Friday, 6 May 2016

Star Wars

Readers of the Jewish Chronicle were kept entertained over Pesach at the clash of two titans of Anglo Jewry over none other than our friend, the revered 'Rabbi' Pinter.

It all started when Geoffrey Alderman suggested that the way to resolve the Ofsted 'crisis' (or the-failure-to-educate-boys crisis, with no inverted commas) would be to facilitate round-table discussions between Ofsted, the government and local chareidi parents. Alderman then added that he can think of no one better to facilitate such discussions than the Great Beard himself.

We'll come back to this marvellous suggestion a little bit later though logistically it should not be too difficult. Boruch Hashem, Pinter's beard has been released from the camera lens shutter where it had become entangled and which forced him to go AWOL while the BBC and the Independent were running prominent stories on local boys' schools. The 'Rabbi' did however pop up to call for the resignation of the head of the National Secular Society. Pinter might have an eye for any vacancy that could arise following his call, or he could always slip one of his gifted offspring into the empty chair. If a surname automatically qualifies you for a headteacher job why not for the head of the National Secular Society too?

Anyway, to get back to Alderman's column, his innovative proposal of Pinter facilitating something to do with parents was not before he labelled Pinter the 'self-appointed spokesperson' of our community. And this appears to have sufficiently riled Shimon Cohen to prompt him to take up cudgels on behalf of the Great Man. Pinter's Caretaker, you could say. Cohen after all does spinmeistering for a living though I honestly cannot tell you whether Pinter is a client or if this is altruism of the highest order.


After dismissing Alderman as Anglo Jewry's 'Mr Destructive', Cohen went into sycophantic overdrive. Pinter, you see, is not just any spokesman and never mind a 'self appointed' one. Believe it or not, the Great Man's achievements are 'legendary' though regretfully no list is provided of what those achievements might be.

Well, with a ringside view of these two giants locking horns it falls to your hapless blogger to try and separate the sparring sides. With Pinter being in the frame, it makes this that bit easier to resolve as no endeavour of his is complete without photographic evidence making its way to the weekend papers.

Who can't just rattle off those Herculean achievements? Setting up a chareidi publicly funded school; cushy jobs for himself, his late wife and at least 3 of his daughters; a wedding hall for which hard-pressed families pay through their noses even while the Legend stands cap-in-hand at the Treasury gates supplicating on behalf of those very same mugs; setting up a kitchen with public funds to facilitate the hall but withholding school dinners for years from the school kids. Do we need the even scarier legends? Like hauling a pornographer to the opening of a chareidi girls school renowned for its adherence to every footnote of Oiz V'Hodor Levusho?

But enough of all this legend already. Let's get down to the real stuff of facilitating discussions between the government, Ofsted and parents, though here I'm afraid both Alderman and Cohen have got it awfully wrong. The difficulty with this proposal is neither the government, the majority of whom are on Pinter's speed-dial, nor Ofsted with whom he is on first name terms. It's that pesky thing called parents which Alderman clumsily throws into the equation where the problems really start.

Parents? Who they? They breed and feed the nippers and provide the grease for the cogs of our great machine to turn, so is that not enough? Parents in Stamford Hill have even less say in their children's education than Pinter has in the hiring and firing of the head of the National Secular Society. Being a good parent in Stamford Hill means delivering your children to the school gates and turning away body and mind the second you've prised your hand away from the screeching toddler. The next time you'll take them in your arms will be when giving them away for a second time down the aisle en route to the chupah. During the interim schooling years, however, it is the parents’ role not to look, think or know.

The other side of this bargain is that the schools will take charge of the little ones mind, body and soul from as early in the morning till as late at night and for as many days of the year as circumstances allow. The schools will also turn out good yidelech who pray a lot and think a little and let God (with some help for George Osborne) do the rest. And all this for a basement rate of school fees which barely pays for decent koidesh lessons, never mind a full secular curriculum. That's the deal and trust me it works well most of the time.

Alderman also goes one further. Not only should parents be at the table but, Pinter, that champion of parents' rights, should facilitate the discussions. That chap at whose schools the initials P T A are as rare as the Great Man off-centre on a photo shoot and where elections for just the one parent governor are even rarer, where parents are threatened and blackmailed into submission, where parents are lied to and brickwalled when the arbitrary admissions disfavour them, where exams are redacted and marks withheld while parents are kept in the dark, where information is provided to parents about once a term during a good year, where parents are good only for ‘producing’ letters in 65 of their names in supposed support for a headteacher from the anointed family. And Alderman believes that no one other than this champion of parental rights is better placed to facilitate such discussions.

Sorry Mr Alderman, but your idea is a dud from inception. It's not the parents who have willed this madness into being and it's not disenfranchised parents who will resolve it. The problem lies with people in the public eye like Pinter who will talk of anything but the real problems in their own backyard. When several years ago people with some foresight tried to facilitate just such discussions they were rebuffed not by parents but by the same school heads who are now wailing the loudest.

Our enemies are not Ofsted nor the government but our own short sightedness. The cry for reform is no longer driven solely by a government trying to keep a lid on Islamic extremism. It is now the products of the system who have grown up with nothing to show for their years of their so-called education who are calling for reform the world over. Having been reared by our system, they know our modus operandi from the inside and are proving as adept in the game as we have been hitherto. Those same ministers and MPs, media and lobbying groups no longer listen only to the long beards but they are also getting to hear the sorry tales some of those leaving have to tell.

For Alderman, though, this was at least just a proposal. According to Cohen, however, such discussions have already taken place. Come on Mr Cohen: we'll forgive you the "legendary achievements" if you can tell us where and when they were conducted, how many parents were invited and how parents can join future discussions. Copies of the minutes would also be useful though requests of that nature are known to create blockages for your Legend.

Seriously, though, Mr Cohen: are you really suggesting that such meetings would take place without a single photograph finding its way into the papers? Did the most photographed person after Taylor Swift turn up to these meetings incognito? Given a photo with some local parents is not something to make a fuss over, but is it truly the case that a meeting with clean-shaven, yarmulke-less Ofsted and government officials did not merit a single group photo with you-know-who in the centre?

Now that would be legendary indeed.