I write in the midst of Chanukah, a festival which some may argue has assumed a greater profile in recent decades than it perhaps deserves in terms of religious significance. Quite apart from any thematic overlap to Christmas, this year for the first time since 1888 the first night coincided in the USA with Thanksgiving. (If you missed it, there’s another chance to experience this coincidence in the year 79811: will there be any oil left at all by then?) Needless to say, this has been dubbed “Thanksgivukah” and there is a nice irony to it all: a politically secular nation gives thanks for the spirit of religious freedom that inspired its founders, while an ancient religion gives thanks for overcoming oppression by the surrounding political culture.
Mr Rosenberg and I were delighted to represent JCoSS at a Chanukah Reception at 10 Downing Street where the candles were lit by the Prime Minister and the brachot (blessings) were led by the new Chief Rabbi. A mixture of the political and the religious, and also a mixture of the public and the private, since (as Rabbi Mirvis pointed out) 10 Downing Street is David Cameron’s family home whilst in office as well as his place of work. And all of this fits Chanukah too, since it is the festival which more than any other spills out of the home into the public arena, taking the theme of Jewish distinctiveness and resilience amidst whatever might seek to assimilate or compromise its integrity. JCoSS, of course, upholds the integrity of the individual and of the community in a fruitful balance, and we hope our students may one day fill both these august offices: now there is an aspiration!
We have been celebrating in new ways at school, gathering the entire community of 800 students into the Heart Space at the end of each day with a series of guest speakers addressing us before the candle lighting. The Chanukiah on our Greetings email to parents and friends of JCoSS was the work of Josh Samuels, one of our Year 10 Art students, and has been enlarged to festoon the Heart Space. As the students leave each day amidst the gathering gloom they can see our wonderful outdoor Chanukiah and, we hope, pausing for thought that they too might be lights to the nations.
Reflecting the centrality of the Jewish Ethos to JCoSS, we have taken the decision that the post of Director of Jewish Education should have the status of Deputy Head. I have pleasure in announcing that Elaine Robinson has been appointed to that post, building upon the excellent work she has done thus far as Assistant Head. Her professional and personal qualities have contributed hugely to the success of the school and it is wonderful to be able to recognise that in this way.
Meanwhile, Mike Grabiner has stepped down from the role of Chair of Governors which he has filled for almost as long as JCoSS has existed and considerably longer than we have had a building or students. He has been a gigantic source of support, wisdom, expertise and acute strategic thinking for the school, and a very significant personal support to me as Headteacher. We are glad that he will continue as a Governor and as a JCoSS Trustee and continue his distinguished contribution to the JCoSS Community.
His place as Chair is taken by Jeremy Kosky: Jeremy is Litigation Partner at Clifford Chance, and has been working closely with Mike and myself in his role as Vice-Chair. I am delighted to have this continuity of stalwart support and professional expertise, and this is a good opportunity for me to pay tribute to the whole Governing Body whose critical friendship and generosity of time and spirit are so important – though often out of the public eye – to what goes right at JCoSS. You can read the outcomes of recent elections of parent and staff Governors on later pages of this newsletter.
I wish you all Chanukah Sameach and best wishes for the rest of the term and for the holidays.