned to my study, I found the place full of broken glass. I shudder to think what could have happened had I been in the room at the wrong moment. One must not rely on miracles and after these two breakages, I had the windows replaced with unbreakable glass.
There was, of course, a staff room, in which every teacher had his own locker. There were also facilities for making tea. When the Headmaster entered the Staff Room, he would knock on the door before entering. I understand that the reason for this was to give any staff member who was talking about the Headmaster the opportunity to stop talking!
Some departments had their permanent abodes. The science subjects had their laboratories, the crafts their various workshops, physical education the gymnasium. Other subjects including Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew were less fortunate and were treated like the “Wandering Jew” and had to take whatever classroom was available. However, after I had been in the school a few years, it was decided that Jewish Studies should also have its own room. The room chosen was a former science demonstration room situated on the first floor of the building which was able to hold about 50 people. The floor had been built on an incline and at the end of the teacher’s desk there was a small sink - which had obviously been placed there for the purpose of laboratory demonstrations.
I had a meeting with the Headmaster, the Clerk to the Governors (who was responsible for finance) and a few other interested parties. We decided that we would level out the front half of the room to give classroom space for about 30 pupils. The remainder would remain sloping for when we had larger groups. As we shall see later, I laid great emphasis on the use of practical instruction in teaching Jewish practice, and among my lessons was an Eshet Chayil course, involving the kashering of a chicken. [Today one never sees this in the house - all the kashering is done in the factory and the housewife gets the frozen end product.] I therefore wanted to replace the small sink with a proper kitchen sink. I commented that it would not cost much, to which the Clerk replied: “Rabbi Dr. Simons - everything costs hundreds of pounds.” Despite his comment, I got my sink as requested.
Although there was a dining room in which the pupils ate their hot lunches, which included bread, when I arrived at the school there were no facilities for netillat yadayim. One of the first things I did when I began my work was to tell the Headmaster that I wanted these facilities installed. He wrote to the Foundation passing on my request. My request bounced from committee to committee or committee meeting to committee meeting or was filed in some file - I don’t know which - but the matter dragged on and on. In the course of all this toing and froing, an official from the Foundation came to speak to me, looked over the area and asked me why we couldn’t take the pupils down the corridor to the washrooms of the gymnasium for netillat yadayim. I told him that it wasn’t a very suitable place near all the toilets. He then took a look over the corner of the dining room where I wanted the facilities and said that if the wooden floor got wet from the water it would rot, so they would also have to tile that part of the floor.
Finally the netillat yadayim facilities were installed. Together with the Headmaster, I planned the procedure for their use. The pupils would line up for netillat yadayim, wash their hands and then dry them with paper towels which were in a holder on the wall which had been installed. They would then move on to the food counter, at the edge of which had been placed a plate of bread, make hamotzi and then collect their tray of food.
After the pupils had finished their meal, the dinner lady, a non-Jewess, would blow her whistle and say “Grace please.” A pupil would then lead “zimmun” and the short birchat hamazon would be recited by the pupils together.
While I was at the school, the Headmaster suggested that we ask the woodwork teacher to make a small board with a handle and we stick a photocopy of the short birchat hamazon together with zimmun on it, for the benefit of the person leading the benshing. This I completely agreed with and such a board was made. He also suggested that we write on this board that any non-Jewish pupil wanting to say birchat hamazon - (of course not lead the zimmun!) - could do so. This of course, I did not do. Birchat hamazon is not one of the seven Noachic commandments!
There was a room called the Bet David. This was an annex to the main school building and it had been built a few years earlier by the Parents’ Association. This room, which could hold about 25 people, was built to function as the school’s Synagogue and also as a sixth form private study room. It was beautifully furnished with an Aron Kodesh and some book cases. It also had a door opening onto a small closed courtyard open to the sky but with beams across. This was to function as a Sukkah for the school. In addition there was a movable Aron Kodesh on the platform of the school hall, which also served, amongst many other things, as a Synagogue for the whole school. When I joined the School, there were two Sifrei Torah. They were small and comparatively light which enabled the pupils to lift them for hagba.
From the time I joined the school, I had my eye on this Bet David and planned for it to become solely the Bet Hamidrash of the school. The sixth form would have to find alternative accommodation for their private study! This possibility was strengthened by the fact that when I joined the school they were in the process of building two more sixth form classrooms. I accordingly asked Henry Lachs whether the sixth form would still use the Bet David and he thought not. The Headmaster however, who was very strong on sixth form privileges, held that the building of the extra classrooms would make no difference regarding the use of the Bet David.
Soon after, I put up a notice in the Bet David, saying that for certain times in the week, the Bet David would be in use for Shiurim. The Headmaster did not like this, took down the notice and told me it put him “in a cleft-stick.” I told him that I understood the Bet David was only for the sixth form when it was not being used for religious purposes. He said that to make such a change we would have to get permission of the Parents’ Association and even then it could only be used as a Bet Hamidrash during periods when a sixth form classroom was vacant. I also asked Rabbi Solomon what the original intended use of the Bet David was. His said that it depended on who was being asked to give money to pay for its construction. The Parents’ Association agreed to using the room as a Bet Hamidrash and for many periods of the week it was reserved for this purpose. The end of the story was that when fresh pupils entered the sixth form, who had not been used to using the Bet David for private study, the sixth form stopped using it and the room became entirely a Bet Hamidrash.
A Torah library is an essential part of any Bet Hamidrash. It was soon after I came to the school, that I heard that a Liverpool family wanted to donate something to the school. Perhaps they even specified books. I contacted them and suggested that they donate some basic Religious books such as a Shas [a complete set of Talmud] to the Bet David. They agreed and these books were bought and presentation labels stuck in them.
I hadn’t even told the Headmaster about this, since I didn’t want him or anyone else to suggest a different use for the donation. This can easily happen when there is easy money available. It wasn’t then surprising that when the Headmaster saw these books, he thought I had bought them from the school’s money and asked whether I had also planned to buy further books. I told him that they had been donated and he said that he would write the family a letter of thanks.
Some time later another family wanted to donate money to buy books for the Torah library in the Bet David. For some reason they wanted to do this by giving the money to the King David Foundation. At that period we had a definite budget for buying books for the Jewish Studies department. The Clerk to the Governors contacted me on receiving the money from this family and to my astonishment said that this donated money would become part of our budget for the year! I immediately contacted Henry Lachs, who answered that of course it would not be part of our budget - it was a donation and was hence something extra. Lachs said he would inform the Clerk accordingly.
We also had other private donations to buy books for our Torah library and reached a stage where we filled the bookcases which were in the Bet David. The Headmaster accordingly brought along the carpenter who had made the original bookcases to add further shelves.
The school library, which was for the exclusive use of the sixth form, had a Soncino Talmud in English. Sadly, the sixth form did not use these books and so I brought them to our library in the Bet David.
At about the same time as I came to the King David, the “Encyclopaedia Judaica” was published. Rabbi Solomon told me that someone had “half promised” to donate a set to the School. But with a “half promise” there is also a “half non-promise” and in this case, the latter prevailed! Soon after, there was a public lecture which I attended, I believe in Greenbank Synagogue, by a representative of the publishers in order to promote sales.
Several years later, the Headmaster said that there was a certain amount of money available from the Local Education Authority that we should use to buy a set of “Encyclopaedia Judaica.” The order was put in and the set duly arrived. We also had the right to ask 100 questions from the staff of the Encyclopaedia, some of which we utilised. If every purchaser had asked 100 questions, their staff would have been swamped, but obviously the vast majority of purchasers did not bother. I decided that it was not appropriate to keep this set in the Bet David Library and therefore made room for it on one of the bookshelves in my study.
After I had left the school and returned to Israel, a letter came to the school demanding payment from me for the Encyclopaedia. The reason was that my name appeared on the order. The Headmaster sent me on the letter for me to clarify some point regarding the purchase and he told the sender of the letter that the payment was due not from me but from the Local Education Authority. I assume the matter sorted itself out, since I heard no more about it.
Every building requires periodic upkeep such as painting and this was in fact the responsibility of the LEA. However, whilst I was there, the Foundation decided that the school needed painting and they didn’t want to wait until the LEA got down to doing it. So the Foundation paid to have it done. At a general Staff Association meeting, it was commented that in the event of the LEA deciding to do the painting in the near future, the Foundation would have then subsidised the LEA. Another teacher said, that better still, the LEA’s painters could suddenly turn up with instructions to paint the school, and just go ahead and repaint a freshly painted school!
The painters were supposed to have begun work at the beginning of the summer holidays. But as usual, they only began several weeks later! By the time that the new school year started, they had finished painting the corridors. Many school days were then shared with the painters!
What was the school day like, even when the painters were not there? The day began for the whole school - (and soon we will see why I use this expression) - at 9.15 with a form period or assembly and “lesson 1” began at 9.30. There were 4 periods each of 35 minutes in the morning with a 15 minute break in the middle. After a lunch break of 1 hour and 20 minutes, there were a further 4 periods with a 10 minute break in the middle. The school day finished at 4 o’clock. This was followed by detention for miscreant pupils!
The beginning and end of each class period was marked by the sounding of an electric bell throughout the school. Believe it or not, this was done manually by the Secretary, who had to keep one eye on her typewriter and the other on her watch. She did this remarkably well. There was also a bell with a completely different ring in her room for fire or other emergencies with other such bells covered by breakable glass in different parts of the building. Periodically, there would be fire drills to practice clearing the building quickly. Since a fire had to be “somewhere” in a building, it was suggested at a staff meeting, that when such a drill took place, a teacher should hold a placard somewhere in the building saying “no exit by this route.” In this way teachers and pupils would have to improvise and find alternative exits in times of emergency.
On one occasion, a boy broke the glass in front of a fire bell and caused a false alarm. I understand he was given a caning on his hands.
Other sorts of false alarms are often made via anonymous telephone calls by cranks who telephone various public places and say a bomb has placed and will explode in x minutes. Some places ignore such warnings, others clear the building. The King David was not exempt from these cranks and I remember that on one occasion when we received such a telephone call and the pupils were led out to the playing fields, I went with the other Jewish Studies staff to the two Arks and we took out the Sifrei Torah with us.
Incidentally, at one of the school speech days which took place annually at the Philharmonic Hall in the Centre of Liverpool, the Headmaster was suddenly handed a note, which he showed to the Chairman of the Governors sitting next to him, and then left the hall. There had been a bomb scare, but the hall was not cleared.
Now to return to the school day and one might well ask how was Jewish Studies integrated (or not integrated!) into the timetable. (This and many other things I had to fight for are described later in detail in separate chapters.) However for now, suffice it to say that the extant arrangement, whereby Jewish pupils had to arrive in school half an hour earlier than their non-Jewish counterparts, was hardly conducive to an appreciation of Religious Instruction. In addition, pupils attending the daily voluntary Minchah service had to forgo their afternoon break in order to attend.
It was an advantage that all the Jewish Studies for a particular year took place at the same time. Hence the pupils could be streamed. Sometimes a pupil who was in a high stream for secular subjects might do better in a lower stream in Jewish Studies and vice versa. However, ironically the Headmaster did not do this for the sake of the Jewish Studies. He once told me that he did this for the non-Jewish pupils - otherwise what could he do with the handful of non-Jewish pupils in each stream. This way he could put them all together in one class when the Jewish pupils had Jewish Studies.
What did the non-Jewish pupils do when the Jewish pupils were having Jewish Studies or Modern Hebrew lessons? For some of the lessons they had Christian Religious Instruction - (I don’t know what the one Moslem pupil did). When I arrived at the school, the lessons were taken by a Christian Minister and later by various members of the non-Jewish staff. Since they did not want more than a few periods of Christian Religious Instruction each week, something had to be found to fill the other periods. One of the courses developed was called Classics and it included learning world history of the period of the founding of Christianity. There were also some extra craft subjects and physical education lessons.
There were also two Christian prayer assemblies each week for all the Christian pupils in the school. Before Christmas they would hold a Carol Service in the main hall.
There were also two weekly assemblies of the entire school. These began with the recitation of the school prayer and the singing of hymns sung in Churches. Even though one of these hymns was the Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd,” it was sung to a tune sung in Churches. On one occasion the Headmaster came to me and said that he cut out one of the hymns since it hinted at the Trinity! Needless to say, the Jewish Studies staff and the Rabbis of the community were against the singing of all these hymns, and the Jewish Studies staff would generally not attend such assemblies. The non-Jewish staff brought out for the benefit of the pupils a booklet with all these hymns under the heading, (as far as I recollect) “Joint Service.”
There were two Shacharit assemblies for years 1 to 3 twice a week - one was on Tuesday, usually a non-leining day and the other on Thursday, always a leining day. These were held in the main hall. There was however, no time in the timetable to fit in even one Shacharit service for years 4 to 6! To sum up in one sentence: Mixed worship and Church hymns - yes; Shacharit and Tephillin - no!
The main hall was also used for the O-level and CSE examinations and for the mock examinations. Before these examinations took place, a number of desks were moved from various classrooms to the hall. When the question papers were delivered to the school by a certain security company, someone had to be available at the school to receive these papers which were immediately put in the school safe. There was one teacher who had special responsibility for these outside examinations.
There were also internal examinations towards the end of each summer term, on the basis of which form positions were calculated for the lower classes. Since Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew were streamed differently from the secular subjects, this created a technical problem. As an example, consider two pupils who are in the top stream for secular subjects. However, one of these pupils is in the top stream for Jewish Studies and the other in a lower stream. Both pupils gain 70% in their respective Jewish Studies papers. Obviously 70% in a higher stream is worth more than 70% in a lower stream. I therefore prepared a series of graphs to appropriately scale the marks.
In a completely different context, whilst I was at the school, the secular staff decided to standardise the pupils’ marks, so that for every subject the marks would fall within the same range. An appropriate set of graphs was prepared for this. That meant that for Jewish Studies a pupil’s performance in an examination had to be put through two successive graphs. As I commented at the time, by the time I finished with the graphs, the pupils’ marks bore no relation to their performances in the examinations!
In addition to a teacher being delegated responsibility for external examinations, there were also other special responsibilities delegated to various members of staff. For example, one was responsible for consumable stock, one for textbooks and one for remedial pupils. There were also teachers responsible for Careers. These teachers did not take on these additional tasks philanthropically. They were obviously paid on a higher scale for doing them.
There were indeed different scales for the payment of teachers, For example a head of department would be paid on a higher scale than an assistant teacher in his department. The scale of a teacher is public information. At one stage the staff asked the Headmaster to produce a list of the scales of the teachers at the school. At first he was reluctant to do so, but when he was told that he was legally obliged to do so, the Headmaster put such a list on the staff room notice board.
In addition to their legal and official obligations, a dedicated teacher will often give of his free time for extra curricula activities. The various members of staff at the King David usually cooperated well in the implementation of various school projects. I remember being a steward at an evening performance for parents of the pantomime put on by the school each December. I put on a special armband and was briefed what to do should there be a power cut during the evening.
It was fortunate that I was a steward that evening. I had been asked to supply lollipops from the school’s Kosher tuck-shop to the audience for a song at the end of the pantomime. I had been sure that we had a good supply of lollipops but when I went to check I saw that we were sold out. That evening I asked the organiser of the pantomime if sweets would be a suitable substitute but he said that it had to be lollipops. I therefore quickly telephoned the supplier in Manchester and asked him to send a package immediately by rail freight on the next train to Liverpool. This he did and I sent someone by car to Lime Street station to collect the package. All this was accomplished before the end of the pantomime and we were able to distribute kosher lollipops to the audience for the lollipop song.
When there was a school sports activity, all the staff were expected to assist and I would gladly give my services to such activities. The absence of the Jewish Studies staff could lead to unpleasant situations. On one occasion I returned to the school after being officially absent, to hear that a sports activity had taken place without the Jewish Studies staff being there to help. On investigation, I discovered that it was just one member who had not turned up but that was sufficient to create an unpleasant atmosphere.
Another extra curricula activity was that each year the school would raise money for various charities and sometimes the pupils put on an activity for this purpose. This would on occasion require the supervision of a member of staff and also here, the staff were co-operative in giving of their free time. On one occasion, a class put on a disco. For some reason, the Headmaster thought, inaccurately, that I would be prepared to supervise it. On the night of this disco, he telephoned me at home and asked me why I was not there. I said I was unable to supervise the disco. He then found a non-Jewish staff member to supervise it. The next day the Headmaster spoke to me about this and I saw that he seemed to be annoyed. I asked him, “Did you really expect me to supervise an activity with mixed dancing?”
Most schools, which included the King David, had a “dress code” for the pupils. All pupils at my school up to and including the 5th year had to wear school uniform in school, which included a blazer and tie. There were also regulations regarding what sort of pullover the pupils could wear. If they didn’t have the correct pullover, the Headmaster would tell pupils to wear it under their shirts. The 6th years could, within reason, dress as they liked. The staff had at least an unofficial dress code. They were expected to turn up with ties and jackets. Once on a summer’s day, a teacher turned up without a tie. The Headmaster told him to go home and put one on. Had this teacher complained to his Union, I wonder what they would have said. The shlichim tended to dress as in Israeli schools - without ties and jackets, but the Headmaster seemed to turn a blind eye to this. One year there was a heat wave in the summer and teachers and pupils were allowed to go without ties and jackets.
In addition to a school’s day to day activities, every school has its annual ceremonies and the King David High School was no exception. In addition to the Annual Prize day held each spring at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, there were ceremonies on Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, and for the Braham Bequest and for Founders’ Day.
The day before Yom Ha’atzmaut is Yom Hazikaron, and on this day we would hold a Memorial service for those who fell in the defence of Israel, at which one of the Ministers would be invited to speak. On Yom Ha’atzmaut we would have an assembly with an appropriate programme arranged jointly by the Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew departments. This was one of the rare occasions when we did something jointly! For example, on one of the years, groups which had performed at Harold House Jewish Youth Centre on the previous evening came to perform at the School. On another year the programme included an address by some senior pupils and one of the shlichim singing popular Israeli songs.
Whilst I was at the School, I introduced an assembly for Yom Yerushalayim, with a suitable programme for the day. Such a programme included for example, the reading of suitable Psalms, the recitation by pupils of some poems on Jerusalem and a film strip on Jerusalem. One year I spoke about what it was like on the first Yom Yerushalayim in Israel in 1967.
The Braham Bequest was inaugurated in 1875 and was named after a James Braham. He had been a prominent member of Princes Road Synagogue, and on moving to London, decided to assist poor Jewish girls to marry, in accordance with Jewish law. To this end he invested a substantial sum of money. Each year, three of the most deserving girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were chosen, and the award made to the one whose name was drawn from a canister. One hundred pounds was invested on her behalf and she received an annual dividend until she married. On her marriage, provided she did not marry out, she received the capital.
When I was at the School, this award was still being made, although the “lottery” aspect had by then been dropped.
Every year the Minister of Princes Road with, as far as I remember, the Treasurer of this Synagogue, would meet with the Headmaster and myself to chose a suitable candidate. One year it was commented on that we only considered girls studying at the King David. Maybe there were other suitable candidates? Someone answered, probably the Headmaster, that if the girl was suitable she would be studying at the King David. The chosen girl was not told in advance - it was an absolute secret. The Headmaster said that according to the terms of the bequest, the presentation had to be made on Lag B’Omer and we would try and arrange the ceremony on Lag B’Omer or close to it. Afterwards when he reread the terms of the bequest he told me that he had erred and Lag B’Omer was not in fact mentioned in it.
On the day of the ceremony, the school would assemble in the hall. On at least one occasion, we began by singing “Odecha” from the Hallel. The Minister of Princes Road spoke, opened an envelope which contained the girl’s name, read it out and presented it to the girl. After the ceremony, the girl was told all the conditions concerning this bequest.
One of the girls to receive it was the daughter of Rev. Malits. We of course could not tell Rev. Malits beforehand and he was upset that he was not present at the ceremony.
I have already mentioned above what Founders’ Day commemorates. As the years went by I tried to increase the traditional Jewish character of the service. I introduced sayings from the Talmud on education, which were read by the Chairman of the Governors. It was in 1976 that the guest Minister spoke on the meaning of Chanukah - the ceremony took place during Chanukah. One would have thought this to be an ideal subject to speak on at a day commemorating the establishment of a Jewish school. The Headmaster did not agree, since the non-Jewish staff present could not, in his opinion, understand the talk. He even publicly apologised to them in the Staff Room.
As a result it was decided to set up a working party consisting of the Headmaster, a Governor, myself, a representative of the secular staff, a parent and two sixth form pupils, to decide on the programme for future Founders’ Days. Two of those on this working party were father and son. This working party duly met and decided on a programme which included “The Lord is my Shepherd,” sung to the tune by Crimond - the tune sung in Churches. I objected to this but no-one supported me. At the next meeting of the general Staff Association I stated that I had “dissented from a number of the points contained in the recommendations of the working party” and insisted that this be minuted.
With one exception all the Jewish Studies staff boycotted that Founders’ Day Ceremony. The one exception, who had just joined the Staff, and obviously, as a newcomer, did not want to make problems for himself, said he would stand by the door during the Ceremony. Where he actually stood, I don’t know. One pupil who had been on this working party, asked me either why I wasn’t present, or whether I was present (I don’t remember which) to which I replied that I dissociated myself from certain things in the service. I strongly suspect that he had been asked by somebody to verify whether I was present or not. This boycott was, I understand, mentioned at the Merseyside Jewish Representative Council meeting, but they never approached me for comment, as fairness demands should be done.
At the time, the Headmaster made no comment to me about the boycott. However a few weeks later he exempted a Jewish boy who was over Barmitzvah, whose parents were members of the Liberal Congregation, from attending Shacharit services. When I complained to him about this, he answered that if the Jewish Studies staff can miss Founders’ Day service, this boy can miss the Shacharit services. As if there is any comparison!
Let me end this chapter with a personal observation of mine. When one is Director of Jewish Studies in a school where most of the governors and the Headmaster have different ideas, quite sincerely held, from the Director of Jewish Studies, the latter has to fight tooth and nail for Yiddishkeit in the school, (as the reader has already seen and will continue to see in this book).