In the middle of the winter, Shabbat starts in Liverpool at about 3.35 in the afternoon. Since school normally ends at about 4 o’clock, this necessitates closing the school early. I found some correspondence from 1964 on a dispute which arose between the Religious Advisory Committee and the previous Headmaster Dr. B. A. Fisher.
It seems that in 1963, an arrangement had been made between Councillor Norton, who was then Chairman of the Governors and Rabbi Zalman Plitnick, the then Communal Rabbi of Liverpool, that pupils who lived a distance from the school would be able to leave early on such Friday afternoons. The RAC had found that this arrangement was not satisfactory and so they brought the matter up again. In order that school should finish earlier on these winter Fridays, the RAC suggested that a Jewish Studies period, which presumably was the last period of the day, be cancelled.
Fisher informed the RAC that Norton had agreed to a temporary acceptance of this proposal, until the Governors could discuss it at their next meeting. He then continued, “He [Norton] has also asked me to inform the RAC that the Governors would feel bound to take into consideration this reduction in the hours of Religious Education in the School on any future occasion that the RAC might prove critical either of the standard of Religious Education or the amount of time devoted to it.”
The RAC replied directly to Norton and pointed out that they had always fought for an increase in time for Jewish Studies.
If there has been any diminution of it, it has been under the strongest protest from us.
If, therefore, we make this suggestion regarding an early closure of the School on Friday afternoons, it is evidently because we regard the practical observance of Judaism, in this instance, the Sabbath, of greater importance than theoretical instruction in its tenets. In any case, only five or six Fridays in the year are involved, and we consider the sacrifice of any Religious Education involved well worth the gain in the religious outlook of the School. We should in fact, be obliged if the Headmaster used the fact as a demonstration of the earnestness in which the School and the religious authorities view the observance of the Sabbath and the importance of children using the time to prepare for, and to attend the Sabbath Eve Services.
The RAC also suggested that by curtailing the Friday morning assembly, it would be possible not to cut out any Jewish Studies lessons. They continued:
We also note the eagerness with which our suggestion is seized as a justification, in advance, for any weakness in the School’s Religious Education.... If there is a weakness in the religious effectiveness of the School, it is rather due to the lack of a positive Jewish attitude that we should expect from the School, and this is but one example of it. Moreover, we strongly resent the tone and character of this letter and its contents. It shows a complete lack of appreciation of the aim we are all working to achieve, viz, effectiveness of the School as a religious factor in the education of our children.
This is an important point over which we should have expected instant and unqualified co-operation, instead of long protracted negotiation, the throwing of obstacles and veiled intimidation.
I understand that it was then agreed that the school would end no less than one hour before the commencement of Shabbat. Soon after, for a number of years, the clocks were on summer time for the entire year in Britain. This meant that the earliest that Shabbat commenced was about 4.35. By the time I arrived in Liverpool, summer time was again in force only during the summer.
At that time it was the Deputy Head who made the calculations of when to close on winter Friday afternoons and I saw that there were occasions when it was slightly less than an hour. I thus decided that in the future, I would try and get in first and give him a list of times for closure on winter Fridays. I would do the calculations and fix the time of closure to between 60 and 64 minutes before the start of Shabbat. For example if Shabbat began at 4.00, school would finish at 3.00, but if Shabbat began at 3.59, school would finish at 2.55.
At one stage, I had two daughters in the Primary School and on these winter Friday afternoons, I would take them home. One week I got to the Primary School, the time arrived for closing the school, but the bell did not ring. The teachers quite rightly dismissed the classes at the correct time but as they were walking down the corridors to go home, the non-Jewish Deputy Head saw them and instead of saying “Shabbat Shalom (I hope he knew that much Hebrew!), hurry up home children,” he told them that the bell hadn’t rung and said “go back to your classes.” I complained to the Primary School Headmaster about this and in future weeks he saw to it that the bell was rung on time on Friday afternoons and even commented to me that he had done so.
Schools in England must meet for 190 days during the year - January to December. The school calendar is fixed by a public body - I don’t know if it is the Ministry of Education or the Local Education Authority. The local council schools in Liverpool are closed for 6 weeks in the summer and for a few weeks at both Christmas and Easter. They also close for a week’s half term in the middle of the spring and summer terms. During the autumn term, half term is for two days and the schools can close for any other three days throughout the year. I understand that many schools extended the half term holiday of the autumn term to a week, utilising these three days to do so.
By virtue of the “Articles of Government,” the Governors of voluntary aided schools, such as the King David Schools can decide themselves on the school calendar but they must have 190 days schooling each year. Because these schools, if Jewish, have to close on Yom Tov, the school calendar cannot coincide exactly with the Local Council Schools.
Due to food considerations such as school dinners, the school has to be closed for the entire Festival of Pesach. Could you imagine trying to kasher a school for Pesach! In the vast majority of years Pesach corresponds with Easter, and so there are no problems. There are however occasions when it occurs a month after Easter. In such years there is a split holiday - about a week and a half for Easter and nearly a month later a week and a half for Pesach.
In 1978, when there was a split holiday, the CSE examinations were due to take place during Pesach. I pointed out to the Board that we could not take them on the 7th day of Pesach - the 8th day was Saturday - and they very obligingly set no examinations on that day. I would have preferred no examinations also on Chol Hamoed - but that was too much to expect. It was arranged that the non-Jewish teacher responsible for the CSE examinations would come in on Chol Hamoed to invigilate the examinations. The Headmaster wrote to the pupils and told them not to bring any form of food or drink into the school when they came in to take their examinations. He showed me a draft of his letter and I slightly tightened up the wording. He also told the non-Jewish teacher who was invigilating that he preferred her not to bring in food.
The remaining Festivals are, two days of Yom Tov each for Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret and one day for Yom Kippur. On these days the school has to be closed. In the majority of years, most and sometimes all of these days occur mid-week and a number of changes therefore have to made from the Local Council Schools’ calendar. In years when the second day of Shavuot falls on Saturday and the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret fall on Saturday and Sunday the problem is far simpler.
Understandably, the non-Jewish teachers at my school wanted, as far as possible the calendar to be the same as the Local Council schools, but they appreciated that the Jewish calendar must be taken into account.
There are some “problematic” days such as Chol Hamoed Sukkot and Purim. In many Jewish schools, such as JFS and the Hasmonean, the schools are closed during these days.
It is unfortunate that the majority of Anglo-Jews are not aware that there are work restrictions on Chol Hamoed. There is a tractate in the Talmud called Moed Katan which is mainly devoted to work forbidden on Chol Hamoed. A Jew who is able to take off Chol Hamoed on his annual allowance of holidays is obligated to do so.
How does all this fit in with the school? Should for argument sake, the Local Council decide that if the King David Schools did not open on Shabbat or Yom Tov, they would close down the schools completely, then the schools would have to let themselves be closed down completely. If however they said this for Chol Hamoed, they could remain open.
But this is not the case. The “Articles of Government” specifically state that the governing body fixes the school calendar. They are therefore obligated, in my opinion, to arrange the school year so that the schools are closed on Chol Hamoed.
The problem was that they did not do so!
In this connection I came across an interesting incident whilst reading a doctorate thesis written by Cyril Hershon, the husband of one of our teachers. It happened in 1904. That year the governing body ordered the school to be open on the last day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot. The result was that very few pupils came to school and those who did come had been forbidden to engage in secular work. After a hasty consultation between the President and the Headmaster, the school was closed.
Hershon quotes from the school’s log book entry for 30 September 1904:
“As this is the first time in the history of the Schools that they have been open in the Intermediate days of the Festival [Chol Hamoed], the Managers were unable to gauge the degree of objection that would be raised by the parents of the children in expecting their attendance on this day.”
In 1906, the managers tried to do the same thing, but once again there was a non-attendance of pupils - 276 children absented themselves.
In the Jewish Studies magazine, which I edited with one of the shlichim, I wrote an article “From the pages of History. No School on Chol Hamoed” in which I described this incident and a cartoon was added showing a pupil holding up a banner “No school on Chol Hamoed.” Afterwards the Headmaster came to me and said that he did not like this article. I replied that it was part of the history of the school.
Other occasions when members of the Jewish staff, especially the women, would prefer no school, is erev Yom Tov. The school would always break up several days before Pesach, but continued until and including all the other erev Yomim Tovim, even erev Yom Kippur. In was, I believe, towards the end of 1972, that a meeting was called to discuss the school calendar. Those present included, the Headmasters of both schools, some non-Jewish staff representatives, at least one female Jewish staff member and myself. The female Jewish staff member wanted there to be no school on erev Rosh Hashanah and erev Yom Kippur. I, of course, concurred, although I said I would prefer erev Sukkot rather than erev Rosh Hashanah, but this was not accepted. From then on, there was no school on these two days.
However, I saw, the main problem, for religious reasons, to be Chol Hamoed. Michael Rothbard therefore spoke to an official of the National Union of Hebrew Teachers, who in turn telephoned Henry Lachs and asked why they couldn’t close on Chol Hamoed and have school on other days in its place.
Lachs came to me rather annoyed about this telephone call and said he spoke politely to this person without accepting what he asked, but was angry that we had spoken to the NUHT. I always found that Henry Lachs, the Chairman of the Governors, would fight tooth and nail about any other person being brought in to decide things about the school. There were the Governors and that was it!
About September 1974, I prepared a memorandum suggesting that in the calendar for 1975, the school should be closed for Purim and Chol Hamoed Sukkot and that the Jewish pupils would attend on Purim and Hoshana Rabba mornings for special activities connected with those Festivals. I submitted it to the Jewish Studies sub-Committee who considered it at their next meeting.
The argument was made that some children might not see a Sukkah. That is why I suggested we arrange special activities on Hoshana Rabba. But even when the school was in session for Chol Hamoed, how many pupils went into the Sukkah? Relatively few pupils took school dinners and even though I tried to arrange for as many Jewish pupils as possible to have their school lunch in the rather small Sukkah, the vast majority of the pupils did not eat in it. I tried to arrange assembly services each morning before the official start of school during Chol Hamoed, but the Headmaster and Deputy Head tended to limit them to the lower part of the school.
During Chol Hamoed there was the full timetable throughout the school and throughout the day and the full complement of homework was set. During the official school day there were no changes and any Sukkot activities were limited to before school and during the lunch break.
Every year the school would buy two or three sets of Arba’at Haminim directly from a supplier in Manchester for use by the pupils at these assemblies, on the days that the school met during Chol Hamoed. In later years I realized that there was no reason for them to remain unused during the first two days of Yom Tov. I therefore arranged for them to be used in the Youth Minyan on these days. Almost all the boys at the Youth Minyan were pupils at the King David.
One year, the Foundation said that we should give business to the Jewish Bookshop in Liverpool and buy the Arba’at Haminim from them. What happened was that this Liverpool shop bought them from the Manchester supplier and added on one pound to the cost of each set. That was not the only problem. On erev Sukkot, someone from the School was sent to collect these sets. I had telephoned the shop to check that all the four species were there and they answered in the affirmative. The sets arrived at the school and fortunately I decided to check everything was in order. I opened the lulav boxes and saw that not only were there no aravot (which was no problem, since there was a tree available in Liverpool), there were also no hadassim there! I immediately telephoned the shop and they said the hadassim were still in the shop. This was the first and last time I bought the Arba’at Haminim from that shop!
The Jewish Studies sub-Committee rejected my memorandum and they resolved that “the schools should remain open for Purim and Chol Hamoed Sukkot but that increased time on those days should be set aside for special activities.” In point of fact this resolution was completely ignored for the upper part of the High School and was minimally observed in the lower part of the High School on Purim.
Even the Headmaster, who was certainly not in favour of closing on these days, told me that he felt sorry to see how they dealt with my memorandum.
A week or so after my memorandum had been rejected The Jewish Studies Staff Association met and according to the Minutes of the meeting:
The Association was very concerned that in the school calendar for 1975, the Festival of Sukkot would be effectively neglected yet time could be found for an entire week’s holiday in October. It was reported that pupils had asked during Chol Hamoed why we had school whereas a number of their relatives and friends in London Jewish schools had no school for the whole of Chol Hamoed.
The Association reiterated the Principle that a Jewish school should build its School Calendar around the Jewish Festivals, and added that there should be a definite pattern for Jewish Schools.
It was therefore proposed and agreed that the Chief Rabbi’s Office and the NUHT be asked to set up a Committee to recommend holiday dates for Jewish schools in this country. The Secretary was instructed to write to these organisations with this suggestion.
At the next meeting of this Association, the Secretary reported that he had written to the NUHT and the Chief Rabbi’s Office on this question and so far he had received a reply from the latter, who stated that they would pursue the matter. However, I heard nothing more from them after this.
In 1975, I spoke to Rabbi Farro, of the Manchester Lubavitch about arranging a Sukkot programme in Manchester during one day of Chol Hamoed for a group of pupils from the lower part of the school, which would include a dinner in the Sukkah. I believe we agreed on a three course meal and a small charge was made to cover the cost of transport between Liverpool and Manchester and of the dinner. For the same day the Deputy Head arranged a Classics field trip for non-Jewish pupils of the lower classes. (The non-Jewish pupils learnt, inter alia, classics when the Jewish pupils were having Jewish Studies.) There were a few spare places in his coach so he found a few Jewish pupils who preferred to go there than to the Lubavitch Sukkot trip. One is hard-pressed to find a connection between the Jewish pupils and the non-Jewish classics trip!
We travelled by coach to Manchester and had difficulty in finding the Lubavitch house. When we arrived there late, Rabbi Farro joked that all the food had been eaten up. The group of pupils comprised of both boys and girls, were separated as soon as we arrived and there were different programmes for boys and girls until the end of our visit. The programme for the boys began with light refreshments in the Sukkah and they explained how a Lubavitcher Sukkah has no fruit hanging in it or any decorations. Included in the programme was a visit to a Jewish bookshop in Manchester where some of the pupils bought some things. The girls had their dinner first in the Sukkah and the boys had to wait outside until they finished and then they went in and had their meal.
Altogether this was a most enjoyable and instructive day and at least something had been done to inject Sukkot activities into the school day.
There are always a few parents who love to complain and they contacted the King David Foundation to ask why it had been so expensive. In fact the price was very modest when one considers the cost of travelling and a three course meal. But nothing is done without some grumbles - that is life! Afterwards I had to justify the cost to the Foundation.
In 1976, the two Yom Tov days of Sukkot were Shabbat and Sunday. As I explained above, arranging the School calendar for such a year is fairly simple. I therefore proposed that for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Chol Hamoed the school should be on holiday. To my delight this proposal was accepted. (They also occurred on the same days in 1975, but I didn’t think of specifically proposing it then.)
The previous year’s trip to the Lubavitch Centre in Manchester on Chol Hamoed Sukkot had been very successful and so the RAC recommended that it be repeated that Chol Hamoed. The Headmaster however refused to sanction such a trip and sent me a note, “I trust that these trips are intended for Wednesday or Thursday [the days when the school would be on holiday], not Monday or Tuesday [the days when the school would meet].” This was an educational trip and not an outing and should have been authorised to take place on a school day. In addition the Jewish Studies sub-Committee had resolved that there be increased Festival activity when the school met on Chol Hamoed.
But that is not the end of the story. The Headmaster authorised the geography department to arrange a geography field trip on the Tuesday of Chol Hamoed. The Headmaster realised that he had put himself in an awkward position and so he called me to his study to let me know about the geography trip. But he still didn’t allow the Lubavitch trip!
Both the JSSA and the RAC in their meetings criticised the refusal to allow this Lubavitch trip. The RAC wrote in their minutes:
... No suggestion was made that this [the geography field trip] should take place on a day when the children were on holiday. Do we therefore take it that Geography is regarded as more important than Religious Instruction in the school? Furthermore, only last week [mid-October], a group missed an entire afternoon’s school to attend a concert and a number of pupils were allowed to leave school early for a football match!
The following year (1977), although the Tishri Festivals all occurred mid-week, when the calendar was fixed, my proposal to close on the last day of Chol Hamoed (Hoshana Rabba) was accepted. However in May 1977, the general Staff Association proposed transferring the two day half-term holiday to the beginning of the term in order to lengthen the summer holiday. At a Staff meeting held the following week, at which I was not present, it was proposed “that instead of transferring half term to the beginning of term, that the school be open on erev Rosh Hashanah and Hoshana Rabba.”
The entire Jewish Studies staff was furious at this suggestion and held an emergency meeting in which it was resolved:
The Jewish Studies Staff Association unanimously reject this proposal and consider it to be an insult to the Jewish Calendar and to be another nail in the coffin of the Jewish Character of the school!
What would be the reaction of Christian staff in a Christian school if it were to be proposed that in order that the summer holidays of the Jewish members of the staff be longer, the Christian school should be open on Christmas eve and on a Christian festive day?
The Association unanimously agreed that if necessary this matter would be taken to the NUHT and to the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
Fortunately nothing more was heard of this proposal and as had been planned the school was closed on erev Rosh Hashanah and Hoshana Rabba.
At a general Staff Meeting held a few months later, I decided to explain to the non-Jewish staff about Chol Hamoed. I was assisted by Michael Rothbard, who gave a moving talk on the subject. The general Staff then unanimously resolved that “the Jewish Studies Staff’s knowledge of the days required off for Jewish Festivals be accepted and that Rabbi Simons’ allocation of holiday dates for this purpose should not be questioned.”
It was at this meeting, or possibly at some other earlier meeting, that one non-Jewish member of Staff said that the school should be closed only on the actual days of Jewish festivals and not days to prepare for them. I could have asked, why does the school close several days before Christmas and not just on 25th December, but I didn’t. He also prepared a beautifully handwritten petition regarding the school calendar, for the non-Jewish staff to sign. Only one member of the staff, apart from him, signed it! So it went no further.
In 1978, the Tishri Festivals were again mid-week and Hoshana Rabba was on Sunday. I therefore proposed that the school close on the Friday of Chol Hamoed. (By the time these Festivals arrived I had already returned to Israel.) The non-Jewish staff were prepared to accept this. For some reason the Primary school staff wanted school on this day. I don’t know why. They had the Wednesday and Thursday of Chol Hamoed to do Festival activities with the pupils. One day the Headmaster came into the Staff Room during the morning break and wanted an immediate agreement of the Staff to this proposal, which he got. I objected to this “shotgun” type decision and I asked the Headmaster which Rabbinical authority he had consulted. I could see he was annoyed at my question. The Governors accordingly removed the Friday Chol Hamoed from the holiday calendar.
The next meeting of the Jewish Studies Staff Association minuted: “The Association deplored the Governor’s recommendation to hold school on [Friday Chol Hamoed].” On the following day, the general Staff Association passed the following resolution on this question: “It seemed surprising to the meeting that the Governors do not seem to consult the Jewish Studies Staff.” The Merseyside Association of Jewish Ministers were informed of this resolution of the Staff Association and they were deeply appreciative of “the fact that the [general] Staff Association had taken a more positive attitude than that of the Governors in the planning of the school calendar in relation to the Jewish Festivals.” I passed on their appreciation at the next meeting of the Staff Association and it was accordingly minuted.
Before I left in 1978, the Headmaster had put up a notice asking for suggestions for the 1979 calendar. In 1979, the Festivals were over the weekend. I therefore put on the notice board the same calendar as for 1976, the previous occasion when the Festivals had been over the weekend, adding that this was identical to the 1976 calendar. My proposals were accepted by the Governors.
In 1975, Tisha B’Av was early in the year and occurred on a Thursday in mid-July, and there was therefore the possibility that there would be school on that Tisha B’Av. The JSSA in its meeting passed a resolution that they “utterly reject any proposal which would have School on Tisha B’Av.” Here the Headmaster of the High School agreed with us that the school should break up for the summer holidays on erev Tisha B’Av, although the Headmaster of the Primary School would not have minded school on Tisha B’Av. Finally we broke up on erev Tisha B’Av.
There were also arguments regarding school on Purim, and if there was school, what type of programme there should be.
When I came to the school, the entire Purim programme consisted of my Reading of the Megillah to the entire school and then at ten o’clock, the pupils returned to their normal lessons for the rest of the day. That was the entire Purim programme at the King David High School. The Deputy Head completely banned the banging at Haman’s name. Not even once could the pupils bang. I remember on one occasion, when the first time the name of Haman was mentioned, banging started. Immediately the Deputy Head stood up and told the pupils to stop. I learned afterwards from a pupil who was seated near the Headmaster, that it was he who started this banging!
From about 1975, the upper part of the school had the Megillah read separately in the Jewish Studies room by Michael Rothbard. This was under the supervision of the Deputy Head, who before each chapter would give a summary of its contents. I continued to read the Megillah for the lower school under the supervision of the Headmaster. I cannot recollect whether banging was then permitted.
I strongly felt that this was not the way to spend Purim in a Jewish school. My investigations of other schools, such as the JFS, and the Hasmonean, revealed that they were closed on Purim. I kept pressing this point, and, as stated earlier, even wrote a memorandum, which I submitted to the Jewish Studies sub-Committee, in which I said it should be a day devoted entirely to a Purim programme. This sub-Committee immediately rejected it!
As a result of extensive protests by the Jewish Studies staff, we managed to obtain a gradual improvement for the lower school only. For the upper school, Purim continued to end at ten o’clock in the morning. In 1976, the Deputy Head said to me that it would be criminal for pupils of the 5th and 6th years to miss lessons after ten o’clock on Purim. Yet the very same person was prepared to let these classes miss a half day’s school for a sponsored walk!
The head of Music had a few months earlier put on a performance of the “Toy Symphony.” She agreed to make a repeat performance on Purim. However this did not come about, because the Headmaster vetoed it on the grounds that the participants in the performance would have to miss their normal lessons.
Following all my protests, on Purim 1976, there was an improvement for the years 1 to 4 of the school. I wrote a pantomime based on the Book Esther including the various Midrashim on it. The setting was a High School instead of the Palace at Shushan and the characters were based on the staff of the King David High School. The school had a lot of fancy dress clothes in its pantomime stock and we used some of these clothes. The pantomime took place in the main hall
I was the announcer and wore fancy dress. I came out from the side of the curtain holding the script which was written in the form of a Megillah, to a clapping from the audience. The servant who read to the King from the Book of Chronicles was called Sabbi Rimons (a play on my name!) and he wore a red robe, which mimicked my red doctorate gown which I wore at formal school ceremonies.
According to the Talmud, when Haman had to find Mordechai and lead him through the city to honour him, Mordechai was teaching Torah to children. In the pantomime, our Mordecai was at the time teaching a Jewish Studies class. Our Haman told Mordechai to leave the class and added “It’s only Jewish Studies; the Headmaster won’t mind the pupils missing this lesson.” My wife was in the audience next to a Jewish teacher of secular subjects and she told me afterwards that this teacher laughed, understanding the meaning of this in the King David!
The programme also included a fancy dress parade. Everyone enjoyed the programme and it was very successful.
The following year, sadly, the situation deteriorated. The Jewish Studies staff had proposed the same programme as per the previous year. However, both the Headmaster and Deputy Head wanted to exclude the 4th year pupils (in addition of course the 5th and 6th year pupils) from the Purim celebrations and to give instructions that they follow the normal timetabled lessons throughout the afternoon. In addition, they also wanted to increase the number of lessons and decrease the length of the Purim celebrations with reference to the first three years. After I lodged strong objections, the Governors agreed to retain the programme for the first three years as it had been in the past year, but to exclude from it pupils from the 4th year and upwards - this was in fact the majority of the Jewish pupils in the school. It could be pointed out at this juncture that not a murmur of protest was recorded when the entire school missed an entire day each year on account of Speech day, half a day because of a sponsored walk and half a day each year because of the swimming gala.
In 1977, I asked the King David High School in Manchester what they planned to do on Purim. They answered me as follows:
Morning: Shacharit and Reading the Megillah. (For the remainder of the morning, the arrangements had not yet been finalised at the time of my inquiry, but no more than one lesson would be included.)
11.00 - 12.00: Lunch
Entire afternoon: Carnival for the ENTIRE school, comprising fancy dress, a play, competitions, etc. The Headmaster also intended appearing in fancy dress.
Purim kits were to be distributed in both the Manchester King David Primary and High Schools, by courtesy of the Lubavitch. These Lubavitch Purim kits contained some sweets, biscuits and two coins to enable the pupils to observe the Purim Mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and Matanot Laevyonim. The Headmaster of our school had forbidden the distribution of these kits, but he suggested that we open the school tuck shop at the back of the hall where we read the Megillah to the lower school. After the service, the pupils would purchase tuck and give it to their friends and I told them how to do it. They were also told (as also in previous years) to bring money for a collection we made for the poor. This was then immediately sent to the local Jewish Welfare Council to be given to at least two poor people.
I ask, whether it would have had a detrimental effect on the careers and public examination results of the pupils if the entire King David High School in Liverpool would have done a similar programme to Manchester during the entire day of Purim,?!
Again I wrote a pantomime, but I felt it was not as successful as the previous year. I cannot remember the plot. All I remember was that I, myself, acted Sabbi Rimons and a broken umbrella came into the story somewhere. This was followed by a few sixth form boys singing a Purim song which they themselves had written, and then by a fancy dress competition which was won by two boys who were dressed up as Marks and Sparks.
The last year I was in the School - 1978 - there was no school on Purim. The reason - it was the day before Good Friday. (That year Pesach occurred a month after Easter.)
[This reminds me of the occasion when the Knesset had planned to meet on Tisha B’Av. The religious Knesset members objected. It did not meet that Tisha B’Av - because it was discovered that that day was a Moslem Festival.]
In 1973, Lag B’Omer occurred on a Sunday, a day when pupils generally don’t have school. This enabled the Manchester Lubavitch to arrange a programme on a large scale for the children of Manchester and the North of England.
The day was to begin with a banner carrying parade in the streets of Manchester. This was to be followed by a programme at Aintree Racecourse, which was close to Liverpool and finally a cruise on the River Mersey. The price for participation was 50 pence per child and for this money, in addition to the programme, all participants would receive a picnic lunch and a raffle ticket.
When our Headmaster saw the programme, he asked me to inquire whether there was any point in our pupils going all the way to Manchester just to march and whether it would not be better to go straight to Aintree Racecourse? I asked Rabbi Farro this question and he told me that the march was at least as important as the rest of the programme.
We sold quite a number of tickets to pupils in the lower part of the school and ordered two coaches to transport us on that day from place to place. In addition to myself, the pupils were accompanied by a Jewish Mathematics teacher at the school, Rabbi Turk and possibly others whom I cannot recollect.
On the Sunday morning, instead of two coaches, two double-decker buses arrived. We embarked and off we went to Manchester. There we marched with all the other children from Manchester and the surrounding areas, waving banners with such slogans as “Save our Shabbos” and “Put on Tephillin and let’s start davening.”
Following this, everyone went to Aintree Racecourse, which the Lubavitch had hired for the day. A picnic lunch was distributed to all the participants. As far as I remember, the Lubavitchers had filled big plastic dustbins with water so that everybody could do netillat yadayim. Following birchat hamazon, the boys were separated from the girls and the afternoon programme began.
The first item was a story beautifully narrated by Rabbi Turk. It concerned a man who travelled to Israel during the period of the British Mandate. His ship was delayed and arrived just before Shabbat. In order not to desecrate Shabbat he left his entire luggage at the port, seriously risking losing the lot to looters. When he returned after Shabbat, expecting it all to be missing, he found a British soldier guarding it. The soldier’s commander had been so impressed that a Jew was prepared to loose all his valuable belongings for the sake of Shabbat that he had ordered a soldier to guard them throughout the day.
This story was followed by two stunt artists, whose programme largely concentrated on a stunt bicycle. Then followed the raffle. Only pupils who were present received a prize if their number was drawn. There were literally hundreds of prizes, the vast majority of them small items and several of our pupils were lucky. Then followed the bigger prizes in ascending order, the last one being a free trip to Israel – meaning the airfare there and back. The last one was drawn by the manager of the Aintree Racecourse. The owner of the first ticket drawn was not present and so he lost his trip to Israel. The second one drawn was there. Finally, everyone was asked to pick up all the litter that had been dropped and indeed there was a lot!
Since it was already late, Rabbi Farro decided to take all the children from Manchester back home and not go on the cruise. However he told the Liverpool children that they could utilize the cruise. We went to the quayside at Liverpool and then had a trip on the Mersey ferry. The day was very enjoyable.
Before every Pesach, the school would hold a model Seder for the lower years. On one occasion, two first year pupils were withdrawn in the presence of the entire year from this Seder in order to attend a rehearsal for a music examination. On this the JSSA stated: “Such an action indicates to the pupils that Music is more important than the Seder and lowers the prestige of Jewish Studies in the School and hence the attitude of the pupils towards it. It should also be mentioned that the rehearsal Seder was booked and publicised on the Staff room notice-board weeks before the event, whereas the music rehearsal was not even booked.”
When I came to the school, the Chanukiah at the school was a very old discarded one from one of the local Synagogues. I seem to remember it being held together by some wire! After a few years, the woodwork department made a new Chanukiah. It consisted of a piece of wood in elongated diamond shape. The woodwork teacher, who was non-Jewish, did not consult with me, and screwed on just eight big candle holders in a straight row. He did not know about a shamash, We thus had to squeeze in another candle holder in the front to serve as a shamash. This Chanukiah did not have a stand and was placed on the table. It looked much better than the old one!
On some years, Chanukah occurred during term time. A minimum to expect would be for the entire school to assemble about twenty minutes before the end of the school for the lighting of Chanukah candles. In 1975, Chanukah occurred during term time. However pupils from the 4th year upwards were excluded from this lighting for almost the whole Festival. For some pupils this would have been the only lighting of candles which they would see. Also that year the entertainment programme on one of the days for the lower school, was disrupted because the Headmaster made the orchestra members in the upper school return to their science lesson.
The arrangements for the Chanukah candle lighting were written by the Deputy Head on a blackboard by the pupils’ entrance to the school. On one occasion I saw that the announcement had decreased the time allowed for this lighting. I pointed this fact out to the Deputy Head who said that he made a mistake. (This was not the only occasion in matters regarding Festival observances that he had made similar mistakes!) As one of the shlichim remarked to me - mistakes are never in favour of Festival observances at the School!
I shall conclude this chapter by quoting from the memorandum to the “Committee of Inquiry” (introduced later in this book), by the Merseyside Association of Jewish Ministers together with the RAC:
On Festivals, when one is in school, it is most important to convey to the pupils the correct Festival atmosphere. Considerable damage is done when it is considered that the Festival ‘is something that we unfortunately have to put up with’. As a consequence, the proper time allocation for Festival observance is denied. Sadly the Jewish Studies staff have had to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to be given time within the school day to be devoted to the festivals. Whereas they have finally obtained a minimum time allowance for the lower school, for the upper school the presence of a Festival and its reflection in the timetable is virtually non-existent.