A transsexual singer and a Zionist state spark heated debates in Liverpool. Elaine Williams reports.
THE HOT topic at King David high school this week was the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest - an Israeli transsexual.
Situated on the King David Foundation campus, which educates most of Liverpool's Jewish children from kindergarten to sixth form, the school is unusual in representing the range of British Jewry, from Orthodox to liberal.
Dana International's victory, coming as it does between Israel's 50th birthday celebrations and the school's own 40th anniversary, sparked heated debate. For 17-year-old Oliver Goldenberg it is proof that Israel has finally come of age, but Rachel Graham, also 17, feels Dana's selection was an act of provocation by liberal Jews to goad the ultra-Orthodox.
What happens in Israel is also a matter of intense interest to the sixth-formers. Although the majority are Merseyside-born, they regard Israel as their home.
Debbie Fineberg, 18, seemed to speak for many when she said: "If anything did happen again like the Holocaust, it would be our safe haven, just as it has been for the Ethiopians and the Russians".
Vikki Lawrence, 18, agreed: "I'm proud to be Jewish and I do feel part of Israel, more than I feel part of England."
As the only Jewish school in the northern hemisphere which also accepts non-Jewish pupils, it is a unique institution. Although its Jewish children are educated in modern Orthodoxy and GCSE Jewish studies and modern Hebrew are compulsory (non-Jewish children follow a parallel course in world-religion), they are enabled to keep an open mind on Israel.
Nevertheless, Israel's 50th birthday was celebrated with exuberance. A morning service was followed by an Israeli breakfast. Falafels (spicy chick pea and salad in pitta bread) were served during the day and the children participated in Israeli games and dances.
Despite being knowledgeable about the divisive state of Israeli politics these sixth- formers wanted to spend at least some of their adult life in the country and most said they would be prepared to fight for it.
Robert Lamb, 18, like others, calls himself a Zionist. "That doesn't mean I'm racist. I think the Arabs are part of Israel, but it means I love and respect Israel."
Year 9 pupils spend a study period in a village in Mount Carmel, populated by Jews from around the world including Ethiopia, Russia, Brazil and Italy.
"They don't see it as a fairy-tale place," said Michael Gillis, head of Jewish Studies, "we don't shy away from the issues and problems besetting Israel, otherwise we would not be helping them at all."