A Frank debate
A decision by a Jewish secondary in Liverpool not to follow other schools on a trip to a Holocaust exhibition because it is held in a church, has received mixed reactions.
King David School decided last week that its pupils would not take part in a school trip to see a replica of Anne Frank’s bedroom, built as part of Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations, because it is sited in Liverpool Cathedral.
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The decision, made by Jewish Studies head Rabbi Aaron Balkany and backed by senior Liverpool Rabbi Lionel Cofnas, was based on halachic rules prohibiting Jews from entering other places of worship except for extenuating circumstances such as state occasions.
But the decision has sparked an intense debate. Freda Brogarth, a past secretary of the school’s Parents Teachers Association, expressed fear that the decision would cause trouble between pupils in a school where there is a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish students. She wrote one of a series of letters in another Jewish newspaper objecting to the decision.
Brogarth, 81, a member of Childwall Hebrew Congregation, told TJ: “A lot of people have agreed with my article. People feel that the children mixing is a good way to stop anti-semitism.
This decision will cause trouble amongst the children. We are supposed to be the capital of culture.”
Criticism also came from a senior Reform rabbi. Maidenhead Synagogue’s Rabbi Jonathan Romain labelled the move “daft”, adding: “We extend invitations regularly for people to come to synagogue.
It has to be mutual. It gives out the wrong signal. It gives out a terribly negative message about who we are and our ability to be part of wider society.”
He added: “What are they afraid of? That people will suddenly start singing hallelujah and getting baptised? The sooner the policy is reversed the less embarrassed everyone will be.”
The exhibition, built by the Anne Frank Trust UK, will instead visit the school afterwards and King David has stressed that they would not seek to stand in the way of individual parents taking their children in the meantime. But Barry Fineberg, who has a 15-year-old son at the school, told TJ: “If there is no problem taking my son personally, why should a school trip be an issue.”
Another head teacher, Laurie Rosenberg, of Jewish primary Simon Marks in Stamford Hill, said he would have “no hesitation whatsoever” about a school trip to an Anne Frank
exhibition even if it was in a church. “However,” he said, “I would also ensure that parents and carers had an opportunity to ‘opt out’ if they were concerned either about the location or indeed the content.”
Although she refused to directly criticised the move, Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “It seems a great shame that not every school will now visit this exhibition due to its location and I do worry about what sort of message this sends out. However, I am pleased that the exhibition will be travelling to certain schools afterwards to ensure every student has an opportunity to the past.”
The Anne Frank Trust said it respected the school’s wishes.
Support also came from Rabbi Alan Plancey, the member of the Chief Rabbi’s Cabinet with responsibility for Jewish-Christian Relations. He said: “We cannot change the halacha. The church knows when I can go in and when I can’t go. We have to respect each other’s differences.”
King David’s head, Bridgitte Smith, said: “Nobody has been banned from going. We have made arrangements for the exhibition to come to the school when it is finished. We took rabbinical advice that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a school trip. Anybody can go but not under a school visit.”
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