Ahead of next week’s fifth annual Jewish School Awards, we profile educators who go 'beyond the classroom' to support young pupils.
The world of Jewish education was this week preparing for its very own Oscars night on 11 February, ahead of the fifth annual school awards.
Organised by Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) and partnered by Jewish News, the awards are the community’s chance to honour those best prepping the next generation across Jewish schools up and down the country.
Among the judges is Kate Goldberg of the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation, former chair of the Jewish Teacher Training Partnership, Naomi Greenwood, founding director of Jewish Volunteering Network Leonie Lewis, and consultant paediatrician Dr Michael Markiewicz.
PaJeS director Rabbi David Meyer said: “I am proud to see how the awards have grown in the last five years. It is always wonderful to see all those teachers and school staff who have been recognised for their hard work and yet again this year the calibre of those not only shortlisted but nominated has been extremely high.”
The awards are sponsored by The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, Genesis Philanthropy Group and The Emmes Foundation.
This year teachers who go “beyond the classroom” are being honoured in a category that has unearthed some inspiring ideas.
In the primary school category, Mosaic’s Year 1 teacher Rosie Cohen made a handbook for non-Jewish teachers to help them deliver lessons regarding aspects of Jewish life, and arranges for her pupils to collect food for food banks with Catholic youngsters.
At Broughton Jewish Cassel Fox Primary, Rabbi Dovi Colman gets students to visit and performance at old folks’ homes, and to make hot food for the City’s homeless, leaving colleagues praising his “enthusiasm and ability to think out of the box”.
Meanwhile at Hasmonean, learning support assistant Wendy Hilliar created the school’s Sensory Hub, fundraising and sourcing all the equipment herself. She also runs a breakfast club before school and a homework club after school. Colleagues get tired just watching her, and call her “a total star”.
In the “beyond the classroom” secondary school category, colleagues say that the dedication of Yavneh’s Year 8 head Ben Gordon “knows no bounds”, and that he arranges school trips and organises extracurricular activities, providing volunteering opportunities and inviting speakers into the school.
At Immanuel College, Sarah Perlberg takes Year 8 to Normandy and Year 10 to Strasbourg, infusing them with history, culture, geography, Jewish studies, ice cream, and French. Colleagues say she always “puts the pupils first”, which is just as well.
In Manchester, maths teacher Ofrit Selby has given King David 30 years’ service and shows no sign of slowing down, having recently begun a school ‘evening and Sunday’ allotment, involving students who have struggled socially, to help them regain confidence and self-esteem. Colleagues call her “an outstanding teacher who gives freely of her time,” but will it be her hour at the ceremony?
The awards this year also honour “school-based volunteering”. In the primary category is Nancy Reuben’s Allegra Benita. Like Selby in Manchester, Benita has set up a garden at the school, letting her green-fingered charges plant and harvest, creating ‘Soup Day,’ ‘Younger Gardener of the Year’ and ‘Grow Your Own Spuds’. Responsible for the Year 6 Ulpan, Graham Morris has been involved at North West London Jewish Day School for more than 50 years as a governor, trustee and committee chair.
Clare Zinkin at Etz Chaim single-handedly designed and created the school library, which she currently runs. Using her knowledge of publishing, she fosters a love of books and reading, runs the lunchtime library club and the morning book club, and offers children personalised recommendations. Teachers describe her as “incredible”, but will her story end in a win?
Collaboration between Jewish and secular studies is being honoured, and heading the primary school category are Rabbi Joshua Conway and Morah Bilha Cohen, who took Nancy Reuben’s Year 6 to Rome. It was so successful that governors made it an annual trip.
At Broughton, Lucy Potts and Shaba Burton collaborated to create a STEM-based project rooted within the Jewish festivals, so for Rosh Hashanah pupils investigate the sound vibrations of the shofar and test the viscosity of honey, while for Chanukah they research flammable materials like oil for the menorah. Colleagues say it “has brought the concepts of Judaism in the real world to life”.
At Manchester Jewish School for Special Education, teachers such as Jennifer Lalouche, Elise Waldman, Shmuel Heimann and Bernhard David “work harmoniously”. In maths lessons, for instance, children use measurement and geometry to understand building a sukkah, while “checking for bugs in a Kodesh lesson is reinforced in a food tech lesson”. Will it measure up for the judges?
In the secondary school category for collaborations, Naomi Amdurer at Immanuel “gives pupils a sense of social conscience”. She gets them onto youth leadership and volunteering award schemes, running the Shalva marathon in Israel, and travelling to Odessa to visit the Tikva orphanage, alongside Chanukah fairs and trips to old folks’ homes. Benjy Myers at Manchester Mesivta also “works tirelessly” to give students a good balance between their A-levels results and Talmudic skills, such as by arranging trips to parliament and Eastern Europe.
Colleagues say this “enhances Jewish history studies”. Meanwhile, October Wright at King David High School Liverpool helps teachers incorporate Jewish themes into their subjects.
She has rebranded classrooms with names of famous Jewish personalities, initiated a lunchtime “Jewish discussion group” and arranged the Maccabeats concert for 450 people. But will the panel sing her praise?