A collective groan rang out through a packed hall at news Prince Charles was leaving Yavneh College.
It was an endearing sign of the delight and enthusiasm with which the school’s pupils mingled and chatted with the heir to the throne during his 105-minute visit to the school, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary.
But it was clear that admiration was a two-way street. “Clearly the school is going to produce some very special people. As I get older and older I shall look forward to seeing what you all go on to do,” he told pupils after joining the Chief Rabbi to unveil a plaque marking the visit. “You will make a great contribution to the future of this country and it is down to the education and encouragement that you’ve had here.”
After arriving at the Borehamwood school to a rapturous welcome from students waving Union Jack flags – and at least one pupil’s admiring remarks about his chauffeur-driven car – the Prince saw first how social action, including through a partnership with the Jewish Lads’ & Girls’ Brigade, is an integral part of life in Jewish schools.
In one room he observed a production line of pupils creating mobile phone covers for sick children at Watford General Hospital and in another he heard about the One People project which sees students helping three charities – one inside the community, one outside and one in Israel. “How do you fit in work in between,” His Royal Highness joked. “Three charities is amazing. The extra curricula stuff is remarkable.”
In another buzzing corner of the school, he took his seat in a circle of pupils creating balloon crowns for young people with special needs – making his own and placing it on his head to delight of the assembled photographers. Rabbi Avroham Zeidman of GIFT, which operates social action projects in various Jewish schools, said he had in mind one particularly special boy who he hoped to present the ‘royal’ crown to.
The Prince met students honoured through programmes including the Yoni Jesner Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and National Citizen Service and members of local JLGB groups in Hertfordshire. In a room dedicated to JLGB, hthe special visitor chatted with community members of all ages from 92-year-old RAF veteran Leslie Susman to Maya Larholm, 8, a member of JLGB’s Shenley juniors division. “I could barely sleep I was so excited last night,” she said, while still bouncing up and down moments after meeting the royal. “I was so excited after he asked us questions, I’ve forgotten what he said to us.”
He also met 12-year-old twins Chloe and Leora Jesner, who are the only relatives of the late Yoni Jesner to have taken part in the volunteering and leadership scheme set up by his family. Yoni’s mother Marsha Gladstone said: “I told him that the values Yoni lived his life – feeling a responsibility to the community around him – are the values we inculcate through the Awards and that Yavneh and all Jewish schools are imbuing through informal Jewish informal education programmes. If you want the country to run well, you need the youth to grow up with a feeling of responsibility.”
In front of an audience incluing hundreds of pupils and dignitaries including Lords Levy and Polak and local MP Oliver Dowden, a groups of teenagers from various faiths took to the stage to speak about how their traditions encouraged helping others before work by an Israel artist bearing the school’s motto ‘The world is built on kindness’ was presented to the Prince.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said, “In a context where faith communities often feel that there is a lack of appreciation for the invaluable role that their schools play in creating a fairer society, the presence of His Royal Highness at Yavneh College, which is among the most outstanding faith schools, provides us with an opportunity to celebrate faith as a powerful force for good.”
Head Teacher Spencer Lewis added: “The fantastic work that our students do in the local and wider communities are not only done out of a sense of social responsibility but also out of an understanding that improving the world around them is a fundamental axiom of Jewish belief. This, coupled with our academic success, has been the hallmark of Yavneh College over the last ten years.”