When my daughter was four, the age that compulsory education begins in the U.K., I didn’t enroll her at a primary (elementary) school in my leafy, London neighborhood. I opted for a state-funded Orthodox Jewish one, several postcodes away, instead.
I reasoned the long car journeys across town were an acceptable trade-off for the grounding Rebekah would receive in Jewish custom and practice, and in the Hebrew language: the Yiddishkeit that I, with my complicated Jewish upbringing, had missed out on.
On paper, an Orthodox establishment was an unlikely choice. In reality, it was full of liberals who’d never had a God-bothering moment in their lives. I felt I’d come home. But after six years of driving for two or more hours five days a week I admitted defeat, and enrolled Rebekah in a local, mainstream primary school.
Anxious for her to settle in quickly, I was delighted when, during her first week, she was invited to a classmate’s home. When I picked her up I discovered the child’s very English, middle-class parents were also journalists, and as we exchanged chit-chat about our industry, my eyes roamed around their book-lined living room. And then I froze. Stuck to the edge of one of the groaning shelves was a sticker that read: Boycott Apartheid Israel.
A couple of months later I was having coffee with the mother of Rebekah’s new school friend, Ella. Conversation turned to a parent at the school who was active in hard left politics, and whose daughter, Sasha, was in our girls’ class. “I feel dreadful telling you this, Karen,” said the mother,” but some leaflets fell out of Sasha’s bag in the playground yesterday, and they said: Kill Jews. Ella picked them up really quickly so Rebekah wouldn’t see, but still.” It was November 2012, and several days into Operation Pillar of Defense. Sasha, I later learned, had been on a protest against the assault with her mum and must have picked up the radical Islamist leaflets there.
Anti-Semitism is a mutating virus, and during her time at secondary school my daughter has experienced pretty much all its variations. Religious: you killed Christ. Racial: how come you haven’t got a big nose? Economic: Jews are rich and owns loads of businesses. Political: Zionists are racists.
Generally, the black and white working-class kids spout the religious and racial anti-Semitism; Muslim and middle-class students peddle the political prejudice; and everyone appears to think Jews are loaded.