Friday, 22 April 2016

Year 6 Take Charge

It has been a little while since I posted something.  Today's post has been driven by our Year 6 students.

We are closing early today for Pesach.  Many of our Jewish staff have been released to ensure their house is ready for Pesach and in both schools no food or drink has been consumed since 10.30am.  No school meals are being served.

It has been decided by the staff that we would not hold Kabbalat Shabbat this morning as we would not have the staff to lead it however Year 6 had other ideas.  This is what they said...

Year Six save the day!

Friday 22 April, Year Six took over Brodetsky’s weekly Kaballat Shabbat assembly.  It all started when Mrs. Gill announced that there would be no Shabbat assembly unless they could act fast, co-operate and be the heroes of the hour.


Without a moment’s hesitation, Year Six were down in the Morris Silman Hall preparing the Shabbat table and arranging dozens of chairs! Despite the short notice they were able pull off an outstanding and very lively assembly! First year six take over assembly, what next...?


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Krakow and Auschwitz - A Personal Reflection

Sadly modern technology did not allow me to update my blog in Poland so please accept a post from the days after.

We had a very early start leaving the UK at 5.30am but this did allow a very full day program to be put in place. 

We started in the Jewish quarter of Krakow. This is different to the Jewish Ghetto created elsewhere in the city during the war. Krakow currently has a Jewish community of around 1000 people compared to the 65 000 Jews living in the city before 1939.

It was great to see an area of the city where Jewish life and culture is now celebrated and enjoyed by so many, flying in the face of the Nazi plans for the city.

We were able to visit a shul that had survived the second world war and also walk through the Jewish cemetery, stones resting along the top of all the graves. One wall of the cemetery is made up of broken headstones, smashed during the war, another reminder of the attempt to erase Jews from modern history.

Some treat this wall in a similar way to the Western Wall, pushing bits of paper between the gaps, each bearing prayer, memory or person's name.

As you leave the grounds of the cemetery plaques on the walls, some in Hebrew and others in English, detail some of those lost to the Holocaust.  This one plaque remembers 88 members of one family that were killed.

The next stop on our tour was the square that sat at the heart of the Jewish ghetto between 1941 and 1943.  Despite newer buildings being built on one side of the square there are buildings that housed people during this period, still standing and looking down on the square where internees were catalogued, checked and imprisoned.  The square now houses a modern sculpture made up of large chairs. 

Our guide explained they represent the way that absentees were identified in a house when checks were made, an empty chair meant someone had died or escaped.  An alternative theory was also given that they represent the chairs used by German soldiers as they sat at desks recording the details of attendees.  The accuracy is not important.  Either version represents the idea of confinement and the removal of personal identity even before someone was then moved to the camps.

At this point I had an almost surreal opportunity to discuss Brodetsky and LJFS with the Chief Rabbi. He asked about the schools and how they were developing, pleased to hear of their growth and development. This was not surreal because of the subject matter but because we were discussing it in a place where any ambition for such schools was squeezed from the lives of the Jewish inhabitants of Krakow.

After a brief visit to Schindler's factory we then started our journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Half the day had been allocated for what would always be the hardest part of the visit.

As this was my first visit to one of the camps I had only the knowledge gained from documentaries, films and books to guide my expectations.  None of these prepare you for the ordered, municipal and systematic nature of the camps.

Auschwitz 1 has been developed to serve as a horrific museum and for some it must seem unreal and not all take in the enormity of what they are seeing.  One overheard conversation involving three British school girls bemoaned the lack of 'even a chip shop' as they were hungry.  An unbelievable defiance of what they had seen or were about to see.  

However everyone else toured in almost silence, listening to their guides carefully via headphones and taking in what they were seeing.  The main consistent noise was the shuffling of feet as groups moved from horror to horror.  One of my collegaues observed that they heard no bird song whilst inside the camp. It may have been chance but one cannot discount nature trying to avoid this place.

The camp, a former barracks, was made up of large brick buildings, the steps worn and uneven.  For myself the act of climbing these steps was a challenge, my physical difficulties coming to the fore. Imagine doing this when starved, abused and isolated.

One room contained 2 tons of human hair, shaved from the heads of women and girls and greyed by Zyklon B, the pesticide used by the Nazi's in the gas chambers.

This hair is the last tangible evidence of the living people who died in this camp.  To then see the evidence that this was treated like fleece shorn from sheep to be then woven into cloth is a stark reminder that to the Nazi's these were not people.

Other rooms contained thousands of pairs of shoes, glasses, suitcases and prosthetic limbs.  The shoes gave further testimony to the life led before coming to the camp.  Most were comfortable and well made shoes, some were more basic and evidence of poverty.  All were worn and broken showing that the wearer did not have an easy journey to the camp.

A small cabinet showed a few remaining possessions of some of the children who suffered and died in this place.  Every parent looking at this could only imagine their own child being placed in such a place and being left to their fate.

Of all the exhibits the 
hardest to view and 
appreciate is a simple
glass urn on granite 
plinth.  It contains ash
scooped from the
ground of the furnace. 

I had not known until this 
visit the ash was often 
used to fertilise the land and in the construction of roads, an 
unbelievable final debasement of  the victims.

The final walk from the camp passed further lines of electrical fencing and the debris of the wall built to segregate the men and the women in a camp that could house 15 000 people at any one time.

We came to the chamber and furnace, still standing.  It is the one place I could not bring myself to take a photograph or linger too long.  To stand on the spot where so many people died and were destroyed is a sensation that cannot be described and I will not try.

We then travelled the short distance to Birkenau (Auschwitz 2).  The physical presence of this camp is very different to that of Auschwitz 1. It's sheer size and layout speaks of an industrial level plan, to take 100,000. It is systematic and designed for its only purpose.

As you walk through the gate and see the long extended railway track surrounded as far as you can see with the actual huts,laid out around them you can only start to imagine the impression made on each trainload of people as they arrived.

Arek Hersh (88 year old survivor of this camp) spoke to us as we gathered around the single cattle truck standing by the railway lines. He described arriving at this very spot with thousands of others and watching as a German military doctor viewed each person and pointed with his thumb to indicate which line they should stand in.

His young mind sensed what the intent was and he moved himself from his allocated line for women, children and the infirm, to that for the men.
He then explained the fate of the line he had left. They were taken immediately to the gas chambers, with no sense of their real fate.
Arek pulled up his sleeve to show the number he would be known by for his time in the camp. He was not allowed a name or any sense of individual identity.
I have questioned myself repeatedly since this, asking myself if I could return to a place of such personal horror and pain. I do not believe I could.

After Arek had spoken we walked alongside the track to the far end of the camp to a memorial area sitting between the ruins of the remaining gas chambers.  The camp had been kept open for us and, as the dark started to settle, a service began.
Towards the end of this Albi Chait, Chazon of UHC Shul and trip leader, sang the Memorial Prayer which cut through the still night air.  As he sang I turned and looked through the shadows of the camp at what must count as one of the most moving moments of my life.  These words, sung in Hebrew, carried intense pain, grief and longing for so many that had been lost.  But it also carried a sense of final victory over those that had attempted to destroy the Jewish people and all those others who did not fit the 'perfect world' of the Third Reich.
By this time my legs had decided that enough was enough and I set off with Lindsay Seaton and Hayley Mann to start the long walk back through the camp ahead of the main party.  As I took my slow and uneven steps I also reflect on the fact that many of those who had come to the camp may well have stumbled and fallen, weakened by starvation, cold and injury, on the same spots my feet rested on.  They, however, did not have a chance to take those steps out through the gates and to a full life nor have people like my colleagues to walk alongside me.
This is a personal reflection on a day that I had the privilege to take part in. Every person will have their own thoughts on what we saw and heard. I hope I have recorded what I heard accurately but if not please excuse the errors, it is all written from memory.  Please take this as it is intended and I hope that no-one is offended or upset by what I have shared.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Help - Post has disappeared

If anyone out there is a whizz with blogs you may be able to help.

I posted a long a detailed piece today an sometime after 6pm, whilst out of the house and way from the computer, it disappeared and cannot find a way of getting it back.

Any ideas?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A day in Poland

Tomorrow I am joining the Chief Rabbi and almost 300 members of the Leeds Jewish community in a visit to Auschwitz.

It is hard to say what I expect to feel as I have no reference point.

I know that this will be different for each member of the party which will include a holocaust survivor, family members of victims and those connected just by their Jewish heritage.

My closest connection is knowing that my grandfather was one of the first British soldiers into Belsen. The experience was so traumatic he would not talk about it. Whilst thinking of the millions of victims I will also think of his generation who worked hard to ensure it could never happen again.

I will share my thoughts during the day to tomorrow, signal and tariffs allowing.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sport Relief

The Brodetsky pupils will be raising funds for Sport Relief today.  In the busy run up to Pesach and SATs we looked for a way that we could do this in a manageable way.

This became 'Come to School in Trainers Day'.  The pupils were, as we do every Friday, invited to bring in Tzedokah for the privilege with all the proceeds this week going to Sport Relief.

To get the day started a 'vigorous' assembly was planned.  Staff led the pupils in a 'Wake Up - Shake Up' assembly.

What should not be forgotten amongst the fund raising is that daily energetic exercise aids concentration and learning.

Some schools are introducing a daily mile run in their grounds as part of their daily routine. We are not at that point yet but we should explore how we could build such exercise into our school day.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Boosting School Performance and the lives of our childen.

I have included in this post a link to an article produced by The Sutton Trust.  It is the result of a detailed evaluation of what strategies have the greatest impact on pupil progress.

Some aspects make difficult reading raising key questions about class size, the role of support staff, ability grouping and of course, homework.

The article itself is not that long as it is just a summation of the research but is worth reading.

The Sutton Trust - Boosting School Performance

Alongside this is the evidence showing the restricted lives many of our children lead.  This article may also make interesting reading for some.

Our children are among the unhappiest in the world.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Homework - Again

The contentious subject of homework still causes some rumblings.  Those who follow this blog will now have a sneak preview of the latest update.

It has been posted on the school website with a link on my consultation blog.

Follow this link to my consultation blog and see what you think.

Consultation Blog