Today was an insightful opportunity to experience first hand an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue and find out more about what is involved within Jewish worship. Those of the Jewish faith refer to the Synagogue as ‘Schul’ which translated from Hebrew means ‘assembly’ as those of the Jewish faith assemble together within to worship G-d.
Above: In the centre of the photo is what is known in Hebrew as a ‘Bimah’. This is a raised platform in which the Torah Scroll is read from during prayer by a member of the congregation. Below in the photo can be identified as Jewish prayer books in which members of the congregation can take at any time to perform prayer during each day. Above: Within this photo behind the stand (where a Rabbi will stand to read sermons at the end of a prayer service) is the ark, also known as ‘Aron Kodesh’ where the Torah scroll is stored and only taken out during a congregational service. Above the ark beneath the Star of David reads in Hebrew, “I always have the almighty before my eyes”. This therefore suggests how those of the Jewish faith have G-d with them in their mind during every aspect of the day. Also above the Star of David (which can’t be seen in the photo) is a lamp known as a ‘Ner Tamid’ which is representative of the constant light which was within the Temple of Jeruslem. Above (both): At both sides of the Ark in every Schul you will also find two marble plaques. One will always contain a prayer for the Jewish faith and the other will always contain a prayer for the country. This is representative of every Schul in every country. This is due to the fact the obligation of Judaism is twofold, as you must follow Jewish law (Torah/Talmud) and also follow the laws of the land you live within.
You will also find a storage box beneath every seat within the Schul which contains a Tallat and a prayer book so that it will be there ready for when a memeber of the congregation attends on Shabbat (day of rest). Each memeber of the congregation pays rent for their seat which goes towards the running of the Schul and payment of the Rabbi (payment amount is decided by the congregation).
Above: Jewish prayer books for members of the congregation to use when visiting to pray. Just above this shelf is the women’s section of the Schul as men and women worship separately in an Orthodox Schul.
During prayer a Jewish individual will wrap a Tefillin around their head (contains small parchments of scripture from the Torah) and also a Tefillin around the arm seven times which is placed next to the heart. This is to symbolise the fact G-d should be next to your heart and mind at all times during prayer. Then the Tallit (prayer shawl) is worn which has the Tzitzit hanging at the bottom to represent the 613 laws of the Torah. A Kippah is also worn on the head to represent the fact G-d is always above you.
We also had the chance to visit a Kosher restaurant near the Schul and had a lovely meal that adheres to Kashrut dietary laws.
Overall a very educational day to experience first hand a Jewish place of worship and learn more about the Jewish faith.
On Thursday the 18th of September we had the privilege to visit the “Great and New Stenecourt” synagogue in Manchester, built in 1960. We were being educated on the insider’s version of what it is like to live the orthodox Jewish lifestyle by a member who regularly attends that particular synagogue.
Upon arrival we were introduced to our faith tutor, David Arnold who kindly had kosher refreshments prepared for us. At this point we were advised that any non-kosher food was to be left outside and not taken into the Shul. After refreshments we were taken into the Shul and shown around. We were told men and women have different seating arrangements in the room and women were to be covered by partitions. Seats are bought on rent in the Shul and each person can have a designated seating spot. Further we were shown where the Torah is kept and where the service takes place. The Torah is kept in the back and protected very carefully. David also explained the all the different locations in the Shul from the Pew to the Bimah (Platform).
David explained that Judaism is not seen as a religion but rather as a way of life. He explained the role of a man and women and how they differ in Judaism. He explained how the Jewish people are the ‘chosen people’ in a special covenant with God due to Abraham and renewed with Moses. He explained that not only do they pay a respect to God but also to the law of the land and in this case it would be the United Kingdom. This was very promising to see as it explains the way of life for a Jew especially in the light of the legacy of history.
David explained the Torah as the five books of Moses. He advised it can take years to compile. It is written by hand with a quill in Hebrew and on parchment. Further the cycle of reciting the Torah takes exactly a year and once finished the cycle starts again. To purchase a Torah would cost at an average of 20 – 30,000 pounds. The Torah is written on a scroll with wooden holders which symbolically mean ‘the tree of life.’
After visiting inside the Shul we took our seats in the meeting area where we had the opportunity to discuss the most important day in the Jewish week, Shabbat. We discussed the preparation for Shabbat and the religious meanings to why this day is known as the day of rest. David explained the importance of preparing the meals and drinking the special wine. He explained that once a week there is a special service at the Shul to commemorate the beginning of the holy day. We were told the lady of the house lights the candles to bring the light of Shabbat in to the house. We also had the opportunity to taste the special bread which is prepared for the meal. In all it was very clear that Shabbat is a family occasion and a day to thank God.
Moving on from Shabbat we discussed kosher food and the importance of it in the Jewish household. Separation of meat and dairy is very important to the extent dishes should be kept completely separate. No dairy and meat should be eaten together. David gave us examples of what is considered to be Kosher. Following on nicely from this we went for lunch at a kosher restaurant which was a great insight and first-hand experience.
Some RE reflections
Our visit to the Shul was definitely a first-hand insight to the thinking and reasoning of a Jewish tradition. It was interesting to find that their truth claim is still very much at the heart of their lives. We all may not agree with certain aspects of what may have been discussed but it is important to take away that every person, be it secular or religious is committed to and identifies with their truth claim and as civilised fellow humans we need to learn to accept and respect differing opinions. Speaking for myself this visit truly opened my eyes to the challenging of managing conflicting truth claims and beliefs which I may face as an RE teacher. I am looking forward to this challenge and resolving the issues this brings in my classroom by developing excellent RE for community cohesion.
Once again this year we were delighted to Welcome Holocaust Survivor Mayer to speak to our Final Year Undergraduate and Postgraduate students and invited pupils from a number of Partnership schools.
Mayer’s story beginning with the outbreak of war on his 13th birthday is both harrowing and moving. Mayer seems to get more frail each year, but the strength of his conviction to tell the tale is as strong as ever. This epic story of survival against the odds, including slave labour, Auschwitz, death trains and marches had all listeners on the edge of their seats – as it has done for many years. Mayer was awarded an honourary Doctorate in 2012 by Edge Hill and received an MBE in the following New Year’s Honours list in recognition of his work.
Following a lunch break 6th Form and KS4 pupils from a number of partner schools were helped to reflect on Mayer’s story by working with Edge Hill RE and History students. Their responses and their questions were as deep and insightful as always. We all hope that Mayer will once again return to Edge Hill next year.
PGCE trainees enjoy the experience of a kosher meal as part of their subject knowledge field trip to Stenecourt schule.
Mike Evans, RE PGCE trainee shares his reflections on the day we spent with our colleague , David Arnold, in the north Manchester Jewish orthodox community:
The subject knowledge field trip to Prestwich gave me a deeper, experiential understanding of Judaism within the community. The tour of the Schule and a talk by David Arnold gave me valuable insights into the function of the Schule as a community centre as well as a place of worship. David Arnold delivered an excellent presentation on the Jewish way of life. David developed my knowledge and understanding of Judaism as a way of life, not a religion, which has been pivotal in developing my understanding of other aspects of the tradition.
We explored the religious symbolism and the special status of the Torah, Tallit, Tefillin and Mezuzah, the importance of prayer in Jewish life and the centrality of Shabbat and other Jewish festivals. We explored the kosher food laws and visited a kosher restaurant at the heart of the Prestwich Jewish community. David also discussed Jewish communities in the U.K and the state of Israel at the heart of Judaism. David has been a pioneer in interfaith relations between Judaism and other religions and a key member of the Manchester Council of Christians and Jews. David has helped establish various interfaith forums across the Northwest region and has held discussions about Israel and Palestine.
Just prior to the Christmas Holidays, the Second Year, RE undergraduates visited the National Holocaust Centre near Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire. This was a first visit for Edge Hill University but proved to be well worth the journey.
Our visit began with an introductory talk and a tour of the ground floor which was set out like a traditional museum with artefacts and factual information.
However for me personally, the afternoon was the highlight of the day. Firstly we were very privileged to meet Janine Webber who shared her experiences of growing up as a Polish Jew after the German army occupied her native Lwow in 1941. Janine now aged 81 shared her truly harrowing story of how her Parents, Grandmother and younger brother were murdered by the Nazis. How she was betrayed by people who had promised to care for her and how she lived in a hole without seeing daylight for a year.
If anyone had any right to be angry or bitter it was Janine but she was an incredibly, spirited, warm and forgiving person who seemed to bear no hatred or malice towards those who had caused her such pain. She said her only feeling was one of sadness.
The second part of the afternoon was spent in part of the centre that had been set up to follow the experiences of Leo, a fictional German-Jewish boy living in Berlin during Nazi rule.The Journey is the first exhibition to be built in the UK, solely for the teaching of the Holocaust to primary-aged children. Leo’s story unfolds in a series of rooms, which not only detail Leo’s experience but also that of children who lived during the Holocaust and survived.
Although designed for Primary school children we all found it a moving and inspirational experience.
The Holocaust Centre is a peaceful oasis in the heart of the Nottinghamshire countryside that allows visitors to reflect sensitively on the Holocaust. I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to anyone who is engaged in teaching or learning about the Holocaust.
To find out more visit the Holocaust Centre website
Experiential learning through visits to faith communities continues to be an integral feature of the course, not least because we hope our trainees will develop their own RE network from the experiences. We are fortunate to have such a rich and culturally diverse resources with so many faith communities in our region.
In December we visited the Manchester Triratna Buddhist centre and were warmly welcomed by Richard, the new education colleague in Clear Vision. We enjoyed some rich philosophical debate and discussion with Richard, exploring Buddhist perspectives on the origins of the universe and whether a first cause is necessary to explain the fact there is a universe in existence. I couldn’t help thinking these debates were reminiscent of the Buddha’s dialogues with the Brahmin sages of his day. Richard summed our lively debate up nicely, “It was a blast!”
From the Buddha’s dharma we switched emphasis to Judaism with a visit to Manchester Jewish museum. If you’ve not been before, it’s well worth a visit, especially because your pupils will be able to handle artefacts in a grade 11 listed Sephardic synagogue. It’s a visual and kinaesthetic treat and will really convey the richness of Jewish culture in a way a text book simply can’t achieve.
We followed up this exploration of Judaism with David Arnold in February who gave us his personal perspective on the joy of living as Jew from the wonderful setting of Stenecourt Schule. David explored complex aspects of the Jewish faith as a way of life, examining scripture, prayer, symbolism and Shabbat. David summed up what Judaism really means to practitioners with this analogy, which I think really captures what religion means to believers of all traditions,
“Just as a book on anatomy can’t convey what a body really is, a text book on Judaism can never capture the meaning of Judaism- it is a way of life”
Dr Mayer Hersch MBE paid his annual visit to Edge Hill University to tell gathered RE and History ITE students together with pupils from a number of parternship schools the story of his survival during the darkest days of the Nazi regime.
Mayer was only 13 when the Nazis invaded his homeland Poland and his epic story of survival against the odds, including slave labour, Auschwitz, death trains and marches had all listeners on the edge of their seats – as it has done for many years. Mayer was awarded and honourary Doctorate last year by Edge Hill and received an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list in recognition of his work.
Following a lunch break pupils from a number of partner schools were helped to reflect on Mayer’s story by working with Edge Hill PGCE students. There responses and their questions were deep and insightful. We all hope that Mayer will once again return to Edge Hill next year.
For the last three years the second year KS 2-3 RE Trainees have attended the Autumn Holocaust Conference at the Imperial War Museum of the North. The Conference is organised jointly between the Museum and the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University. As part of their Judaism studies the conference give a unique and valuable opportunity for our trainees to explore different aspects of the Holocaust.
This year the theme was Hiding, Flight and Rescue under Nazi occupation.
Scholars from Britain, Europe and the USA presented their research on how despite the odds some European Jews managed to survive the relentless onslaught of the Nazis.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was hearing the personal witness of Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines who shared her memories of the Kindertransport and her escape from Czechoslovakia as a nine year old with her younger sister. Despite the great odds stacked against her family, once she and her sister were settled in Britain, she was reunited with her Father and then later her Mother who had managed to escape through Sweden.
An inspirational day that brought home the complexity of the human responses to the Holocaust and of the power of the human spirit to endure the most dreadful persecutions and yet not be crushed. As always following days like this I was left pondering what I would have done if faced with such persecution and hatred?
As part of their study of Judaism the Year 2 RE Trainees enjoyed a ‘Joy of Judaism’ day at Stencourt Shul, Prestwich Manchester. The day was led by David Arnold an old friend of the RE team who made us all really welcome. David gave us an insiders view into the vibrant Jewish community of North Manchester.
After a tour of the Synagogue we discussed Jewish belief and practice in detail. David had brought a specially baked Challah loaf for us and it was devoured in record time by the group. The significance of Kosher food and the role that food in general plays in Jewish family life became somewhat a theme for the day.
Holding onto the food theme, perhaps the highlight of the day was the delicious Kosher meal that we enjoyed at J.S. Restaurant, chicken soup all round, seemed to be the order of the day. Despite the lovely challah bread that the group had eaten just beforehand, some brave souls also managed kosher ice cream sundaes.
After lunch there was also time for a quick visit to the Judaica shop across the road for all those artefacts that every trainee RE teacher could wish for.
Good company, good food and all in all a very good day. I am already looking forward to next year’s kosher fish and chips!
Year 2 Undergraduates who have been studying Judaism this semester took their knowledge and skills into school for two days recently.
Lathom High School held a two day conference for their Year 10 pupils. On the first day Staff from the school were joined by RE undergraduates from Edge Hill as the whole year was taken off timetable to work in small groups to study the religion. Staff from the school were grateful for the help of the students and commented very favourably on the way they were able to work with pupils who they had not met before.
This groupwork was to prepare pupils for the highlight of day 2 – when Edge Hill trainees helped to supervise the Year 10s as they met firstly David Arnold and then Jack Aizenberg – a survivor of the holocaust.
This was an excellent opportunity for the students of Edge Hill to put their Jewish Studies into perspective, gain more experience of working with a diverse range of Key Stage 4 pupils and to hear Jack’s story.