When I joined the school, there was not even one period per week of Jewish Studies time-tabled for either the lower or the upper sixth forms!
My predecessor had arranged to see most of the pupils in the sixth forms individually every three or four weeks, when they had a free period and have a discussion with them on some prearranged subject. When I saw the list of subjects that he was discussing with them, I saw that a number of them were not Jewish subjects, or only tenuously Jewish subjects.
I was not at all satisfied with this arrangement and told the Headmaster that Jewish Studies for the sixth form pupils had to be time-tabled. After a considerable effort, I succeeded in getting one period per week written into the timetable. However, even that was not fool-proof. Every year it happened that some sixth form pupils were also time-tabled to be in a secular lesson at the same time as the Jewish Studies lesson. Sadly, the secular lesson was given precedence over the Jewish Studies, despite the fact that a secular subject had nine periods in the sixth forms, whereas Jewish Studies had only one! This meant that some sixth formers had no Jewish Studies periods at all. It was hard enough to get sixth form pupils to attend Jewish Studies lessons and this was made much harder when they saw that a secular period would over-ride Jewish Studies.
I investigated this question with other schools such as JFS or Carmel College, who had pupils with a like range of religious outlook. In these schools there were no fewer than three Jewish Studies periods per week on the timetable for the sixth forms and no secular subject was allowed to over-ride any of them.
Having managed to obtain one period a week time-tabled for the vast majority of the sixth forms, I had to arrange a programme. A number of different programmes were organised and at the beginning of each academic the pupils were asked which one they wanted to register for.
For example, for one of the years, the options offered were (i) Shiur in Gemara, (ii) Jewish Philosophy which included extracts from the Kuzari, (iii) Zionist history and political Zionist thought.
I would give the Shiur in Gemara and since the pupils were of different standards, I would take them individually or in small groups after finding out when the pupils concerned had a free period. This also enabled these pupils to attend one of the other courses as well if they wanted to. I did not do a specific Masechet with the pupils but chose a subject and looked at the various passages in the Gemara on this subject together with the later commentaries.
According to my notebook and papers, the subjects of the Shiurim which I gave included:
• Reading the last 8 verses in the Torah.
• How many Sifrei Torah are required on Shabbat Shekalim.
• Refusal to accept Mishloach Manot.
• Writing the ten sons of Haman in the Megillah.
• Sending Mishloach Manot on Shabbat.
• Reading the Ten Commandments in public.
• Tephillin for left-handed people.
• Berachot on Tephillin.
Most of the pupils who attended these Gemara Shiurim were boys who had in the past, or were then studying in the Sunday/evening Yeshivah for teenagers in Liverpool.
I also had two boys, who had never studied at the Yeshivah, but were very intelligent. These two boys were always together, even more so than twins! I told them that I would give a Shiur just for them and they agreed to come. They lapped up all the Gemara reasoning very fast indeed. In my opinion they would have done wonders studying at Yeshivah. Had at the time I known more about the English speaking Ba’alei Teshuvah Yeshivot in Israel, I would have strongly urged them to go at least for a summer course. Hopefully they might have then wanted to continue.
I had wanted to arrange for a suitable woman to give a number of talks on taharat hamishpacha to the sixth form girls. Whilst I was in Liverpool, a beautiful new Mikva had been built in the Childwall area, right next to the school. One could therefore take these girls to see what a Mikva looks like. Let them see how clean a Mikva is, how beautifully tiled the actual Mikva and the bathrooms are, how there is a room with a hair dryer, and therefore how it can be a pleasure for a married woman to use a Mikva. Unfortunately, in Liverpool, very few women used a Mikva. One would therefore have to have found an exceptionally talented woman who would have been prepared to give such talks to these sixth form girls. Despite searching, I never found such a person and these talks thus never materialised.
In the mid-1970s, there had been an increasing number of anti-Israel motions being debated at the various University Unions throughout Britain. The defence of Israel would have to come largely from the Jewish pupils at the campuses. Unfortunately, however, they were not equipped to argue these motions and they lacked the necessary knowledge to reply to the anti-Israel propaganda. I therefore in 1976, instituted in the school a sixth form course entitled “How to Answer Anti-Israel Propaganda.”
With all the academic pressures on the sixth form pupils, it would have been well nigh impossible for them to read through all the relevant books, pamphlets and leaflets on the subjects! I therefore ordered a mass of material from a variety of sources, sifted through it and summarised Israel’s case in about twenty pages. This booklet was issued to the sixth-form pupils and we discussed the various subjects contained in it in our course.
The subjects I covered in my booklet were:
1) Israel’s rights and Jewish rights to Eretz-Israel: (i) the religious approach, (ii) the international legal approach, (iii) the security approach.
2) The Arab and Jewish presence in Eretz Israel: (i) the Palestinians, (ii) the Jewish presence.
3) Jewish settlement on the West Bank.
4) A Palestinian State: (i) one State over whole of Palestine, (ii) State on West Bank and Gaza strip.
5) United Nations “Guarantees.”
6) The Arab Refugees.
At about this time the school had purchased an “Encyclopaedia Judaica” and this enabled us to ask for specific answers from the Editorial Board. I submitted a question on the demographic distribution of population in Eretz Israel during the previous hundred years and I received a full answer on this, a summary of which I incorporated in my booklet.
[In order to equip myself for this course, I also went through Arab propaganda books. An interesting thing emerged from this, not connected with this course. In one of the books, the author wrote that there had been a number of proposals to transfer Arabs from Eretz Israel. I must admit, that at the time, this came as quite a surprise to me and I decided that when I had time available I would research this subject. I began my research in 1984 and my book on the subject, which is 360 pages long is entitled “A Historical Survey of Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine 1895-1947” and it also appears in its entirety on the Internet:
Sixth formers who took this course, and after leaving the King David School went to the various universities in Britain, were successful in defending anti-Israel motions. I received several requests from people outside the school for copies of this booklet. One of my former pupils came to the school to give a report on his University, (I believe it was Liverpool University), defeating such an anti-Israel motion.
One of the past sixth formers, Ian Rosenthal, who was at Hull University, wrote me a letter on Union of Jewish Students (UJS) note-paper. The latter is undated, but it is probably during the early part of 1978. He wrote:
Dear Rabbi Simons,
Mazeltov, your publication is an excellent piece of work. However I would like to make one or two comments that would perhaps make the work more palatable to non-Jewish or perhaps even Arab students.
The only problem in the content is [he then referred to a specific passage] ... In the hands of a Trotskyite or Arab student, Jewish students would be seen to be exclusivist & also relinquishing their right to remain in Britain.
The second point is the actual title - if it were perhaps a little more positive, I am almost sure that UJS would be prepared to distribute the work throughout campuses.
Perhaps I could talk to you about it in the next few days.
I did meet with Ian Rosenthal. I cannot remember whether it was before or after receiving his letter. I also gave or sent him an amended copy of my booklet in accordance with his suggestions. The title had been changed to “Israel’s Case for Survival.” I had deleted the passage he had suggested. I also had made a few other deletions and minor changes which I had discussed with him at our meeting. However nothing further came of this matter, possibly because a few months later I returned to Israel, or maybe for reasons we shall see in the following paragraphs.
It was in the mid 1990s that a very strange and to me a very surprising twist occurred. On 27 July 1995, an article entitled “Torn between two names, two countries, two religions” appeared in the “Jerusalem Post.” It was the life story of Ian Rosenthal. The article stated that his mother was an English Catholic and his father a Kuwaiti Moslem, but they were not married. His mother gave him for adoption by a Jewish couple and when he was 12 years old the London Beth Din authorised his conversion to Judaism. After leaving the King David High School, he went to Hull University where he was President of the Jewish Society. This was when he wrote to me about my booklet.
However he only stayed for one term at Hull University after which he transferred to Leeds University where he became an anti-Zionist even to the extent of joining the Palestinian Students Society. But the story does not end there. He decided to find out his real family background and changed his name to Jonathan Bradley. He then went to the High Court in Britain to have his adoption by the Jewish couple overturned, but his application was not accepted. According to the newspaper article, he intended to bring the case to the House of Lords and, if that failed, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Whether he did or did not, I don’t know.
Whilst I was at the King David, the question of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) came into the headlines and I organised a debate on this subject. It took place towards the end of the summer term in July 1976. The audience was the lower sixth form (the upper sixth and the 5th year had already finished their examinations and were no longer in school). Pupils from the 4th year were allowed to attend. The motion was entitled: “This House supports Jewish Settlement on the West Bank.” The motion was proposed by myself and opposed by the Headmaster.
I outlined our religious, legal and military rights to the West Bank. I then continued by showing that Arab propaganda, supported by unlimited money had brainwashed the man in the street, and that every time the Israeli Government prevented Jewish settlement on the West Bank, it weakened and undermined our sovereignty in every part of Israel.
The Headmaster opposing the motion argued that the Jews had plenty of areas to cultivate, for example the Aravah, within the 1948 borders. He considered that Jews were leaving Israel due to the fact that Israel was on a continual war footing and a solution on how to end the war must be found. He was also concerned with the demographic problem and with world opinion.
The motion was then thrown open to the floor and a lively discussion followed. The Headmaster then summed up for the opposition followed by myself for the proposition and I ended with a quote from the “Palestine Report” that the Arabs’ solution to the problem was the dismantling of the State of Israel.
The motion was then put to the vote. Eighteen voted for the motion, three against, and there were a few abstentions. Hence a ratio of 6 pupils to 1 supported Jewish settlement on the West Bank.
We also had a number of speakers on subjects mainly connected with Israel, who spoke to the sixth forms and other senior pupils. In the spring of 1976, I arranged for Yisrael Medad to gave a talk to these pupils. Medad was certainly a right-winger, lived in a settlement on the West Bank and was at the time a shaliach in England. I warned him beforehand that since he was talking to pupils in a school, it could not be a political talk, a fact which he completely appreciated. In his talk he did not mention his political affiliations.
In order to “balance” the talk of Medad, a couple of months later the Headmaster invited Josh Harris from Manchester to talk to the lower sixth form on the prospects for the West Bank. Unlike Medad, Harris began his talk giving his political affiliation. He said he was a member of Mapam, an extreme left wing party in Israel. The pupils assisted by me, or maybe more accurately led by me, made “mincemeat” of the speaker. In giving a vote of thanks to the speaker, the Headmaster regretted that the speaker had had such a hard time, but he was sure that it was preferable to the students taking no interest in his talk.
During that period I also gave a short address to the Israel Society on the rights of Jewish settlement on the West Bank, in which great interest was shown.
Towards the end of 1976, there was a programme entitled “Palestine Action” on BBC 2. I made a sound recording of this programme and in a lesson to the 6th years explained how to rebut all the lies and distortions in this broadcast.
During 1977, a number of speakers came to the school to address the 5th and 6th years on a number of subjects mainly connected with Israel. These included Dr. Uri Rapp who spoke on Religion and State in Israel, David Metav on Collective Movements, Dr. Jayson on Experiments in Nazi Germany, a talk which was accompanied by slides, and Dr. Mervyn Goodman on 1948 in Britain.
I still remember Dr. Goodman’s talk in which he brought along newspapers of the time to show the pupils. He described how he returned to Liverpool from holiday on the day that the Etzel had hanged two British sergeants in retaliation for the British hanging Jewish soldiers. The British newspapers had that day put pictures of the two sergeants in the hanging position on the front page in the most gruesome way and as a result all the windows of the Jewish shops in a particular area of Liverpool had been broken.
A list of places of Higher Education to which ex-sixth formers went to was published by the Headmaster. All sorts of places were mentioned with one exception - Yeshivah. One boy did go to Yeshivah for a year before going on to university. After I complained about this omission, a footnote was made concerning this boy first spending a year at Yeshivah.
I would be interested to know how many of these pupils came to settle in Israel. after they finished their higher education. I know of a few, one of whom lives in Ma’ale Adumim, which is a rapidly growing city, situated on the West Bank east of Jerusalem.