Dragon tamers take centre stage at joyous Jewish Schools Awards

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Dragon tamers take centre stage at joyous Jewish Schools Awards

Fifth annual ceremony hosted by Natasha Kaplinsky included honours for outstanding teachers – and pupils pitching ingenious start-up ideas to business leaders

Our amazing finalists at Jewish Schools Awards 2020 (Marc Morris Photography)
Our amazing finalists at Jewish Schools Awards 2020 (Marc Morris Photography)

The community’s outstanding Jewish educators were honoured on Wednesday evening at the fifth annual Jewish Schools Awards.

Hosted by television presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, the joint initiative between Jewish News and Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) saw 250 guests enjoy a glamorous gala evening at Kinloss Synagogue.

Five awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award were handed out, with winners receiving £5,000 for a project of their choice and runners-up each getting £1,000.

The evening also featured a memorable new Dragon’s Den-style competition in which six teams of innovative students from Jewish primary and secondary schools pitched for project funding.

Projects varied from an ‘Eco-Club’ to a ‘Broadcasting and Radio Studio’, with one donor, Andrew Wolfson, of The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, so impressed that he agreed to fund all of the initiatives.

Collaboration was the theme of the first two teaching awards, with Immanuel College’s Naomi Amdurer honoured for Curriculum Collaboration in a Secondary School, and Rabbi Joshua Conway and Morah Bilha Cohen from Nancy Reuben Primary School jointly picking up the equivalent primary school award.

Jewish Schools Awards 2020 (Marc Morris Photography)

Naomi chairs Shevet Achim, the school’s social action and charity committee. The initiative has successfully engaged 100 students on a fortnightly basis, with pupils feeling “uniquely geared up for the outside world”.

For Naomi, the very best teachers always put their pupils first, motivating them with “gentle encouragement” and having their best interests at heart. With the prize money, Naomi intends to grow Shevet Achim further, whilst doing “something amazing” for charity or social action.

Rabbi Conway and Morah Bilha Cohen sought inspiration from further afield: the pair led Year 6 pupils on a “pioneering” trip to Rome, learning about Jewish and secular teaching. For Rabbi Conway, the “opportunity to create tomorrow’s leaders today” motivates him, with Bilha adding that you’ve got to “work hard each day” for the best outcomes. And the prize money? The pair laugh: “We might have to fight over it!”

Host Natasha Kaplinsky during the Jewish Schools Awards 2020
(Marc Morris Photography)

The evening included a tribute to the Central Specialist Crime team of the Metropolitan Police, who “quite literally saved lives” in response to a serious case impacting the Jewish community.

Accepting an award, Detective Inspector Mark Rogers described working with PaJeS as “one of the most rewarding projects” he’d undertaken in his 20-year career.

Ofrit Selby, of the King David High School in Manchester, won the Beyond the Classroom Award in a Secondary School, with Rebbe Dovi Colman receiving the equivalent primary school accolade.

A mathematics teacher by trade, it is Ofrit’s work outside the classroom which has caught the eye. She is in the early stages of creating an allotment, enabling students who struggle socially to collaborate in a healthy environment.

For Ofrit, the project has afforded pupils the opportunity to uniquely “express themselves” in an environment free of the constraints of a classroom. After all, she laughs, “working in the mud doesn’t requires too many skills!” With the prize money, Ofrit will invest in facilities for the allotment, including a proper fence, small shed and gardening tools accessible to all ages.

Children on stage after taking part in the Dragons’ Den initiative. (Marc Morris Photography)

For Rebbe Colman, opening children’s eyes to the possibilities of “making a real difference” motivates him. A gifted project leader, his ethos is to “teach the child, not the subject”. His advice to new teachers is always to treat each child as an individual to truly understand their needs. Plus, he smiles, “always remember, it gets easier!”

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Lord Sacks to Lira Winston, who has worked as the Assistant Director of PaJeS since 2012.

In his speech, the former Chief Rabbi praised the educators being honoured as the “most important people in Anglo Jewry” for their role as “shapers of the Jewish future”.

Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer rings the end-of-day bell to conclude the 2020 Jewish Schools Awards.

The final Volunteer Award went to Clare Zinkin of Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School, for single-handedly building and maintaining the school’s library.

The children’s publisher passionately described reading as the “most important thing for a child’s future”, which has driven her to create a “sanctuary” where she can create “readers for life.” Clare will use the prize money to secure a patron of reading- and of course buy books!

Reflecting on the evening, Rabbi David Meyer, Executive Director of PaJeS, said: “Tonight has been a truly special event since everyone here cares so much about Jewish education. All our finalists are champions, working towards the shared goal of ensuring our young people emerge as future leaders.”


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