One does not live in a vacuum. There are many other Jewish schools in England and by visiting them, observing their methods and talking to their teachers I felt I could profit greatly.
Since nearly 30 years have passed since I made my visits to the various schools, met their teachers, observed many of their classes and studied their methods, I can only remember fragmentary things from my visits and it is possible that I may have muddled up certain elements of different schools.
The first Jewish school I went to visit was the school I had studied in during the 1950s. It was Carmel College which had been established as a boys’ school in 1948 by Rabbi Kopul Rosen. In my day it was a relatively new school with spartan conditions. Most of the buildings were just huts. Tragically, Rabbi Dr. Rosen died in 1962 at the early age of 48. Following his death, Charles Wolfson gave a quarter of a million pounds to build a girls’ school close by. When it was built they found that Jewish parents were reluctant to send their daughters to a boarding school and the school thus became co-educational. At about the same time as I became Director of Jewish Studies in Liverpool, Jeremy the eldest son of Kopul Rosen became the new Headmaster. Apparently the Governors had chosen one of the masters to be Headmaster, had even requested his photograph for that week’s “Jewish Chronicle” and, literally, at the last moment, changed their minds and appointed Jeremy Rosen.
The school was located near Wallingford which is not too far from the world famous University City of Oxford. To get to Carmel College, I took a train from Liverpool to Oxford and then a bus to Wallingford. I then hailed a taxi to reach Carmel College.
When I reached Carmel, I was directed to the upper story of what was then known as Founder’s House, which was to be my living quarters for the few days I was there. Why was it called Founder’s House? It was built whilst I was in Carmel as the house for the Principal and Founder, Rabbi Kopul Rosen. At the same time, a neighbouring bungalow was built for the vice-Principal. At the time I made this visit, the Headmaster Jeremy Rosen was living in the bungalow. Kopul Rosen’s house had been named Founder’s House. The bottom story had been turned into a Beth Hamidrash and the upper story was to serve for visitors, such as myself. I had heard a rumour that a Mikva had been built in the garage of this house and so I used the opportunity to investigate. Indeed there was a Mikva there.
I first had a short meeting with the Headmaster and he suggested I go and meet Rabbi Baruch Epstein who was developing teaching methods. He was based in the buildings built by Charles Wolfson. Rabbi Epstein had had a very varied career all over the world - at one stage he had been head of the Beth Din in Peru. He showed me the various educational aids he had developed. These included two “programmed learning” texts, dealing with Sukkah and Arba’at Haminim. Those days were before the era of home computers and the “programmes” were in a booklet form. One was supplied with information, and one then answered the questions, uncovered the answers, and then depending on one’s answers moved forwards or backwards.
Some of his materials were directed towards teaching the Hebrew language. In one of his aids he had a rectangular board where one had to fit pieces in the right places. One could check one’s accuracy afterwards by turning the board over and seeing if a number of lines drawn at different angles were straight. He told me that he was also planning some games and he would ask an authority in mathematics to look into whether the games were mathematically feasible.
Another teacher I met was Mendel Bloch. When I was a pupil in the school, he was a teacher at the Preparatory School. He had aged considerably and was obviously very close to retirement. I sat in on one of his lessons which I really enjoyed. He would hold the interest of the pupils by continually putting in jokes and one could often learn something from these jokes.
Rabbi Berel Cohen had been brought to the School to direct a Torah stream and he would give Gemara lessons in the Beth Hamidrash. I asked him if any girls learned Gemara and he happily answered me in the negative!
When I had been a pupil in the School there was one uniform service for all the pupils. The pesukei d’zimrah [the Psalms and passages of Song towards the beginning of Shacharit] were shortened and any pupil wanting to say them all would have to arrive a little earlier in the morning. Jeremy Rosen had introduced a number of different services to make every pupil feel comfortable. There was the service with the abbreviated pesukei d’zimrah, the full service, a beginners’ service and a Sephardi service. Since I was only there for two mornings, I could only observe two of them. One day I went to the full service which was held in one of the classrooms. This was supervised by Rabbi Cohen who gave a short shiur after the service. On the second day I went to the abbreviated service held in the ultra modern style Shul, a Shul whose roof was built from the “largest beams in Europe.”
Whilst I was in the School, I had the opportunity to meet teachers who had been in the school whilst I was a pupil. I made a few telephone calls to the King David to check that everything was in order and I asked one of the Carmel teachers who I knew, how I could pay for the telephone call. He answered laughingly that they would take it off my next pay cheque. Since I didn’t think they would give me a pay cheque, I found a different method of paying.
I also made a visit to the dormitories. In one case there were about 6 pupils in the room and they complained to me that it was crowded. When I had been a pupil, I had also at one time slept in that room, but then there had been about 20 pupils in it!
When I got back to Liverpool, I told the Head of Modern Hebrew about Rabbi Epstein’s new method of teaching the Hebrew language. She wasn’t very receptive to it. The ZFET methods were, in her opinion, sufficient.
On my next visit to schools, which was at the end of 1973, I went to London. There was a Conference Meeting for Headmasters and Teachers in Jewish Day Schools and Chaderim and I had been invited to be the guest speaker and to talk on the audio-visual aids which were available to teach Jewish Studies. I asked for them to provide a slide projector and I took with me a set of slides dealing with Shabbat, as an example of what was available. I gave my lecture and afterwards it was open to questions. The first questioner began by saying that he was from the “Edgware Reform Synagogue” and asked why I had only quoted material on Chanukah dealing with the lighting of candles. What about latkes and Chanukah parties? This sadly illustrates the Reform movement. Chanukah is parties and latkes rather than the Mitzvah of Chanukah candles.
The first school I went to on that visit was the JFS, which was then situated in Camden Town. I met in particular, their head of Jewish Studies and I also spoke to their head of Modern Hebrew. The qualifications of some of their Jewish Studies staff were an advanced diploma of Jews’ College. They also had quite a number of shlichim. I got the impression, maybe wrongly, that the Head of Modern Hebrew used the Jewish Agency to fight his battles. When the Head of Jewish Studies asked him something whilst I was there, he answered that he would have to ask the Jewish Agency. During my conversation with the Head of Jewish Studies, he showed me some of his plans and asked me not to tell them to the Head of Modern Hebrew.
I recollect that in one of the classes I visited, the pupils were being taught the after Berachah, Borei Nefashot. If High School pupils have to be taught this Berachah, the general standard of Religious Instruction cannot be very high. In all fairness, this may have been one of the lower streams. The school is a comprehensive one.
The school was divided into four houses and there was a slight difference between the ties and I believe also of the capels, according to house. Each house up to the sixth form had its lessons separately. However for Jewish Studies, two houses had their lessons at the same time and the pupils of the two houses were mixed and then restreamed. From the fourth year upwards, the pupils had a choice of different Jewish Studies/Modern Hebrew programmes. Pupils even had the option of doing more Jewish Studies from this year upwards although I was told the number who did so was not large.
All pupils had to eat school dinners. They were not allowed to bring their own lunch so that pupils should not bring non-Kosher food to the school. Netillat yadayim facilities were provided for the pupils.
There was Minchah for the entire school in the following manner. A group of pupils - over a Minyan - assembled in the hall and from there, the then Headmaster Dr. Edward Conway conducted the Minchah service through the loudspeaker system of the school. In each class there was a receiver and all the pupils were able to daven Minchah simultaneously.
On that visit to London, I also went to the Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. This school is of course, as its name says, for boys only and is of a higher religious standard than the JFS. It also has a Torah stream in which pupils can participate in extra Torah lessons after school. I asked one of the teachers if they use audio-visual materials in their Torah lessons and he said sarcastically words to the effect, “Look inside and you see the classroom, look outside and you see the trees! That’s the audio-visual.” Whilst I was there, I listened to a lesson preparing the pupils for Scripture Knowledge. From the tone of the lesson I got the impression that it was taught purely for the pupils to get an extra O-level. At the end of the school day, I sat in on a Gemara lesson for the boys who had opted for the Torah stream.
The following day I went to the Lubavitch Boys’ High School. There they had two groups learning Gemara, one in English and one in Yiddish. Following this I went to see the Yesodey HaTorah Grammar School for Girls. I arrived only in the afternoon when they had their secular studies. For this purpose, in the afternoon they had a non-Jewish headmistress. I was unable therefore to see any Torah lessons but I asked to speak to some senior girls to ask them about their curriculum. I must say I was most impressed by the good manners and courtesy of the girls, a trait unfortunately not often found even then.
At the end of 1974, as part of the programme for Jewish Education Week, I was invited by Rev. Reuben Turner to take part in a Symposium on Jewish education. After checking with him that none of the other speakers were representatives of any Reform or Liberal movements - since I refuse to share a platform with them - I agreed to speak. This symposium took place in the Rosh Pinah School in Edgware, under the chairmanship of Levi Gertner. It was on a Thursday night and it was just one day after we returned from our school seminar in Port Dinorwic. Each speaker spoke on Jewish Education for a different age group. I spoke on the High School age. As far as I can recollect, I was the only speaker to put the stress on Torah education. In addition to summarising a Torah education curriculum right the way up the school, I stressed how a Religious Jewish atmosphere must permeate the entire school throughout the entire day. After the various speakers had given their addresses, Levi Gertner summed up and praised the speakers for giving realistic talks and not making extravagant claims, such as that they will get all the Jews out of Russia.
Since the following day was a short winter Friday, I travelled back to Liverpool on the midnight sleeper - the first time in my life that I took a sleeper train. I arrived back in Liverpool at about 3 o’clock in the morning but the passengers were allowed to continue sleeping on the train until a reasonable hour.
The next school visit I made was when I travelled southwards to receive my degree from the Open University in November 1976. The King David Foundation claimed they were hard up and were not prepared to allow travelling, since it involved reimbursing fares. I answered that I was going near London myself and would therefore pay the fares myself. This attitude of the Foundation was really laughable. Travelling expenses are really only a drop in the ocean when compared with salaries. The Headmaster commented to me at the time that the Foundation had reached a state of absurdity in this matter.
I used this opportunity to pay another visit to the JFS. Dr. Conway had retired and there was a new Headmaster, Leslie Gatoff. All that I can recollect of this visit was that Minchah was no longer conducted via the loudspeaker system but each class had its own Minyan.
The next day I went to the Hasmonean Grammar School for Girls. I had a long discussion with the Headmaster and sat in on one of his lessons. It was a lesson in Chumash - the girls were revising for a big internal examination - and I was very impressed by his teaching. I asked him from which Primary Schools the girls arrived at his school and he gave me a list which included the ZFET’s Rosh Pinah in Edgware. I asked him how the standard of Torah knowledge of the girls who came from Rosh Pinah compared with that of girls from other Primary schools. He said that since I had asked him the question, he would tell me and he answered that they were weak. Rosh Pinah is one of the ZFET’s best schools and the pupils who would be accepted at the Hasmonean would be the best pupils from Rosh Pinah … I will say no more! Every day the Hasmonean girls would daven Minchah together in their school hall.
In March 1977, I was invited to be the guest of honour at the Shomrei Hadass cheder in Leeds. In particular, they wanted me to address the parents on the GCE and CSE syllabuses that I had had accepted by the various examination boards. I travelled on a Sunday afternoon by train to Leeds and was immediately whisked to the hall where the prize day was to take place. I began with a humorous speech to the pupils, who from their laughter and the expressions on their faces really enjoyed it. I remember beginning, “A good speaker must do three things, stand up, speak up and shut up!” After I had addressed the children, I continued by explaining the external examinations to their parents. Here, as expected, the young children lost interest and were bored.
Dayan Apfel, Head of the Leeds Beth Din was also present at this Prize day and in his speech emphasised the need for a Jewish High School in Leeds.
Whilst in Leeds I used the opportunity on the following day to visit the Selig Brodetsky Middle School. In Leeds the school system is divided into a Junior, Middle and High School system. The Middle school is from ages from 8 to 14. I feel that from the Jewish education angle this is excellent, since one does not have a break from one school to another at the age of 11. I cannot remember what lessons I saw there. I only remember that the school had open plan, was carpeted and the pupils had to ‘shlep’ a tray with all their books from lesson to lesson.
My last visit to another school whilst I was in Liverpool was to the Manchester King David High School in July 1977. This school had a few years earlier fallen on hard times, but it had made a remarkable recovery and was under the Headmastership of a non-Jew who had a very positive attitude to Jewish matters. He even walked around with a specially designed capel.
I had gone to this school with our Headmaster to a conference called by the Director of the London Board of Jewish Religious Education. This Director began by saying that this conference had not been sponsored by the Zionist Federation nor by the London Board of Jewish Religious Education, since some schools would then refuse to attend. It had thus been sponsored by the English branch of the European Association of Jewish Day Schools in the hope that all the Jewish schools in England would participate. In fact the only one to attend from a strictly Orthodox School was Rabbi Moshe Young, Headmaster of the Manchester Jewish High School for Girls. The Headmaster of the Manchester King David spoke about his school and how many Jewish Studies lessons each year had. Suddenly our Headmaster who was sitting next to me whispered excitedly, “We have more Jewish Studies in the first year than they do.” That was true but what was also true was that in all the other years, they had more lessons than us. Over this our Headmaster was strangely silent!
We saw a number of very impressive things at this school. There were netillat yadayim facilities for the Primary School and there was the impressive scene of the infants benching. All Jewish Studies lessons in the High School were integrated into the timetable. The High School was introducing services with Tephillin laying at 8.45 a.m. for the whole school every day.
At the discussion session between the various Headmasters and Directors of Jewish Studies, the Conference was informed that the High School was introducing teacher specialisation in Jewish Studies subjects throughout the School i.e. every group will have a specialist Jewish History teacher, a specialist Dinim teacher, a specialist Chumash teacher, etc. In the ensuing discussion only the Liverpool King David High School Headmaster dissented from this arrangement.
In conclusion let me say that I found it very beneficial to go around and visit a whole range of other Jewish High Schools. I enjoyed exchanging ideas with other educationists and learning from their methods and also from their mistakes.