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Jewish Free School
Celebrating 280 Years
Of Proud Existence & Excellence
A Website in Honour of
All School Mentors, Educators
& Fellow-Alumni / Alumnae
From 1732 to Present-Day

Jews Free School, Bell Lane Pic
JFS Website

Design & Programming:
Doron Zur

Visit Doron Zur's Profile & Bio Page

All Trademarks And Copyrights Are Duly Acknowledged

Welcome to my Jewish Free School Private Website.

My name is Doron Zur and I come from The State Of Israel.

The Jewish Free School (JFS) Website is a living monument in Honour of all Mentors, Educators and Fellow-Alumni / Alumnae
from 1732 to present day.

I shall ever be indebted to my JFS Camden Town School Mentors and Educators who have embraced me with their love and affection offering me a fine education and handing me the proper tools to cope with in later life.

Personal Background:

I arrived at JFS Camden Town in April of 1969 from The State Of Israel shortly after the 1967 Six Days War.
I came from a country of a completely different mentality, very much estranged from the British mentality.
I came from a country which applied different behavioural codes in both manners and conduct.

Social behavioural codes of conduct may vary quite largely between countries and nations.
Therefore I am here not to pass judgement or grade which way of life, manner or conduct is the right one.
For there is no right or wrong here.
I am simply stating a fact:
as a 14 years old youth arriving from a foreign country I had to adjust myself, and very quickly
to the new country, to the new school environment.
I had to start from literally zero.

I learned a lot from the British School, in manners of conduct, in social behaviour,
in almost all codes and walks of life.

It was not only a school to achieve academic results, it was a University of Life.

Today as an adult I well appreciate the deep educational values I received from JFS.
Once I had embedded the correct local codes of behaviour I could get on with my studies, not before.
Once I mastered the eloquence and fluency of the English Language I could delve into the complexity of
my studies with greater ease and thus eventually emerge with a British High-School Graduation Diploma
comprising of several British General Certificate of Education (GCE) Examinations
totalling 5 Ordinary Levels and 4 Advanced Levels, making me eligible for University Admission
throughout the United Kingdom.

Upon my graduation I was honoured with receiving the Nathan Rubin Prize for outstanding achievment
in Advanced Level Religious Knowledge (R.K.), Tanakh, The Hebrew Bible.

I shall ever be indebted to my British educators who have made me into a mature well educated True English Gentleman.

I find many a similarity to my own initial struggle with the new British environment in Dr. Gerry Black's book:
'J.F.S. The History Of The Jews' Free School, London since 1732'
Dr. Black Describes in the chapter 'From Immigrant To Englishman' (p.123)
the mix of immigrant students at JFS which the school sought to adapt to English ways:
'Today, historians and sociologists...use words such as acculturation, assimilation and integration...
'Anglicization' is used here to mean teaching the pupils to adapt to English usages
in speech, in manner, in mental attitude, and in principles,
in such a way as to enable them to integrate successfully into the wider community.'

Indeed as a newcomer from Israel I felt no different than the average immigrant felt arriving at a new foreign place,
with alien behavioural codes.

This website is a true tribute in honour, respect and everlasting memory to my wonderful educators,
some of whom are sadly no longer with us.

Among them I shall mention with love and admiration Dr. Edward Conway, Headmaster of JFS, Camden Town,
and Dr. Andrew Kampfner Head of Hebrew Studies, my great mentor:
Dr. Kampfner was a survivor of Auschwitz and the mezzuzah he carried with him through the horrors of the camp
was placed in a case in the JFS Sixth Form Common Room.

Jfs History:

"The Jews' Free School, London -or JFS as it is most commonly known - is one of the oldest Jewish schools in existence and one of Anglo-Jewry's most important institutions.
in 1900, when JFS had 4,250 pupils, it was the largest school in Europe - probably the largest in the world.
Since its foundation in 1732, more than 75,000 pupils have passed throught its doors, and it has attracted praise from both the Jewish and non-Jewish community." (Dr. Gerry Black, J.F.S. The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732, page 1).
Today it is a mixed comprehensive school in Kenton, north London, England: JFS Today
  • Talmud Torah
However, things were not so bright and colourful at the first years of this great establishment.
Almost 300 years ago, in 1732, JFS started as a Talmud Torah (religious school) attached to the Great Synagogue in the poverty-stricken environment of Spitafields in the Jewish quarter of the East End of London.
Dr. Gerry Black in his book, "J.F.S. The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732" quotes from Lord Shaftesbury's description of the terrible living conditions of the inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter:
"...if they be not choked with squalid grarments or sickly children, they lead the eye through an almost interminable vista of filth and distress...The pavement, where there is any, rugged and broken, is bespattered with dirt of every hue, ancient enough to rank with fossils, but offensive as the most recent deposits."
(Dr. Gerry Black, J.F.S. The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732, page 2).
Preserving the Jewish Faith

From early in the 19th century social reformers had been coming to recognise the importance of offering elementary schooling to the masses. This, the reformers argued, would take children off the streets, give them a sense of morality, and give them the chance of a stable occupation when they grew up - urgent needs in the crime-ridden cities.

It would take until the 1870s for the reformers' aims to be realised in free elementary education for all, paid from taxes.

In the earlier part of the century, it was up to the churches to take the lead in expanding provision in their own schools.
When there was no alternative, Jewish children attended these church schools,
though all of them promoted a Christian curriculum to a greater or lesser degree.

Those run by the British and Foreign Schools Society (a Nonconformist organisation) were relatively accommodating towards families
with a different religious conscience.
Others, however, such as those run by the London Missionary Society and the
London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, expressly aimed to convert their pupils to Christianity.
The Chief Rabbi, Solomon Hirschell,became so concerned about their activities that,
in 1807, he proclaimed that any parents sending their child to a missionary school would forfeit the right to be regarded as Jewish.

This was the troubled background against which the JFS was founded in 1817.
(From the Sassienie Com Archive Links-JFS)

Advancing and Modernising Jewish Education

Some years earlier between 1811 and 1817 it was decided to add a large elementary school to the Talmud Torah. This was an important step towards not only preserving the Jewish faith but also advancing and modernizing Jewish education by meeting with the daily demands of life. The Jewish communal magnates of the day decided to refashion the young by taking them off the streets and putting them into a modern Jewish school where they would learn artisan skills and English manners.
Dr. Black explains in his book: [the Jewish communal magnates] reasoned that if the children of the Jewish poor were allowed to remain uneducated, they would succumb 'to all the temptations and profligacy with which this great metropolis abounds, and must inevitably fall early victims to vice and crime: thus reflecting indelible disgrace on the community to they belong'.

On October 1816 the new School building was in a state of forwardship, and an entrance was obtained through Ebenezer Square.
Dr. Black further adds that on 13 April 1817, the first Sunday after Pesach preparations were made to open the School for registration and that on that day, 102 boys enrolled, aged from seven years upwards.
With Henry Naphtali Solomon as School Master, teaching began three days later - the first day in the life of what was to become the largest elementary school in the world.
(Dr. Gerry Black, J.F.S. The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732, pp. 33-35).

To quote from the Exploring 20th century London Project website:
For more than 100 years, most pupils arrived at J.F.S. unable to speak English. The school provided them with a refuge, educated them in both secular and religious studies, anglicised them, and sent them out into the wider community. Pupil numbers rapidly increased, and pressure grew for J.F.S. to admit girls, so in 1822 it moved to larger premises in nearby Bell Lane.
  • Bell Lane
To quote from Dr. Black's book the foundation stone of the Bell Lane Jews' Free School read:
"The first stone of this building for the Education, Clothing and Apprenticing twenty-one Boys, and the Girls,
was laid on the 10th day of May 1821, by Samuel Joseph, Esqre, President
accompanied by The Reverend Solomon Herschell, Chief Rabbi J.H. Myers M.D., Joseph Cohen Esqr. Vice-President,
Joshua Van Oven Esqr. Vice-President, Aaron Joseph, Esqr. Treasurer".
(Dr. Gerry Black, J.F.S. The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732, p. 38).

The Jews' Free School at Bell Lane opened in January 1822.
The Bell Lane School building was divided into three separate departments:
the original Talmud Torah, a Boys' School, and a Girls' School.
Mrs.Leah Barnett was elected as the Girls' School Governess.
The girls were trained in domestic duties, like needlework, knitting, cooking and laundry.
"Their curriculum included plain and oranmental needlework, dressmaking -hemming, sewing, stitching,
marking, herring boning and knitting -and laundry"
(Dr. Gerry Black, J.F.S The History of the Jews' Free School, London since 1732, p.41).

It was hard,though,to get girls to attend regularly, since they were often required
to stay at home for domestic duties.
The girls were also particularly susceptible to chilblains which kept many of them away during the winter months.

To Be Continued...