By Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers
My Judaism has been strengthened by diverse friends and interfaith encounters, challenging and understanding it in the context of the world around it.
I don’t think I would now be observing Shabbat, or would have pursued the rabbinate, had it not been for continual engagement with diversity and difference.
Numbers attending Jewish day schools have rocketed, to the point where there aren’t enough places, hopefully with a positive impact on Jewish literacy, Hebrew skills and Jewish social life.
So I saw it as a big opportunity when the government suggested it might require GCSE RE courses to include at least two faiths; meaning no one could study only his or her own. I was excited that the government was finally taking an interest in RE, a subject that has been cut time and again over the past few years.
Religious groups, it seems, were united in horror at this plan. Yet I can see only benefits.
It would mean more non-Jews studying Judaism, and our own students understanding their Judaism in the context of the wider world around them, strengthening their Jewish identity, not weakening it.
Indeed, GCSE Judaism (and I say this having taught it) is unlikely to add hugely to the Jewish literacy of our students. In fact, the best we can do for our children is reinforce their Judaism at home.
So why not use GCSEs as a part of the holistic preparation of our younger members for life in the real world, meeting difference and understanding their Judaism as well as others’ world views?
I would argue that this needs to be something running throughout our school years, not just for those choosing the academic study of religion, helping us to challenge and express our Judaism confidently.
I would love to see interfaith encounter and friendship as a core part of all faith schools (indeed all schools!), especially our own.
Rather than fearing an encroachment on Jewish identity and practice, it may well serve to strengthen it – as well as creating a society filled with allies and understanding.
• Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is community educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism
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