I’ve been a great believer in education, especially for children. That’s why before I went to rabbinical school I spent two years in Manchester, first getting my teaching qualification then teaching Religious Studies at Manchester Grammar School. It felt really important to me that if I was going to be working in a community, that I should have some training in how to pass our wisdom and traditions down to the next generation.
It’s for this reason that I became a Parent Governor at Simon Marks Jewish Primary School, our wonderful local Jewish school. Indeed, the existence of Simon Marks was a big draw for my family in choosing to work for NSNS, knowing that we would have a place to send our children to learn what it meant to be Jewish alongside a secular education. Whenever I hear my girls singing Hebrew songs or discussing their plans for Purim I am reminded again how lucky I am to be able to send my kids to such a quality Jewish school.
I think that the pandemic made a lot of people stop and think about their lives and what they wanted from it. Over the course of the last two years I’ve seen a big increase in people looking to convert to Judaism, for example, but I’ve also seen a swell of interest in children’s education.
Back in the autumn, some parents came to me looking for a way of bringing more Jewish learning into their family lives. They wanted something to counterbalance our culture’s dominant Christian messages and festivals, a place to make Jewish friends and learn pride in our heritage. It felt important to the future of our community to be able to offer a place for this kind of education to happen, both for those who are not in Simon Marks and for those who want these connections to be strengthened within our own shul.
That’s why this past Sunday we held the first meeting of the Stokey Shul Sunday Club, welcoming kids aged 3-10 to have fun and learn about their Judaism. It’s a really big step in expanding our community, trying to give people of every age a way to make connections and find love and meaning in being Jewish.
This week’s Torah reading is parashat Terumah, the first in a series of readings about the building of the Tabernacle, the mobile temple, in the wilderness. The Israelites are instructed to make “two cherubim of gold – of hammered work – at the two ends of the [Ark] cover” (Ex 25:18). What are the cherubim? While Ezekiel describes them as being strange, monstrous beings with four faces (“Each one had four faces: One was a cherub’s face, the second a human face, the third a lion’s face, and the fourth an eagle’s face” Ez 10:14), the sages of the Talmud imagined them differently:
At the centre of our holiest site, on top of the ark of the covenant, are two children looking at each other, and it’s out of the space between the two of them that God speaks.
Relationships and human connections must always be at the core of what we do, whether with adults or children, but I think it is striking that it is the connection between children that Rabbi Abbahu enshrines as the space from which God’s voice emerges.
Whether it’s at our new Sunday Club, at Simon Marks, in Shul on Shabbat morning, or in our many opportunities for connecting in our own homes, education must be at the core of what we do. It’s through education that we can pass on our ancestral wisdom, through education that God’s voice can continue to be heard in the world.
If you’d like to hear more about Simon Marks or our Sunday Club please be in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org