Children’s rabbi wades into ‘shul versus schools’ debate

Children’s rabbi wades into ‘shul versus schools’ debate

Alex Chapper says community is “missing an opportunity” to link schools and shuls

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

School kids
School kids

A leading London rabbi with responsibility for children has waded into the debate about the effects of Jewish schools on shuls, saying an annual shul visit should be on every school’s curriculum

Rabbi Alex Chapper, the Children’s Rabbi at Ilford Federation Synagogue, said the community was “missing an opportunity” to link schools and shuls, and that rabbis’ contribution in class often felt like a “mere token at certain times of year”.

He added that it was “ironic” that he welcomes “more non-Jewish schoolchildren to the synagogue during the academic year than Jewish children”.

Chapper was speaking after a special report for Jewish News (‘Shul Versus School,’ 2 June) published earlier this month, he argued that parents were not thinking about how their children would maintain their Jewish identity beyond school.

Rabbi Alex Chapper
Rabbi Alex Chapper

“For many parents, sending their children to a Jewish school is seen as sufficiently providing for the development of their Jewish education and identity without considering that later in life they may need to find this in other communal institutions.”

He said: “We miss an opportunity by not establishing greater integration and connection between schools and shuls,” adding: “Surely an annual class visit to a Synagogue should be a minimum on every Jewish studies curriculum?”

The debate follows announcements of two new Jewish schools in north London, and a recent strategic review by United Synagogue, which acknowledged that “where synagogues were once the central way for young Jews to socialise with each other, they now meet in school”.

Chapper said: “Of course, there are a number of communal Rabbonim who regularly contribute to Jewish Studies lessons within the schools, however much of our attendance can feel as a mere token at certain occasions during the year.

“It would be much better for schools and shuls to work in partnership to create a real experience of Jewish life which extends beyond the classroom and into the Synagogue,” he said, adding: “I would welcome a conversation.”

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