Hasmo Legends VIII: A Pearcing Insight (Part I)

by Tony Pearce

My encounter with Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys began in the summer of 1976. I needed a teaching job and, as I was living in Golders Green at the time, the London Borough of Barnet was my first port of call. I rang up the Education Department and asked if they had anything going for the autumn term.

Tony Pearce“They need a French teacher at Hasmonean,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“But I’m not Jewish,” I replied.

“Doesn’t matter,” said the voice.

So I sent off an application form with letters of reference and waited to see what would happen.

In fact the very next day Mrs. Hepner, the school secretary, came round to our flat with a letter inviting me to an interview with Mr. Stanton, the headmaster. It was a bit of an embarrassment because it was one of the hottest days of the year and I was in the back garden sunbathing with only a swimming costume on. She had just come from a wedding. As we lived in the top floor flat there was no way for me to slip in the back door and put something else on. So there I stood, on the doorstep, in my bathing costume with this elegant Orthodox Jewish lady dressed up to the nines. My wife said I blushed from head to toe, but Mrs. Hepner seemed quite amused about it at all and as far as I know did not hold it against me.

I turned up at the interview with Mr. Stanton and Rabbi Roberg, who asked me various questions and seemed quite impressed with my academic qualifications (public school and Cambridge). “I see you went to Bedford School,” said Mr. Stanton. “Did you know a Mrs. Freyhan there?”

“Yes, she taught me music in the primary school,” I replied. Turned out she was a German Jewish refugee he helped come out of Germany in the thirties, so he seemed quite chuffed about the connection and I felt I was on to a good thing.

“We would like you to have the job,” he concluded, “but we have a rule that every teacher must be interviewed by Dr Schonfeld, the founder of the school. He was a great man in his time, but he is a bit elderly now.”

Without being critical of the great man, Mr. Stanton was clearly trying to convey to me that this would not be a normal interview. So the next day, with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation, I went to be interviewed by Dr Schonfeld, this time at Hasmonean Girls’ School. He was not there at the appointed time and I hung around wondering if I had lost the plot somewhere. About half an hour later he came in and said, “I’m late.”

“Never mind,” I said, trying to be conciliatory.

“‘Never mind!'” he snorted indignantly. “He says ‘Never mind’ to me!” This one was not going to be so easy. He then began asking me all kind of questions which had nothing to do with teaching, and writing things down on a scrap of paper. Finally he said, “I see you are a Christian. What kind of Christian are you?”

Funny thing happened then. At the very moment he asked this question, the door opened and a man came in whom he obviously had not seen for a long time. He stood up and began talking excitedly in Yiddish and the conversation went on for about ten minutes. Meanwhile I am sitting there wondering how to answer this question. Should I be theological, evangelical, talk about Christian-Jewish relations? I needn’t have bothered because the Yiddish-speaking man then went out, and Dr Schonfeld turned to me and said, “All right, you’ll do,” and walked out without ever finding out what kind of Christian I was.

So I became a member of the staff at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. I had the summer holidays to prepare for this unique cultural experience and, at the beginning of September, I found myself in the staff room looking out of the window on the boys arriving for school. The only other teacher there was Jeff Soester, who started chatting to me. “Look at them – the cream of North London Jewry,” he said. “They can be mischievous and play you up, and they’re by no means all geniuses, but they’re not violent.”

Nice to know, as one of my previous teaching assignments had been at Tulse Hill School, a monstrous eight-storey slab of a building between Brixton and Tulse Hill in South London (now mercifully demolished). There, 1,800 boys, mainly from Brixton, fought their way through the educational system, and the teachers needed to know more about urban guerrilla warfare than the subjects they were supposed to be teaching. National Union of Teachers meetings were dog fights between rival groups of Trotskyite communists, and Mitch Taylor’s NUT meetings at Hasmonean were quite tame in comparison.

As far as I know I don’t have any Jewish blood, but I already had an interest in Jewish issues and people, and in Israel, long before I came to Hasmonean. In the sixties, I had been a student lefty and political activist (and an agnostic), during which time I came to know a number of secular Marxist Jews. And my studies in German had taken me on frequent trips to Germany, including attending a German school for a term. While I was there one of the big questions which came to me was, “How was it possible that these people who seemed so ordinary and not so different from us could have followed someone as evil as Hitler?” This raised another question, “Why do people always pick on the Jews?” At school and at university I had Jewish friends and felt sympathy towards Jewish people.

In May 1967, I was revising for my second year exams when the news came through of the build up of Arab forces on the borders of Israel. The newspapers were predicting a war and I read of Nasser of Egypt threatening to drive the Jews into the sea. I felt deeply involved in the issue and for some reason, which I could not quite explain, I wanted to help Israel. One day I hitchhiked down to London, went to an Israeli agency and offered to go out to help Israel if there was a war. My parents were understandably horrified at this idea and as it turned out, when war did break out in June, Israel did very well in six days without any help from me. As the Israelis went into Jerusalem I knew that something very important had happened, although I did not know why. 

In 1970, I became a ‘born again’ Christian. This followed a series of incidents including, in my first teaching post, two boys who were committed Christians challenging me on the fact that I professed atheism but had not read the Bible. One of the boys, Alec, in a debate I challenged them to, in the school library, spoke of prophecies: “It says in the Bible that the Jews will go back to Israel and that there will be a lot of trouble over Jerusalem and then Jesus will come back.” Israel, Jerusalem, the Jews. My mind raced back two years to the 1967 Six Day War and I wondered if that was the reason I had felt that there was something so important about that event. I decided I ought to read the Bible to check this out for myself. 

I then met Nikki, who had also been in the Communist Party but then become a Christian, who was to become my wife. Through her I met a man called Richard Wurmbrand, who made a great impression on me. He was a Romanian Jew who had suffered under the fascists during the Second World War, then read the New Testament and become a believer in Jesus. After the War, he became pastor of a Baptist Church in Romania, now a Communist state in the Soviet bloc. When he refused to declare his loyalty to the state underneath a large picture of Stalin, but publicly proclaimed his loyalty to the Lord, he was arrested and spent 14 years in prison. He then came to the West to tell the story of what was happening to Christians under Communism. He spoke of the evils of the system but also preached that we should love the Communists as people. Under his influence, Nikki and I set up a Christian outreach to the radical left in London and also a support group for Christians persecuted under Communism.

This brought us into contact with Jewish people on two fronts. Firstly, there were many Jews in the Communist Party at that time and we often ended up having interesting discussions with left wing Jewish atheists, including members of Young Mapam. Secondly, our campaign for Christians in the Soviet Union brought us into contact with The 35s (Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry) who were incredibly active in pursuing visiting Soviet delegations to London and telling them to release Natan Sharansky and other Soviet Jews imprisoned for seeking to emigrate to Israel. We often joined them and they were pleased to have us alongside them. We even encountered Gorbachev before he became President.

We also ended up living in Golders Green, in a flat in The Drive, where most of our neighbours were Orthodox Jews. From time to time the family over the road would knock on our door on a Friday night to ask us to come and switch on an electrical appliance after the Sabbath had come in.

By this time I had read the whole of the Bible, learned a bit of biblical Hebrew and studied something of church history, finding out about the oppression of Jewish communities in Europe by the professing Christian church. I knew that for Jewish people in general Christianity was not good news and was horrified to read of pogroms and persecutions against the Jews led by church leaders. I was sickened by statements of contempt for the Jews by such leaders, who stood Jesus’ teaching on its head and left a terrible legacy of bitterness and hostility. I also learned about nineteenth century British Christians who were pro-Jewish and supported the idea of a restored Jewish state in Israel. I came to believe that the prophecies of the Bible point to the restoration of Israel as a significant event in the last days of this age.

So I did not arrive at Hasmonean as a complete ignoramus of Jewish issues and the Jewish community. Coming to the school was interesting because while I had met quite a wide spectrum of Jewish people, from Marxist atheists to ultra Orthodox, they had always been the minority. Now I was to experience what it would be like ‘on the inside’, as a minority Gentile.

I knew that most Jews had ‘issues’ with Jesus and that I would not be able to start a lunchtime Christian Union as I had at Tulse Hill, but I also decided that if anyone asked me questions about what I believed in I would answer them . . .

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part VIII: A Pearcing Insight (Part II)

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31 responses to “Hasmo Legends VIII: A Pearcing Insight (Part I)

  1. Daniel Marks

    On February 6, 2009 Nathan Azizoff wrote:

    “Does anyone remeber Tony Pearce – He was a French teacher in the school for only about 3 years. He was a Jehova’s witness and I remember seeing him in Golders Green station every Saturday night giving out leaflets to convert you to Christianity. His famous saying was “Smile Jesus loves you!”

    Having seen him giving out leaflets in Golders Green I confronted him about it in school and lets just say after that I managed to turn my end of year grades from C minus to B plus!

    Let’s just say that was one of my first real lessons in the art of negotiation!!”

    I confess that I had found it hard to imagine a Hasmonean teacher doing missionary work on Shabbat at Golders Green station, but had assumed that this would be destined to become another Holders Hill Road urban legend. I had never dreamed that the hero of the tale would be available to either confirm, deny, refuse to comment or ignore it.

    I wonder if Mr. Pearce has any comments as to the three main charges:

    1. That he was a member of J’s Witnesses.

    2. That he engaged in missionary work while teaching at Hasmonean.

    3. He jacked up a pupil’s grades to silence him about questions 1 and 2.

    Let me restate that I find the story hard to believe, but if it is true, then it is mainly point three that offends me.

    Finally, let me say that I do wish Mr. Pearce well and if he’s at Golders Green station this Shabbat, send regards from Maale Adumim.

  2. Daniel, as someone who has complained of being uninterested in the “narishkeit” in some of the comments to this Hasmo Legends series, I would have thought you would have found Tony’s account of his recruitment – and what it says about Hasmo in the 1970s – as revealing and fascinating as I did!

  3. As I left Hasmo before Tony joined the school, I have obviously never met him. However, part one of his posting has made for very interesting reading. I’m looking forward to part two – especially any staff room gossip if you feel so inclined to share with us?!? I’ll try and persuade another Hasmo alumnus to post a story he told me regarding a certain Rabbi, Mr Harrison and some laxatives.

  4. Daniel Marks

    Mike,

    First of all, I found Mr Pearce’s account interesting and even checked out his website. I also heard him mentioning Hasmonean on You Tube.

    Secondly, I have a vague recollection of an Israel Society event that took place about three decades ago and of him being the only teacher to grace us with his presence, but I may be confusing him for Johny Denham. Any takers?

    Thirdly, it’s only a matter of taste, but I would be interested in hearing more analysis of the goings on and characters in the staff room of HGS of the 1970s.

    Fourthly, I have no idea why you (Mike) accredit me with opposing “narishkeit” – anyway I think that the questions that I asked Mr. Pearce were entirely legitimate and I would still be interested to hear his response to them.

    Finally, I wish Mr. Pearce, and the various organizations in which he is active in spreading the belief in one God among other Christians, well. His first-rate site is very pro-Israel and we certainly need friends like them.

  5. “Narishkeit” was not the word you used, Daniel, but I understood from you that you were more interested in the deeper issues concerning our f*cked-up schooling than who pulled whose school tie (now there’s a topic that has not come up yet . . . ‘tagging’!)

    I did not mean to imply, however, that your questions were not “legitimate”.

  6. Nathan Azizoff

    Greetings Mr Pearce, it’s nice to hear the turn of events that resulted in you having the misfortune of teaching at our school, although as you say, Hasmo Boys as mischievous as we were, were pretty tame compared to kids from other schools. I remember sitting in your French lessons and whilst not learning very much French still have etched in my mind your famous words “Smile Jesus loves you!” I look back at those days with fond memories. Its lovely to hear from you again.

  7. Surely Mr Pearce would have given you a beaming “souris, jésus t’aime!” if he were your French teacher.

    Mike is there more to come on this post, the ellipses (3 dots) at the end of the post infer there is, or is that vain Messianic expectation?

  8. “It says in the Bible that the Jews will go back to Israel and that there will be a lot of trouble over Jerusalem and then Jesus will come back.”

    Two out of three ain’t bad.

  9. Wow. Mr Pearce himself. How did you find the hasmo blog?

    Doubt whether you’d remember me but I remember you well. You formed a critical link in my progression from coming top of the whole year in the end of the first year french exam having been taught by Knut Saam (great name) and then ending up with Cyril and failing the O level. From what I can recall, you could actually teach French.

    You used to live near me in Golders Green and I was very thankful of the occasional lift back to GG from Hasmo thus avoiding the nightmare waits for the 240 bus.

    I would like to remind you of your French class trip to Bolougne in about 1977 (or 8?). You chose July 14th, Bastille day so France was closed. We got there but there wasn’t much to do 😉

    I hope you are well. You didn’t mistreat us and I don’t think we mistreated you ………. (much).

    Regards

    Uri

  10. PS just been informed that our ex-class mate Moishe Schimmel is Madonna’s new beau. I’m not jesting.

  11. Click here . . . I must say, there is a passing resemblance to the Moishe Schimmel I recall!

    Well, is he or isn’t he?! Could any Golders Greeners confirm or deny?

  12. melchett mike gets the big stories first! It is Moische Schimmel!!
    http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/showbiz/xs/270945/Madonna-dumps-Jesus-for-Moses.html

    Sorry, Tony, but – with a headline like that – what more evidence do you need?! 😉

    So, any ex-Hasmos got some good (true!) Moishe Schimmel stories? Who is this guy? Post em here.

  13. Daniel Marks

    Having as yet received no response from Mr. Pearce I refer the question to Nathan Azizoff and ask him whether he still stands behind the story that he posted on February 6, 2009.

  14. I asked Tony to take a look at the comments so far, and received the following reply:

    “Looks like I am going to be busy! I am a bit pushed at the moment as I have to prepare for a TV programme I am doing tomorrow evening. Nathan Azizoff rings a bell. I think he may have been the refugee from the prayer session in the bar of the Dover to London train I refer to in the Boulogne trip. Not sure about that. Tony”

    Well, Nathan . . . ?

  15. Does anyone know if there were ever any other Lubavitch teachers at the school?

  16. Hi Daniel Marks,

    In response to your questions:

    1. I am not a Jehovah’s Witness.
    2. Depends what you mean by missionary work. As far as I am concerned sharing one’s faith is a normal part of being a believing Christian. We did used to give out leaflets at Golders Green station so I may well have encountered Nathan Azizoff there.
    3. Definitely deny jacking up his grades. (I hope you don’t expect me to remember what grades I gave him 30 years ago!). Not my form and why would I need to do it any way? It is not illegal (though admittedly unusual) to give out leaflets in Golders Green about Jesus.

    I don’t remember mentioning Hasmonean on you tube. Re website and Israel, we get quite a bit of flack from all sides including the church for our stand on Israel. Last night I did a phone in programme on Genesis, one of the Sky TV channels. Not directly about Israel but it came up. A cheerful Muslim pitched in to say that Christians and Muslims should join together to kill Jews and set up a caliphate in the Middle East. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose – if you can remember your French!

    Anyway I wish you well in Maale Adumim. Hope to come to Israel later in the year.

    Tony Pearce

  17. Hi Nathan Azizoff,

    I remember you well. Probably not the most studious member of the French class but a likeable fellow! As I said to Mike I think I have referred to you in the bit I have written about going to Boulogne – still to be published I think. Be good to have that one confirmed.

    Tony Pearce

  18. Hi Allan Engel,

    Number 3 is round the corner.

    Tony Pearce

  19. Hi Uri,

    Good to hear from you. The Hasmo blog found me via Mike. I think I remember giving you a lift home. Sorry about Bastille Day. Can’t win em all.

    Amazed about Madonna and Moishe Schimmel. Did he meet her at the Kaballa centre? Perhaps she could become a patron of Hasmonean.

    Tony

  20. Hi John Fisher,

    As I recall from discussions in the staff room Barry Lent, Joel Paley and Rabbi Shlomo Lewis were connected with Lubavitch. But not 100% sure on that.

    Tony Pearce

  21. Hi Tony,

    I think John Fisher was jesting in enquiring “if there were ever any other Lubavitch teachers at the school?” He meant, I believe, in addition to you! You and Lubavitchers have both the evangelical spirit and “Moshiach” thing in common!

    In a follow-up to Daniel Marks’ second question (and I think it is what a lot of us would like to know) . . . even if you didn’t set out to teach at a Jewish school, once inside, was the “sharing one’s faith” (as you put it) done with the intention to educate Jewish kids about, and open their minds to, Jesus?

    Mike

    PS In answer to Uri’s question to Tony (“How did you find the hasmo blog?”), I should explain that I attempted to scam a photo off Tony for my next post (on Hasmo’s English teachers). I found his website by just Googling his name and “Christianity”. After Tony asked what the photo was for, and I told him it was for a blog piece about Hasmonean, we continued corresponding. I was so interested in Tony’s recollections, his bizarre admission to Hasmonean, and his unique (not to say peculiar!) status in the school, that I asked him if he would be prepared to prepare a post on the subject. The rest is history!

  22. Slightly O.T, but there was a B.C teacher at Hasmo for a while in the 70’s called Peter – I think his surname was Brewster. He might have left before your time, Mike.

    I’d love to get his thoughts as a gentile amongst the chaos of Hasmo. Bloody nice bloke.

  23. Having read more of the blog and laughed my way through much of it I have been transported back to another world at the end of the 60’s to the mid 70’s. Bit like Harry Potter and Hogwarts really.

    Characters like Cyril B, Curly Cohn, Woody H, Jurke and Noddy Lever were really larger than life. I am not sure if any apart from Cyril who I see at Hendon shul are still alive. The religious crowd like Gerber, DJ et al were really a load of pathetic nobodies who would never make it outside the shtetl known as Hasmonean. I wonder how many people they put off religion? They certainly did not have a clue of how to make religion appealing to a bunch of teenagers.

    That said I think Hasmo was more of a hinderance than a help in so many ways. Having spoken recently to an ex Hasmo head boy it seems the school is as bad today as it was then. This is a shame as I will need in the next year to consider where to send my 9 year old son to High School .

    I am horrified that Hasmo appears to be still stuck in a time warp and from what I understand serves the interest of a small minority of Golders Green/Hendon boys and ignores the middle of the road average kids. Seems to be a mini Yeshiva with science A levels and maths thrown in but not much else. Or am I being unfair? Does any one know if they still prevent the not so bright from taking exams so as not to muck up their “perfect exam record” i.e. do they still cook the books?
    Also do you have to go to Yeshiva stream or is this optional as it was in my day. In my first year there was no Yeshiva stream , it started in my second and I went to it for 2 years and then stopped going as by that time I had gone off religious education.

  24. Eli,

    Bobby Brewster. As a young, energetic History master, he tried to drum into us Napoleonic battle strategy a la War and Peace. He used the advanced teaching aids at his disposal – revolving blackboard, chalk and duster. Unfortunately, he lacked Tolstoy’s sense of drama and, surprise-surprise, his audience. I think he surrendered unconditionally around the end of his second or third year at the school and was never heard from again. I seem to recall he was quite short, which might explain his obsession with the little Corsican.

  25. John, you have a better memory than I do. Not sure why I remeber him as Pete. He definitely took my group for B.C. though.

    He once came into the class chuckling away to himself. After looking down the corridor in a furtive manner he shut the door and said, “I’ve got to tell you this joke I just heard.”

    A young woman goes to the doctor complaining of terrible stomach pains.

    “Do you have a regular menstrual cycle?” Asked the Doctor.

    “No, I ride a Honda 50,” said the woman.

    Well it made us laugh. This was 1974; and we were only 16. I’d love to know who told him the joke though.

  26. Dear Tony Pearce,

    If I remember correctly you taught us German in 1977 or 78. I remember distinctly you were once discussing your fears of the USSR with me and that you felt certain that they were about to takeover the UK very soon and as a former Communist who had left the fold you feared that you would be one of the first on the list to be arrested.

    Do you recall this and what are you thoughts now?

  27. Hi Mike,

    In answer to your question, I did not deliberately seek to work in a Jewish school and if the education department had directed me to a Catholic school I would have gone there. As this door did open, I was interested to see how the Jewish community worked from the inside and valued my time at Hasmonean.

    I guess my view was that if asked about my faith I would explain it. As I see it most of the Jewish perception of Jesus is based on a distorted anti-Semitic version of Christianity presented by RC, Russian Orthodox and some Protestant churches as well as the teachings of Judaism. So I had a desire to set the record straight (and still have).

    The present world crisis is developing exactly along the lines that I believed it would back in the 1970s and Israel/Jerusalem is at the centre of world events.

    Shalom,

    Tony

  28. Daniel Marks

    Dear Tony Pearce,

    Come and visit when you’re here. “Some of my best friends are …..”

    052-6671444

  29. benjy broder

    Hi Tony
    I remember you clearly teaching me both German and French. I remember you as being fair and normal (which came as a complete surprise to me as compared to all the other “teachers” in Hasmo).
    Its good to hear that you have also signed up to the Hasmo Blog.
    So its shalom from me in Bet Shemesh.

  30. Tony Pearce

    Hi Benjy,

    Yes I remember you too. In fact I think you might have had a hand in the Purim incident I related in part 2! Any confessions? Hope life is well for you in Bet Shemesh.

    I also remember your brother Jeremy who came and fixed my central heating when he was working as a plumber (not a pupil at Hasmo).

    Say hello to him – don’t know if the central heating still works as I live in Finchley now.

    Best wishes.

  31. Tony Pearce

    Hi David H,

    Yes I go that one wrong. Reckoned without Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. But was glad to see the end of the USSR and the Iron Curtain.

    What we do observe now is that as the former communist countries (especially China) become more capitalist, the capitalist countries become more socialistic with unelected bureaucrats making decisions and bringing in laws. The EU is the prime example. It is also bringing in more censorship of opinions being expressed especially on issues like family morality (e.g. you can’t publicly disagree with gay marriages) or issues of faith. Blair for all his supposed Christianity has been a disaster on this one. Recently at the Davos conference in Switzerland I am told he made some comment (trying to track it down at present) to the effect that people who believe the Bible (as I do) are the real problem that needs to be dealt with.

    In his speech at Prague Castle on April 5th President Obama said ‘All nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime.’ Gordon Brown also talked about a ‘New World Order’ after the G20.

    We see the former Communist countries and the EU, USA etc come together in various globalist associations like the IMF, the G20, UN, etc to sort out the world problems like the economic situation, global warming, nuclear weapons, terrorism etc. The line is that national governments cannot solve these problems so some kind of global government is required. But the catch is you can’t vote it in or out, so inevitably the more that this kind of thing is set up the less accountable it becomes – see the EU.

    And they want to impose a ‘peace plan’ on Israel. If Israel does not play ball watch for some kind of imposed solution which involves the division of Jerusalem and establishment of a hostile Palestinian state.

    Note that the goal posts keep shifting in the terms of this. First Israel should accept some self rule for the Palestinians (Oslo), then a Palestinian state on all territories ocupied in 1967 in return for recognition of Israel and the end of the conflict (Saudi Plan) then that Israel accepts a Palestinian state led by whoever – Hamas, Fateh with continued terrorism against Israel. Livni and Olmert have ceded that one at Annapolis, and now Bibi has a fight on his hands to insist that any Palestinian state should recognise Israel and disband terrorism .

    In the same way the EU was sold to us as a trading bloc, not a super state, but little by little the unelected powers at work are pushing for the superstate they planned back in the 1960s. If they have a referendum and the wrong answer comes up they have another referendum till they get the right answer or they do a deception like the EU Constitution morphing into the Lisbon Treaty (which is basically the same thing).

    We have a lot of contacts in Eastern Europe now and the lady who does my Romanian magazine recently commented that she finds the EU more and more like the old Soviet system.

    Watch this space. Psalm 2 verses 1-3 are prophetic of what is happening along with other passages, like Zechariah 12.1-3.

    And if things do keep on this track before I leave this planet I may find myself in trouble if not with the New World Order, certainly with the jihadis!

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