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Non-orthodox Jews get schools

Four new primaries aim to admit all strands of the Jewish faith, reports Denise Winterman.

THE "scandal" of many Jewish children being denied a faith-based education has prompted the establishment of four primaries.

The school board which represents liberal, reform and conservative synagogues has launched a programme to build schools that will embrace all streams of Judaism. There are also plans for a secondary school.

Most established Jewish schools teach only a strictly orthodox approach to Judaism. But the increasing demand for primary schools among non-orthodox Jews - who cannot get their children into orthodox schools - has prompted the move.

"Our aim is to raise literate young Jewish people who are comfortable in their faith and in the multi-cultural society they live in," said Rabbi Dr Michael Shire, a member of the Jewish Community Day School Advisory Board and director of the Centre for Jewish Education in Finchley, London.

"In the Jewish faith there are many problems with status. A substantial number of people are not officially recognised as Jewish and are being disadvantaged by not being offered a Jewish education.

"It is a scandal that we want to put right.

"We want the new schools to value the diversity of the Jewish community and recognise that people keep the faith in different ways.

"We also want our students to value different religions and will be teaching religious education in all the schools. This is not donein orthodox schools."

Two "cross-community" primary schools have already been opened by the board and have been a huge success.

The Clore Shalom school in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and the Clore Tikva school in Redbridge, Essex, opened last year, have up to 120 students each and have long waiting-lists.

Both are modelled on the Akiva school in London, a private school which opened some 20 years ago and promotes an ethos of inclusion.

The cost of establishing the four new schools will be paid for by donations from organisations, including the Clore Foundation, a charity which funds arts and education. Like the two already established, the primaries will be voluntary-aided and receive 60 to 85 per cent of capital funding from local education authorities.

The location of the schools has not yet been revealed, but it is hoped that once they are open the number of places at cross-community Jewish primary schools will climb to 2,500.

Peter Levy, chairman of the advisory board, said: "Many more families are looking for primary Jewish education. Akiva school is a tremendous success in this field and the new schools will follow the same pattern.

"More importantly they will offer a choice for Jewish education to pupils who might find difficulty in gaining entry to orthodox Jewish schools. The Clore Foundation's commitment to this initiative has been invaluable."

The board's plans for a secondary are still at a very early stage.

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