By Rabbi Yuval Keren
Tony Blair once stated his three main priorities for his first government were: ‘Education, education, education’. This motto should be a priority for any organisation and community tasked with giving its members and children the skills and knowledge to understand and contribute to the world around them. The Jewish world is no exception.
In 2011, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research published a survey among 925 Jewish students. This indicated that more than half of the students are connected in some way to a synagogue. When asked about their experience of Jewish education, 84 percent indicated participation in barmitzvah class and 70 percent participation in part-time shul classes. Both activities are closely associated with the student’s home synagogue.
While many children opt for a bar or batmitzvah, their numbers in informal education are in steady decline. This is particularly true in communities close to Jewish day schools, where many opt for the school’s community rather than that of the synagogue. In this model, both synagogue and school communities lose out. Members begin their involvement when their children attend religion school classes and connections made there among parents and students often turn into life-long friendships and community involvement. Children establish their involvement with the youth movements, where future generations of our Jewish community are formed.
It is a struggle to get school students and their parents involved in community-wide activities. Few children who have the days of festivals off actually attend a synagogue service. Schools are often focused on league tables and higher education destinations, and Jewish day schools are no exception. This sometimes comes at the expense of Judaism and the Jewish way of life.
Jewish schools could create a sense of isolation between Jewish children and their non-Jewish counterparts. They might learn about pluralism and might even visit a church or a mosque, yet they will not interact with Christians, Muslims or children of other faiths. How and where we teach our children will determine the future of Anglo-Jewry. It is time to create a model by which children who attend Jewish day schools are able to participate in community life and play their part in the greater society of Great Britain.
Yuval Keren is rabbi at Southgate Progressive Synagogue