The challenges and rewards of speaking to non-Jewish children about Judaism
By Sheila Gewolb
Going into non-Jewish schools and meeting children who may never have met another Jewish person has to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had.
I have been speaking in schools about Judaism for over 30 years. Bringing up my daughters in West Cumbria gave me the opportunity to introduce my heritage and culture to people who lived in a region where no Jewish community exists. This was all done in a private capacity, with no official support. Now, as a Deputy, I have the Board’s resources to call upon which has enabled me to extend my visits. I now go to many other schools, not only in remote areas, but also some in London which, although studying Judaism, have never had a Jewish visitor.
The positive response I get from teachers and children alike is almost overwhelming. I always run out of time and have to promise to return soon. I try to instill a sense of a people, who, having survived against all the odds for over 5,000 years, are now a thriving, vital community.
The measure of interest during my visits is evidenced by the interactive sessions and questions, which can sometimes be really challenging. For example, ‘why do some people want to kill Jews?’; ‘who made God?’; and ‘what’s it like being Jewish?’. Questions like these give me the opportunity to expand on the usual format of just giving information, to allow for a personal introspection of my own faith and beliefs. I hope it also encourages the children to to think about their own faiths (or none), and to realise that we all have personal choice.
I know I am only one of probably scores of Jewish volunteers who do school visits on a regular basis. However, I have a vision of how all this work could be co-ordinated so that we can ensure that all non-Jewish children are able to learn about our heritage, cuture and religious practices. As Vice President of the Board, and Chair of Community Issues Division which covers education, I would like to map the UK to make sure that all areas are covered. This is a huge task, but every journey begins with a singlestep. Watch this space!
Sheila Gewolb is Board Vice President and Chair of the Community Issues Division