One might easily ask, what is the connection between a quiz and a committee? In a quiz, the competitors complete against each other for who can get the most points. In many committees, the members compete against each other for who can make the most noise!
The King David High School entered pupils for Jewish quizzes and also had committees and more committees associated with it.
Let us begin with quizzes. Every year the JNF would organise a national quiz. The best teams in the preliminary rounds would take part in the regional finals and the winners of the regional finals would take part in the national finals. The subjects in this quiz were Tenach, Religious Knowledge and Modern Israel including the history of the JNF.
There were some schools, whom it seemed, built their Jewish Studies learning programme around the syllabus for the quiz. They would go over the questions of past years and practice hard for it. One Jewish school in London, in particular, made it a point of honour to win, and they always did! In contrast I absolutely refused to do this. I would decide our learning programme and not the JNF. Our pupils would enter on the basis of their natural Jewish knowledge. What is more, we usually did very well.
In my early years at the school, the teachers would read out the questions and the candidates would have to write down their answers, which were afterwards marked by us or the JNF. Reading out the questions had the excitement of a quiz. At a later date, however, papers were handed out to the pupils and they answered them like an examination. I told the organiser that I did not like this method.
One year one of our candidates was in hospital. Our other candidates took the quiz in the school and then before they could have any opportunity to contact the pupil in hospital, I rushed over to the hospital where this candidate took the quiz.
The answers the organiser gave were not always the only correct answers and on one occasion, I telephoned him to ask if I could accept an alternative answer, which he agreed to.
One year it was arranged that the regional finals would take place on a particular Sunday at the Liverpool King David High School. The winners of the regional finals would then take part in the national finals later on the same day by a telephonic link with London’s Festival Hall. On the Friday beforehand, the telephone people came to the school to fix up a special telephone line with a loudspeaker, to enable us to contact the Festival Hall in London. They had to disconnect one of the school telephone lines to do so.
That Sunday afternoon, about four teams from different parts of the provinces assembled at the King David together with a lot of visitors and officials of the quiz. The regional finals then began.
One of the questions concerned which days are called Yom-Tov and one of our pupils included Yom Kippur, which is correct, and the answer was accordingly accepted. However one Jewish Studies teacher from Liverpool then called out, “Yom Kippur is not a Yom-Tov.” People from Liverpool told him to be quiet. “Do you want our team to lose points?” they hissed. The King David High School won the regional finals and thus went on the national finals which were held after a short break. The official dialed London and made the telephonic link. The team we were competing against was the school who thoroughly rehearsed and prepared for this quiz. The first round took place and the scores for London were announced. Clapping at the Festival Hall was could be heard in Liverpool. The official then said, “you won’t believe it but Liverpool has the same score.” However, in the subsequent rounds, the London school pulled ahead and won.
Another year we also reached the National finals and were invited to the Hendon Synagogue in London for the quiz. They also invited a group of Liverpool Jewish Youth to do an entertainment programme during the course of the afternoon. It took place on a Sunday and it was a nightmare to travel on British Rail on a Sunday morning or afternoon, since this was the time when they did repair work on the lines and as a consequence, trains could be diverted all over the place. A journey could easily take twice the time. We eventually reached London and then went from Euston to Hendon Station on the underground - which fortunately was a direct ride on the Northern line - and then walked to the Synagogue.
Incidentally when the Childwall Synagogue built its Bet Hamidrash, they used the one at this Hendon Synagogue as the model. I therefore took the opportunity to look at their Bet Hamidrash. It had a similarity but was by no means identical.
The quiz was held in the Synagogue Hall. The head judge was Harold Levy, the Inspector of the Central Council for Jewish Religious Education, and one of the other judges was someone high up in the Israeli Embassy in Britain. I think Harold Levy called him “Mr. Israel” and said he would accept his ruling on any question dealing with Israel. The person reading the questions used the English equivalents for the pronunciation of Biblical names, for example Isaiah, Ezekiel and Harold Levy, quickly interjected with Yeshayahu, Yechezkel. As was to be expected the team who made it a point of honour to win, won. I was however satisfied with my school. We had again reached the National finals without any special preparation.
Fortunately the train services improved on Sunday night, but we still did not arrive back to Liverpool until very late that night. We had been away about 16 hours that day. I didn’t receive any overtime pay for giving up this entire day - I didn’t even ask for it. I was happy to give of my free time for a day which was both enjoyable and instructive to my pupils.
Another quiz, although this time on an international level, is the Bible quiz for youth, the finals of which are held each year in the National Convention Centre in Jerusalem on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In each country there are preliminary rounds - local, regional and finally national - in order to choose candidates to go to Jerusalem for the World finals. When they arrive in Jerusalem they have a preliminary round to select the best 20 or so candidates for the finals.
Each year this ceremony is shown live on Israel television. It begins with a number of speeches - these could easily be dispensed with, except that all these speakers want to hear their own voices! The candidates are then introduced and the quiz begins. In the middle of the ceremony, the Prime Minister walks in - always in the middle, never at the beginning - and everyone stands up. Maybe this is why he arrives in the middle. Between each round the choir of the Army Rabbinate performs. After each round the best candidates go on to the next round. The question for the final round is set by the Prime Minister and later on in the proceedings he gives a speech. Finally the winner receives a prize and is called Chatan HaTenach for that year.
Towards my end of my stay at the King David, I began to enter pupils for this Bible quiz. In 1977, one of our boys reached the British finals. Unfortunately, by just half a point he failed to get a place to go to Jerusalem to represent Britain in the World finals. A few years later, however, in 1981, two identical twin girls from the King David High School, who were “geniuses” reached the world finals, but did not win. There were obviously even greater geniuses in the world!
[Every year there are arguments in Synagogues all over the world on Yom Ha’atzmaut - to say or not to say Tachanun in the service. Most of the National Religious Synagogues and also the entire Army Rabbinate, not only omit Tachanun, but also say Hallel. Anyone not making these changes in the service on Yom Ha’atzmaut, is labelled by the National Religious “anti-Zionist”! Why have I mentioned this here? It was this same year, 1981, that amongst the songs sung by the army Rabbinate choir on that Yom Ha’atzmaut was “Shomer Yisrael” which is part of Tachanun!]
We will now move over to Committees and there was no shortage of them!.
After a few years at the school, I saw that the complaints I was lodging with the Headmaster regarding the lack of Religious Jewish ethos in the School were soon forgotten. Unless one records every complaint and comment with all the details, such as date, place, and particulars, one will have difficulty in bringing it up in the future. The general staff had recently established a Staff Association, which had regular meetings and published minutes. So in September 1974, I suggested to my staff that we do likewise. The first minute of this Jewish Studies Staff Association (JSSA) stated:
The object of this association is that it should be a forum for the Jewish Studies Staff collectively, to discuss Jewish matters concerning the school and to pass on any comments and recommendations to the appropriate bodies (e.g. Governors, Jewish Studies [sub-] Committee, Headmaster, etc.). Needless to say, this association does not conflict with the general Staff Association, who will be notified of any relevant resolutions and decisions.
The Headmaster did not like the establishment of the Jewish Studies Staff Association and he refused to recognise it! This did not disturb us or deter us. Our purpose was to put on written record our complaints regarding deficiencies which we saw in the Jewish ethos of the school. However, when the general staff set up their Association, the Headmaster in his published report described it as a “welcome innovation.”
At the regular meetings of the JSSA, all comments and complaints were minuted and a copy was given to the Headmaster, the Deputy Head, the Senior Mistress and the general Staff Association.
A few days before the establishment of the JSSA, (and with no connection to this), I was conducting a lesson in the Bet David, at about nine o’clock on a Friday morning, when the Headmaster came in and said that the pupils should be going to School Assembly. I politely pointed out to him that it had been agreed between us that the Friday General Assembly would be abolished and instead there would be a Jewish Studies lesson.
The following Tuesday and Wednesday was Rosh Hashanah and there had also been no school on the Monday. On the Thursday, we gave a copy of the first minutes of the Jewish Studies Staff Association to the Headmaster.
A little later that day the Headmaster called me into his study and already sitting there was the Deputy Head. The Headmaster began, “I have called you in for a reprimand.” You argued with me regarding the cancelling of the Assembly and also you organised your Staff into an association. I don’t know which one of these two things is worse.” I must say that I was proud to receive a “reprimand” for doing these things. I consider that I was acting in the interests of the Jewish ethos of the school. I should mention that despite the agreement regarding the cancelling of the Friday general assembly, the agreement was not implemented and the Assemblies continued throughout my stay at the school.
The JSSA had regular meetings which were minuted. Sad to say, the complaint regarding the cancellation or curtailment of Jewish Studies periods for secular purposes appeared with regularity in these minutes. On one occasion the minutes contained a number of complaints and when the Headmaster received the minutes he called me into his study where the Deputy Head was already seated. He began by saying that he didn’t recognise the Association and so he would give me his answers orally! Naturally he tried to play the complaints down.
Another committee was the Religious Advisory Committee (RAC), which was comprised of the Ministers of the four big Synagogues in Liverpool. I don’t think it had any legal power, but it gave a good impression to the outside world that there was a forum for Ministers. When I arrived at the school, it was more of a body on paper. However just like the Jewish Studies Staff Association, I insisted on regular meetings with detailed minutes. Also here the Headmaster and the Governors did not like published minutes! The RAC repeatedly minuted that the minutes they had sent the Governors were completely ignored, without even the courtesy of an acknowledgment.
At one period, the RAC decided to co-opt some leading lay people from the community, the first being Dr. Goldberg. This was duly minuted. Soon after, I was in the Headmaster’s study with the Headmaster. Suddenly the Chairman of the Governors walked in angrily with these minutes in his hand, making comments about these co-options, demonstratively crumpled up the minutes and threw them in the waste bin.
He then wrote a strongly worded letter to the Convener of the RAC, expressing his strong opposition He wrote:
May I make it clear immediately that I must express my disagreement with the steps taken or proposed.
The RAC is a body set up by the Governors to advise it in religious matters: it consists of and is restricted to Senior Ministers of the four major Synagogues. No question of co-option can therefore arise without consultation with the Governors. If the RAC chooses unilaterally to change its composition it ceases to be the body set up to advise the Governors. I must therefore have your assurance that no step will be taken to changed the recognised composition of the RAC.
In answer to this letter, Rev. Malits wrote: “With regard to the composition, powers and functions of the Religious Advisory Committee, it would be helpful if the minute recording its establishment some years ago could be traced, in order to know what is and is not ultra vires.”
No reply on this point was ever received from the Chairman of the Governors! I personally think that the origin of the RAC goes back to the mid-18th century. As I have already stated, 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.
Another resolution passed by the RAC at their meeting also raised the ire of the Chairman of the Governors. This was the proposal to set up “a sub-committee of professionals teaching religious instruction to look into the question of syllabuses etc.” The proposed composition was to be the RAC, Directors of Jewish Studies at both schools, a member of the Religious Instruction staff of both schools, the Principals of the Yeshivah and the Merseyside Amalgamated Talmud Torah. The JSSA even went as far as recommending “that Mr. Rothbard be the ‘member of the religious instruction staff’ on this RAC sub committee.”
The Chairman of the Governors described the setting up of such a sub-Committee as “quite ill-conceived.” He said the syllabus was the responsibility of the Jewish Studies staff “who are responsible to the Headmaster and ultimately to the Governors.” There was also the Jewish Studies sub-Committee “to guide and advise Governors and Managers.” He then concluded, “No other self-appointed body can claim any advisory role and I fail to see what purpose there can be in a further body, such as is suggested, in the structure of the Schools.”
In answer Rev. Malits wrote:
Over the past few years the great advantage of co-ordinating the syllabi of the various Jewish educational institutions in the community has often been stressed but nothing beyond that has been done. Co-ordination would prevent any appreciable duplication of syllabus by the King David Schools, MATT, and the Yeshiva, and would ensure that valuable teaching time is not lost or otherwise wasted.
This highly desirable objective needs a detailed and skilled study, and the most suitable people are professional educationists who are qualified to draw up and put into practice such syllabi, together with the Senior Ministers of the community, who are responsible for its religious welfare and spiritual awareness and who realise what is involved in Religious Instruction. A constant review of the best teaching methods is also essential.
Such an overall task is clearly beyond the scope and indeed the authority of the Jewish studies sub-Committee, apart from its composition, its duty being confined solely to guiding and advising Governors and Managers of the King David Schools.
From all the above, once again we can see how the Chairman of the Governors would fight “tooth and nail” to prevent anyone else having any say in the running of the school! This opposition was despite the fact that this integration of syllabuses of Religious instruction of the various institutions in Liverpool was not a new idea. At the end of 1974, the Jewish Studies sub-Committee, at a meeting chaired by Henry Lachs, had discussed this question and resolved that “the hope was expressed that the syllabus-makers would liase together, possibly with Rabbi Mazabow for MATT [he was its Principal] and Rabbi Rogosnitzky for the Yeshiva [he was its Principal].”
The sub-Committee proposed by the RAC never got off the ground. I can’t remember why, but possibly because, like the Chairman of the Governors, every Principal and Director of Jewish Studies wanted to be the sole master in his Empire.
Even before the Jewish Studies sub-Committee had recommended a liason between the various Jewish education bodies, the question of coordination of Jewish Studies had arisen. It was towards the end of 1973, that I was asked to prepare a Report on Part-time Religious Education in Liverpool for High School pupils with this aim in mind.
At that time, apart from the King David High School, Religious education was provided in Liverpool for High School age pupils by the Yeshivah, the Talmud Torah, the Amalgamated Synagogue Classes and the Childwall Synagogue classes.
The Yeshivah had once been a full time Yeshivah for young men, but for the last fifteen years had been solely a Sunday morning and weekday evening institution for teenage pupils. I understand that the last full time student was a former teacher of mine at Carmel College, Rabbi Moshe Young. In 1973, the Rosh Yeshivah was Rabbi Rogosnitzky and there were an increasing number of boys studying in it.
There was no parallel institution for girls. However, about October 1973, the girls of the top stream of the second year at the King David High School had requested additional Jewish Studies lessons in their own time. Accordingly Zvi Yahalom, a shaliach teacher at the school, gave some lessons after school to these girls. Unfortunately this did not last too long.
Once upon a time, each of the four big Synagogues in Liverpool had had their own Hebrew classes. Due to the decrease in numbers, three of them decided on an amalgamation. There was a problem as to who would be the Headmaster and for a time I was told, there were two Headmasters! Childwall Hebrew Classes did not join in this amalgamation, since at the time they were relatively strong. Another set of Hebrew classes was called the Talmud Torah.
When I came to make the Report, all three sets of Hebrew classes met in either the King David School or in the Childwall Synagogue, with two of them meeting in the former. The number of High School pupils then attending these various Hebrew classes was very small. Once the pupils joined the High School, parents obviously thought it would “overtax” the minds of their children if they continued to learn in the Hebrew Classes.
The community was discussing the amalgamation of these three sets of Hebrew classes into the Merseyside Amalgamated Talmud Torah (MATT), and after considerable discussion this came to fruition. I was asked to comment on the feasibility of integration of curricula of MATT with that of the High School. I answered that with the present numbers, it would be impracticable.
Another body established whilst I was at the school was the Jewish Studies sub-Committee. This was a Foundation sub-Committee and consisted of representatives of the Governors, the Managers, the Foundation and the ZFET. In addition the Headmasters, the Head of Modern Hebrew and myself were “in attendance” at the meetings.
One of its members, who was almost always present at the meetings was the Madam Chair of the Primary School Managers. She sat in the meetings and I never saw her open her mouth. As the Chairlady of the Managers, one would have expected her to have at least something to say on the Jewish instruction in the School. I often wondered how much she would say at Managers’ meetings!
At a later date the RAC was represented but only after they had requested it. It was also decided, following a request by the Parents’ Associations, that the parents could have representation on this sub-Committee. The name of Leah Rothbard, (the wife of Michael Rothbard), who was the parent of a pupil at the Primary School, was proposed and she was duly elected to serve. One of the Managers came to me and said it was not right that the wife of a Jewish Studies teacher should be on this sub-Committee. I replied, “What about the fact that the brother of a teacher at the High School is a Governor at the same school?!” He could not give me an effective answer. This sub-Committee would meet several times a year.
I must say that I could never see much point in the existence of such a sub-Committee, consisting of laymen some of whose attachment to Torah observance had much to be desired, and where the representation of Ministers was only an afterthought.
Let me conclude with a quote from Rabbi Kopul Rosen, the Founder and Principal of Carmel College:
In the Anglo-Jewish scene ... men without any qualification other than the authority of being office holders, speak loudly about Jewish education. This could be tolerated with some amusement were it not that this invasion of the educational scene by communal ignoramuses is harmful.