Man U, maths & music makes for a 100% day. Stephen Oryszczuk discovers the people and places that really make our community tick.
This week he’s at Kisharon…
He’s cheating. That’s what he’s doing under the table. He’s using his phone calculator for the maths quiz. I notice. He notices that I notice. Our eyes lock.
For a second, in the dining room of this comfortable semi near Brent Cross, we exchange knowing looks, his face a picture of fear at having been found out.
Clive, this morning’s teacher, sits talking to Meir and Moishe at the front, while Bezi and Simcha make studious progress in the middle. It is at the back that this fraud has taken place.
I wink, put my finger to my lips and turn back to the large French windows overlooking the garden.
His face unclenches. It’s fine. I’m an accomplice.
His secret’s safe with me. Between this property and a bigger detached half a mile away, all five of them are safe, and Eliezer, Costas, Amos, Sam and Ephraim are on-hand to help Clive’s gang live as tenants in bright, roomy bedrooms and congregate in big, lively common areas when they’re not criss-crossing London, heading off to work.
The Kisharon team is spread far and wide: in nurseries, workshops, business centres, colleges and head office, from where chief executive Bev, ops manager Joe and fundraising manager Richard come to ‘message-manage’ me.
It’s a PR onslaught and counter-productive.
But over lunch, once fellow northerner Joe remembers that he’s left the strategy meeting, we talk football and relax, while at the school, when Richard finally stops saying things like “contiguous,” “holistic” and “existential,” I see a normal, fun-loving bloke who just likes playing with kids.
It’s far from suits and jargon, I’m assured by the gorgeous and outstanding Mrs Panas. More on her later…
We start back at the house. South African Bev, a former doctor and management consultant, helps Chaim-Dovid fix me a black coffee, after a late-night newsroom finish. In the front room,
Clive’s talking about healthy eating and personal hygiene. It’s a small, intimate class and my intrusion upsets the balance, as Clive tries to regain interest in fingernail washing.
A music break works winders, and by the time the maths quiz starts I’m all but forgotten. We discuss percentages. Clive asks for an example of a sentence in which you might use the term “100 percent”. Moishe, who turns out to be a fellow Man United fan, says he’s “100 percent sure United will win this week”.
Every sinew in my body wants to leap up and give that man a great big Mancunian hug. It’s the best answer I’ve ever heard. Later, at the other house, Petrona (aka “Shorty”) is auditing, while English graduate Ephraim is helping Moishe, Simcha and Bezi cook lasagne.
Eli gives me the tour before heading off to work, while Joe tells me how he’s just been working on a proposal to Barnet for Kisharon and Mencap to jointly manage one of their libraries as a social enterprise. It’s a brilliant idea that deserves whatever push we can give it. The afternoon is spent at the school, a former ballet hall.
Of the 35 pupils aged four to 18, we start with the youngsters in Miral’s Orange Class. They’re an energetic mix of Charedi, Orthodox and secular reception-age kids, who welcome me in with smiles and hand-holding.
They’re preparing to present to the whole school on Japan. Gershon’s wearing the national Japanese football shirt, while Eliyah and Eitan are wearing ‘rising sun’ T-shirts, and Soroh and Rafi look resplendent in pink and gold silk. Miral, Liz and Kai lead them over to the play-area, where Gershon and Eliyah show me how they make themselves “trees,” with out-stretched arms. “Very good,” I say, no idea why they’re being trees. I don’t ask. People can be trees if they want.
After a rendition of “Journey Home from Grandpa’s,” Brian the black and white (hand-puppet) dog emerges from his home (box) to give the kids big, sloppy kisses. Miral says: “Who wants to ask Brian a question?” Eliyah’s hand shoots up. “Did you do a poo today, Brian?” Miral consults. Yes, it turns out he did. “Good boy,” says Eliyah.
Brian then gets stroked back to his bed (box), snoring. Next door Katrina, Silia, Daiva, Hadasa, Yael and Victor teach Rainbow Class about cause and effect, with Shloimy tracking animation on-screen, Malki getting physio and Elias working in tandem with Gamliel on switch activity. Slightly older are the students in Mrs Panas’ class, some of whom are just back from horse riding. “Most don’t have pets at home, so it’s great for them in that sense too,” she says.
The day’s at its crescendo. Everyone packs into the hall. Orange present on Japan, showing off their bonsai trees (OK, got it…) while Miral bribes the audience with sushi (a Jewish audience eating sushi?).
After Orange, Mrs Panas and her Purples take to the stage, telling the school about a Columbian man who goes from village to village giving kids books. Everyone gets a round of applause, the headmistress wraps it up and the kids head home, as do I, keen to write about what I’ve seen and experienced.
If, having now done so, you feel that – after however many words – I really should have mentioned Down’s Syndrome, autism, epilepsy, blindness, learning difficulties, special needs, wheelchairs, physical disabilities or anything else that can stop us seeing those who rely on Kisharon as people, then I can only apologise. Think of me as the naughty one at the back of the class.