blair with haredim.
(photo credit: Dov Gefen, London)
Speaking at the opening of a haredi high school in London on Thursday, the first such school to receive government funding, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he is proud to be a friend of the Jewish people and has never been afraid to say so.
In his remarks at the opening of the Yesodai Hatorah Girls School in Stamford Hill in north London, Blair praised the school for promoting the kind of "values that in the end must motivate and govern the whole of our country and society."
At the ceremony to mark the opening of the school, principal Rabbi Avraham Pinter praised Blair, saying: "I pay tribute to the architect of education, our prime minister who promised his top priority would be education, education, education [one of Blair's election pledges]. Your words were not empty words and the greatest proof is your presence here today. Other governments promised; we had lots of promises but you delivered and we thank you.
"We deeply appreciate your understanding of an education like ours, that combines the national curriculum with our haredi Jewish ethos and places an emphasis on citizenship and loyalty to one's country. We're proud that many of our Jewish schools are beacon schools who generate good Jews and good British citizens alike.
"I would like to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the entire Jewish community for the support and friendship that you extend to Jews worldwide."
In his response, Blair said: "Rabbi, you were kind to say that I was the friend of Jewish people everywhere; I am, and I am proud of that and I have never been afraid to say it.
"The reason why I was so keen to come today is because I think what you're trying to do here in marrying Judaism with the basic purpose of education is exactly the right blend of the values that you believe in and the values that in the end must motivate and govern the whole of our country and society.
"When you visit a school - and I visit many, many schools - you can tell immediately when you enter what sort of spirit there is at the school and as I came in the doors of this school today, I thought this is a place where people take pride in learning and pride in the community and take pride in becoming responsible citizens in our society."
With the recent and ongoing discussion on multi-culturalism and debate on faith schools in the UK, Blair praised the values and ethos of Yesodei Hatorah.
"Following as I think you very accurately described what a faith school is about, a faith school is about people celebrating their faith, the faith they believe in and guides their life, but doing so in a way that is entirely compatible with being full members of British society...the reason why people want their children to be educated in faith school is because they find there a sense of values, tradition, history and belonging but at the same time recognize that it has to be done in a way that allows people to mix and be a part of the society in which they live."
The Labor Party leader said that he was the one who felt the sense of privilege and honor to be at the school, adding: "When I see so many people with their lives ahead of you, I hope you consider yourself to be lucky also, to be at a school with such strength, values and such a clear personal social and faith commitment which will find its place in the years to come, and that is why I wanted to come here today." "Education is important, all schools are important but when I come to a school like this, I realize why education is important and I realize why always to have a community that supports education is as good a test of the work of that community as any other tests you can apply."
The opening ceremony took place in front of the entire school population, students and teachers, local rabbis, community leaders and dignitaries that included Lord Levy, Councillor Afolasade Bright, the speaker of Hackney Council, the head of the London Bet Din Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu and Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
A recent Office for Standards in Education in the UK report deemed Yesodai Hatorah Girls School "outstanding," describing it as a "happy place in which to learn and grow."