Something unprecedented has happened on the pages of the Jewish Chronicle lately. Debate has broken out! Instead of all the tired orthodoxies and cliches being regurgitated with just the headlines changing weekly, there has been open disagreement among contributors and correspondents to the paper.
What’s it all about? It’s over the JFS “who is a Jew?” issue. Should the JFS be able to say which kind of Jews can benefit from its education facilities. Or should a Jewish education be defined by its content and not by questioning the Jew-credit-rating of those who want to sign up for it?
Fascinating as far as it goes, but so frustrating that the much bigger question has been avoided, which is: why are so many Jewish parents so desperate for their children to go to a Jewish school in the first place?
Sure there are a proportion of ghettoised right-wing Jews whose racism and commitment to social snobbery puts them in fear of mixing with non-Jews/working class/black children. And their numbers may be growing, What do they think is going to happen? That their boys might start growing their foreskins back, that their girls might think there is more to life than lighting candles on a Friday and shopping in Brent Cross?
And, of course, there are those parents who are susceptible to the constant drip-feed of “don’t trust the goyim/let’s keep to ourselves/antisemitism is everywhere” messages, that slip without effort (or thought) from the tongues of our communal leaders.
But I would guess that there are a lot of Jewish parents who send their kids to Jewish schools for none of these reasons. Perhaps it is fear or at least a terrible lack of confidence – that they cannot successfully transmit Jewish culture to their children, so they will send them to an institution that can.
Real, organically evolving Jewish culture is precisely what emerges as a result of and at the point of Jewish contact with the surrounding society. What is given to them in hermetically-sealed totally Jewish schools can only be an ossified, plastic, conservative version of Jewishness.
And what does it say about these Jewish parents’ vision of the future? While many cities in Britain are becoming much more diverse, exciting places to be where cultures mix and develop, do they really want to lead a voluntary return to the ghetto? Or do we want our kids to be part of the society around them, proud of who they are but also able to treat other cultures as equals?