The King David school in England began with the usual problem; declining number of Jews enrolled in the 1950’s – but the response – opening their doors to the Muslim community – well, it was really a certain amount of luck. The numbers of Muslim families in the area had grown dramatically, but the school doesn’t discriminate, Sikhs and Christians also attend. Yet, it seems that the program has not been dumbed down. Somehow the values inherent in Jewish education, along with the very good scores of the school in terms of SATs and Ofsted inspections, together have proven very attractive to the local families.
King David was not designed to be such a beacon of inter-faith cooperation and friendship. Founded in 1865 as The Hebrew School, it was 100 per cent Jewish until the late 1950s.
Then two things began to happen: there was a growth in the Muslim population in middle-income areas such as Moseley, and a shrinking of Britain’s Jewish community, especially outside the main centres of London and Manchester. Muslim children started coming to the school in the early 1960s, but the current position, in which they are in the majority (Jewish children comprise 35 per cent, Muslims 50 per cent, Christians, Sikhs and other, 15 per cent) is very new.
“One of the things that surprises people about this school,” says Langford, “is that it’s not an especially privileged intake. Half of our kids have English as an additional language. But the amazing thing is how well it all works. We have a new little boy here from China, whose only English a few weeks ago was to ask for the toilet. He now speaks English – and can say the Shema perfectly.