Keeping the Faith

By January 31, 2017Features-Leeds
L to R: Arielle, Toby, Ben and Rachel.

L to R: Arielle, Toby, Ben and Rachel.

JLife meets the student faith leadership team at GSAL.

Sixth formers Rachel Marks, Arielle Kaufman, Toby Winston and Ben Myerson have more on their minds than securing top A-level grades; they have responsibility for upholding the Jewish faith within their school community.

As the Jewish student faith leaders at The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL), they have a busy remit including offering pastoral support to other Jewish students and organising festivals and events. Student faith leaders are appointed for the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religions at GSAL, and the teams work closely together to promote interfaith understanding and share festival celebrations, supported by the school’s all-faith chaplain, religious studies teacher Adrian Roberts. The faith leaders meet regularly for interfaith and philosophical discussion, open to all members of the sixth form.

Central to their role is organising fortnightly Jewish religious assemblies for senior school students, however their remit is wide-ranging and extends across the whole school, which takes pupils between the ages of three and 18. As well as assemblies for each of the five faiths, GSAL also holds occasional joint assemblies to remember past events such as the Holocaust and other landmarks.

At the top of the agenda this term is the annual GSAL Shabbat, on 11th March at UHC Shadwell Lane. All school families, of any faith, are invited to join the Jewish community in this special celebration, with GSAL pupils leading and participating in the service, followed by kiddush.

Why did you apply for the role of student faith leader?
It’s amazing to be part of such a multicultural school, and it’s very special to help one another develop our Jewish identity alongside an understanding of other religions.

Ben: I’ve been at GSAL since Year 1. Before that my dad, four cousins and my brother Sam attended this school or its predecessor Leeds Grammar School. Judaism is a large part of my life in and out of school, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sam and two of my cousins who had been heads of faith.

What are your reflections on the role so far?
Toby: We pull together as a team. We’ve been good friends for a long time so we easily get on with things and ask each other’s opinions.

Rachel: It’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with younger pupils. We do assemblies in the junior school and this year we’ve worked closely with the religious studies department, helping in lessons for younger year groups.

How are links with the local Jewish community?
Between us we have wide-ranging connections in the Jewish community outside school and are involved in different youth groups. We have great support from local rabbis, community leaders, councillors and charity representatives, helping us to broaden our range of speakers and topics.

Toby: We already know many new Year 7s when they join the school. Rabbi Pink helps us in our festival celebrations and visits regularly for assemblies, discussion groups and other activities.

What advice would you give anyone stepping up to the faith leader role?
Talk to the previous faith leaders so you know what to expect. Be organised; there are lots of festivals at the start of the year, which you have to juggle with everything else going on in Year 13 like applying to university.

Toby: You need to hit the ground running, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Staff are there for you.

Ben: Start planning the GSAL Shabbat as soon as you’re appointed!

Does your faith guide your school life?
We take pride in our Judaism and want to share it in school. We’re in a unique position being in a multifaith school while having a strong connection with Jewish life in and out of school.

Ben: It’s helpful when you set time aside from school work for Shabbat; it gives you time and space to not worry about your studies.

Rachel: One of our roles is to help Jewish students integrate among themselves and others; this gives us a strong sense of identity within the Jewish community and wider self-confidence, which will stand us in good stead when we go to university.