I think what we need is a more rigorous response to Judaism. It sometimes feels that Judaism is typified by teaching about the Shabbat meal in the primary school and then by looking at suffering and the Holocaust once pupils get to the secondary school. Even teaching on Shabbat can be too closely linked with a Friday night family meal – the peace of Shabbat is something that all can participate in, even if you are on your own.
All RE departments seem to have dreidels but to be honest, I never had one as a child and don’t really see them as central to the meaning of Chanukah. Chanukah for me is about keeping your identity, values and strength in difficult times and is a continuing theme for the Jewish people.
Teaching about kosher/treif food can just involve lists of what is acceptable and what isn’t. It could be linked more closely with the challenges of being religious in a secular society. Schools could explore the diversity of Jewish communities around the world and use images of black Jews and Sephardi Torah scrolls. They could show differences in seder meals, for example, from the Indian community. Links between Jews and other faith groups (such as the planned House of One place of worship in Berlin, for Jews, Christians and Muslims) could be explored: http://house-of-one.org/en
The consultation for GCSE and A’level RE (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/gcse-and-a-level-reform-religious-studies) is heading in the right direction in terms of ethical teachings. Many Jewish people would see ‘gemilut chasadim’ (acts of loving kindness) and ‘tzedekah’ (charity) very central to their religion and culture. The concept of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (preservation of life) is a powerful idea.
Young people particularly have an affinity with the concept of tikkun olam - ‘repair of the damaged world’. Our RE should actively work to build good relationships between Judaism and other faiths and help fight stereotypes, racism and anti-semitism.
Anne Krisman is head of RE in a London Borough of Redbridge special school and is a member of the Expert Advisory Group for RE