Hasmo Legends XIX: The Return of the Rotter-in-Chief

At some point last year, at the height of Hasmo Legends mania, I was contacted by Rabbi David Meyer, the Executive Headteacher of Hasmonean (Boys’ and Girls’). “Dave”, who was in the year above me at Hasmo, was concerned at the damage the series might cause to the careers of the few teachers – in particular, a Bissli-scoffing one whom I had not yet documented – still at the school.

At the end of our conversation, Dave – who has taught at Hasmo for around 15 years – invited me back to the school on my next visit to Blighty. Dave probably forgot the offer the second after he made it . . . but how could I?! In fact, not only did I not forget it, but, straight from Heathrow, on that sunny late-March afternoon, I caught the Tube to Mill Hill East and, then, the 240 up Holders Hill Road.

As I approached the front gate, one of the few Hasmo landmarks still in the same place since I left the nuthouse almost 25 years ago, I was half expecting to be confronted by a crude East End hunchback effing and blinding about DJ (“the facking cant”). Instead, two young Eastern Europeans – folk known to excel in guarding Jews – now manned Jack Rose’s former position. They took my suitcase, and instructed me to report to the school reception just inside the main entrance (beneath the headmaster’s office, adjacent to the hole allocated to the aforementioned Benippled Forehead when he, so shortsightedly, was appointed Deputy Head in the early Eighties).

The first familiar face that I spotted – and it was the last that I had wanted to – on the other side of the locked double doors between the reception and Dave’s office was that of said Bissli scoffer (aka “Flop”). Even though, as a result of my promise to Dave, Flops, Greater and Lesser had been rather less unkind than it otherwise might have, I immediately suspected that Dave might be laying on a warm welcome – never underestimate an ex-Hasmo, even an Executive Headteacher, in the practical joke department – with Flop lying in wait for me in his office. The image of being put across the knee of the big man – who is no doubt relishing his ‘new’ title of “Urrrggh . . . Director of Management Information Systems” – and having my bottom dealt with, but this time aged 42, brought me out in a cold sweat. But I was being unnecessarily paranoid.

After hanging around for ten minutes (and after Flop had already departed the scene), I reminded myself that this was still Hasmonean and that Dave probably had no idea that I was even there – after all, how many times had Rabbi Roberg had me standing outside his office for an entire day, only to mutter irascibly, at four-thirty, “What are you doing here, boy?” – and, as it transpired, he didn’t!

I knew Dave (right) in our school days – when he was universally known, as though his names were conjoined, as “DaveMeyer” – primarily as the cousin of the Hasmo boy with the least imaginative parents: “Sod it,” Dave’s uncle and aunt, the parents of Meyer Meyer (who was in my year), had clearly resolved, “let’s just call him ‘Meyer’.” But I recalled Dave as a particularly likeable bloke. And he still is.

Warm greetings over, Dave immediately took me into the playground – which seemed a lot smaller to a 42-year old – where an immaculately observed fire drill was taking place. How was our generation to take such rehearsals seriously when, as we would pile back into the school building some half an hour later, we would witness the spectacle of “Cyril” calmly descending its main staircase in his trilby and mac?!

In some strange sense, perhaps because I longed to rejoin the “louts” of my day for the afternoon, I was disappointed that these boys looked so human, and were not fighting, shouting, gobbing, and/or pulling each others’ ties (there was absolutely no sign either, during the course of the afternoon, of a black market in confectionery, penny up the wall, or of searches for spare chairs). But it was just so inexplicably wonderful to be back, a feeling of elation and enthusiasm that lasted well into the evening.

I again avoided Flop in the playground, but instantly recognised, in the distance, my 1BK form master from 1978/9. Even though he claimed to have only “heard about” melchett mike (characteristic diplomacy that I immediately understood), it was lovely to catch up briefly with Jonny Bokor (right), who – against all the odds – appears to have maintained both his sanity and geniality.

There followed a tour of the school – which, though still no architectural wonder (there is talk of a move to a new site), is at least now replete with proper, pukka art, wood and metalwork, music and computer rooms, and even a couple dedicated to cooking (“food tech” they call it) and plumbing – throughout which, so completely have the buildings changed, I had to repeatedly ask Dave where we were vis-à-vis the Hasmo of yesteryear.

Despite the physical changes, the place, for me, was still full of Legends past. So, whilst the old gymnasium may have gone, I could not help but imagine a mad-eyed Cypriot, wielding a white Dunlop tennis shoe, emerge from around every corner. And in Room 1 (right) and Room 12 “over the bridge”, I sat in the very same spots that I had enjoyed the happiest, and most hilarity-filled, hours of my life (in the presence of the Legendary son of Swansea, of course).

Whilst elated to be back, I could not help but feel a tinge of regret that our generations were denied the opportunities on offer to the Hasmo boys of today. Entering each classroom and being introduced to young, enthusiastic, and, most shockingly of all, normal teachers (right), was oddly incongruous on the grounds of Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. Those who joined that Hasmonean kissed goodbye to any chance they otherwise might have had of learning about art, music, geography, or indeed any of the humanities, in any real depth or at all. Moreover, those who were not motivated or self-starters had very little chance in maths and the sciences either (though we were taught how to execute a basketball “lay-up shot” and not to “double dribble”).

Indeed, I am of a generation of ex-Hasmos for whom Art meant being chased up and down a long annexe by a white-bearded lunatic wielding a plank of wood – that he proudly named “Whacko” (though it should probably have been spelt “Wacko”, after its maker) – with a protruding nail strategically positioned at its tip for good measure. So, witnessing the quality of art on display in the Hasmo Art Room (below) was a total revelation . . . like someone reared on Sam Fox and Linda Lusardi chancing upon some private pics of Penélope Cruz.

Today’s Hasmonean also offers pupils a wide array of educational trips and excursions. Whilst Boulogne is still in the brochure (though the Hasmo boys of today probably don’t re-cross the Channel armed with flick knives and pornographic playing cards), pupils can also now visit the art galleries of Paris and the World War One battlefields of Ypres. There is a trip, too, to Poland, and even one to Spain and Gibraltar to learn about Sephardic history (Hasmo’s former religious ‘elite’ would have loved that!)

I was more than a little amused to learn that melchett mike had been raised by concerned parents of prospective new Hasmos, and also flattered that every teacher to whom Dave introduced me had read – and enjoyed – Hasmo Legends. Indeed, in the very office that, on more than one occasion, I had begged (God knows why?!) to be allowed to continue at the school, I discussed with Headteacher (Boys’) Andrew McClusky (above) specific stories that I had written. I was amazed by the particularity of his interest, singling out as he did a story (search “Rabbi Fine”) that had tickled him way back in Hasmo Legends II. And it said much to me about the man and his insight, because – however seemingly insignificant – that story speaks volumes about the attitudes prevalent in the old Hasmonean.

The new Hasmonean is winning both plaudits and awards, and not just for examination results – as a result of deft manipulation of which pupils were allowed to enter which exams, it won those even when it was crap – but also for a progressive, imaginative approach to education, which takes into account that it takes more than Limmudei Kodesh to produce a well-rounded adult.

The best example of this is the so-called “Enrichment Programme”, devised by the two Headteachers. This has nothing to do with brown envelopes stuffed with salary supplements (for JS teachers only, of course!) – as alleged in comments to melchett mike – but rather with providing Hasmoneans with a broader, more rounded education. Allotment Gardening, Aromatherapy and Basic Knitting – and I haven’t even got to “C”! – are amongst the eye-opening courses on offer (apparently without fear that one such might, chas vesholom, trigger a sexual self-realisation before a commitment to a double life, and years of frustration, in Gateshead).

In life, however, every silver lining can also have a cloud. And a truly wonderful afternoon was soured somewhat on my way out through Hasmo’s corridors by a chance sighting on a notice board – like a recognition whilst watching Crimewatch – of a photograph (right, snapped while Dave’s attentions were elsewhere) from its summer walking tour.

“It can’t be . . . surely,” I so wanted to convince myself. “Nahhh, not after all these years. Probably just looks like him.”

Apparently, DJ will, at the end of this current term, have been teaching at Hasmonean for fifty years. A scary thought, considering that I gave up Chemistry O-Level because I couldn’t take another forty minutes of him. Anyway, the school will probably be planning some kind of event to mark the occasion (the West Hendon branch of Al-Qaeda may well be able to come up with something appropriate).

But I was not going to allow even so nasty a surprise to spoil such a special afternoon.

“Everyone told me I was mad to invite you,” Dave confessed. Well, Dave, thank you for ignoring them! I am not naive enough not to realise that Dave’s kind, if impulsive, invitation had more than a little to do with his desire to have something positive written about the changes that have taken place in Holders Hill Road under his stewardship. But that is fair enough. As Dave points out, “probably our hardest battle is explaining that the Hasmonean of today has the same name, but is not the same school as that of the past.”

The odd fact remains that I would not necessarily choose to be schooled in today’s Hasmonean rather than our’s: the total absence of “Yoks” – the school, these days, operates a strict Shomer Shabbos policy – must, almost by definition, take away much of its former colour, just as its newfound normalcy must its unique humour and chutzpah. But would I prefer my children to be schooled in the old Hasmo? No, probably not.

The fact that the “Rotter-in-Chief” was welcomed back at Hasmonean, while the Legend who gave him the title can now only rant from the safe distance of Stamford Hill – and those of his ilk have been replaced by proper, responsible educators – suggests that Dave Meyer & Co. are doing a fine job of dismantling an “institution” . . . but of building a school.

The Two Daves . . . and he’s not talking on his mobile in this one!

Postscript Dave informed me (without any request for assistance) that Hasmonean is running at an annual deficit of around £450,000 (security costs, alone, total over £100,000). If you have enjoyed Hasmo Legends, and feel that you would like to contribute to your former alma mater, please say so via a comment below (but without specifying an amount, to avoid others feeling that what they can – or are willing to – give may be insufficient). I will then forward your e-mail address (from the comment form) to Dave. An extremely generous ex-Hasmo has pledged to match, pound for pound, donations up to a total of £300,000 for each of the next three years . . . so your money will count double!

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XX: The Witriol Diaries, Part I: Out of the Friern Pan . . . Into the Fire


70 responses to “Hasmo Legends XIX: The Return of the Rotter-in-Chief

  1. Mark Goldman

    As always brilliantly written, very funny, heartwarming, and thought provoking.

    I had no idea Hasmo was now restricted to the Orthodox. Must make life even more miserable and painful for closeted gay teens. I’m guessing this never came up during your visit.

  2. Aharon Factor

    Allotment Gardening, Aromatherapy and Basic Knitting ?!!!!

    Are you sure you went to Holders Hill Rd?

    The only rooms that look vaguely familiar are Roberg’s renovated office (nice leaded-lights) and the corridor near the staffroom.

    Great article nevertheless.

    Gone on then, forward my email address to Dave. Does he accept Shekels? Perhaps we should set up an Israeli Friends of Hasmo.

    As Milton Friedman said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and it appears that Hasmo Legends is no longer free anymore.

    Anyway, Mike, you’ve provide ex-hasmos with hours of fun, mirth and frivolity – whatever Osher says.

    Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Aharon, for getting the ball rolling (although of course Hasmo Legends is still “free”!) Your e-mail address is sitting in Dave Meyer’s Inbox as I write . . . probably together with e-mails from DJ and Flop!

    I kid you not about the courses on offer in the Enrichment Programme.

    And no, Mark, I couldn’t believe they let me in there . . . so I wasn’t going to bring up the subject of gay teenage angst (however much the place may have changed)! 😉

  4. Jack Buechler

    This last posting sums up for me (1973-1980) the whole point of Melchett Mike.

    Sure there were the issues, the slipper, the cane, the teachers. But all in all would I have missed it – probably not.

    Oddly – the school was not solely focussed on results – although on average the results were good, but on other factors in life.

    Something many schools today would love to have and give to their pupils.

    So now – here we are – we have come full circle – to show that some sense of normality has returned, the slippers, canes, archane ways are gone.

    Lets hope 30 years in the future the current pupils will be able to have their blog and report on their ‘Cyrils’ – scrayyyyper – ‘Mr. Meyers’ – Mr. Chichioses ‘where are your white socks?’ DJ ‘ aluuuminuuuum – in such an unrespectful but oddly highly respectful way.

  5. Ellis Feigenbaum

    Wow, a real school, with education and educaters?
    It all sounds so normal, are you sure you were not given the red cross tour?
    In the famous words of another Meyer they cant be well behaved, they are all jewish pigs.

  6. Dan the Shabbat Stamp Collector

    Without wishing to put my personal issues above the public interest, I do have to say the following:

    I had no idea Hasmo was now restricted to the Orthodox. Must make life even more miserable and painful for teens like myself who secretly collect stamps on shabbat. I’m guessing this never came up during your visit.

  7. What are you on, Gins?!

    And, by the way, I am still looking for the reader who fancies penning the (sorely) missing Hasmo Legend: W.W. Stanton.

  8. Alan Steuer


    I too felt the same sense of disbelief when I returned to the school which my 14 year old son now attends after a gap of 25 years. Normal looking teachers with a desire to educate!

    Whilst there is certainly a homogeneity of religious background now compared to our day, I can reassure you the friendships, competitiveness, enterprise and above all chutzpah remain as strong as ever.

  9. Allan Engel

    Melchett Mike, the poacher turned gamekeeper turned fundraiser.

  10. Thank you, Allan. Your e-mail address has been forwarded to Rabbi (to you!) Meyer.

    The “Allan Engel Cricket Net” perhaps?!

  11. Another good post, glad to see Johnnie Boker is still around, I always felt a little sorry for him. Mike I am however a little suspicious that you received a similar tour to my parents all those years ago, when afterwards they proclaimed all the benefits of going to a Jewish school instead of the normal JFS. I can’t help thinking of the similarities to the film ‘Blazing Saddles’ – upon your exit they just removed all the props to come out again when the next visitor arrives.

  12. I just thought the first comment, from Cantor Mark, was arguably a little narrow in focus.

    But LOVED the article, which so skilfully bridged the jump from Roberg era, via the short and unremarkable Coleman-Radomsky years, to King Dave’s reign, long may it last.

    I am also a committed fan of Rabbi M, maybe to do with our respective wives’ friendship, going back numerous years, and as a result, some truly superb Sephardic cuisine having enhanced many a shabbos & yomtov…


  13. Dan, I will not have melchett mike dragged through the gutter . . .

    Even though I shared Hasmo changing rooms with Mark for seven years, and then lived with him in Manchester Hillel, I would not be presumptuous enough to speculate on the “narrow[ness]”, or otherwise, of his “focus”.

    And then to bring in reader’s and Rabbi’s “wives” and their “friendship” . . .

    This is a family blog!

  14. Do you even know who Coleman and Radomsky WERE in Hasmo history, and has anyone got anything memorable to say about them?

    Wasn’t Liam Joughin even Acting Head for some time between Roberg and Coleman?

    Somewhat the walk-on stopgap players, a la Andropov and Chernenko?

  15. Daniel Marks

    “…the school, these days, operates a strict Shomer Shabbos policy..”

    I note with interest the fact that the author of this excellent blog has few words of condemnation for the fact that irreligious children are apparently excluded from Hasmonean. He rightly says that this must detract from the “color” of the school, but is this our only objection to such a discriminatory policy?

    I would have expected Mike to have been the first person to point out that Shabbat is an important mitzvah, but it is not the only one of the 613. Are children whose parents keep the Sabbath but steal or cheat on their taxes likewise excluded? What about those who slander our Rotter-in-Chief and his dogs and seek to shame them in public?

    Mike writes:

    “But would I prefer my children to be schooled in the old Hasmo? No, probably not. ”

    Hugs, smiley photos and mutual back-slapping aside, at least in the old Hasmo it would be his decision.

    In 2010 I have doubts as to whether the choice would be left to him. I hope I am not divulging any secrets by saying that on the basis of what I know of his lifestyle, his children would be, albeit courteously, refused. This makes Mike’s selfless efforts to help Hasmonean out in their hour of need all the more admirable.

    We all know Groucho Marx’s unforgettable quip, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Our venerable author seems to have taken it to its logical conclusion and to paraphrase:

    “I only care to support a school that doesn’t accept people like me as members.”

  16. Anthony Mammon

    Mike, I do believe you were abducted by aliens and whisked off to another planet…. From your blog it sounds like you visited a perfectly normal school.. Trips to WHERE ????? We never managed to go further than Copthall Stadium, and we had to walk… Wow… But I think that after all is said and done, I enjoyed the original Hasmo so much, that the sequel just doesn’t sound as much fun. So yes I would have gotten a better education, but somehow without art, science, geography etc, I still managed to succeed somewhat in life. Perhaps it was BECAUSE it was so bad that we managed to succeed. In the words of Offer Osherov, who only survived Hasmo for 2 years, later joining the Israeli Army Paratroopers and told me and I quote, ” the paratroopers was so easy, probably because of what went on at Hasmo, no one else in his brigade had such an easy time at training”

  17. Daniel,

    Whilst not perhaps the explicit “words of condemnation” you might have been looking for, you conveniently ignore what I did write, “that I would not necessarily choose to be schooled in today’s Hasmonean rather than our’s”.

    That aside, your point is taken.

    I did ask Dave about the “Yids only” policy, and recall him saying something about a mix not working as well educationally. Whilst not having the time to discuss it with him further on the day, it is a point that I could – and, perhaps, should – have queried further in my post. Truth be told, I didn’t think of it . . . probably because I have known about the policy for so many years now that I didn’t consider it would be news to anyone.

    Anyway, perhaps Dave – who has read my post and will be reading these comments – would like to address, here, the interesting point that you raise.

    As for your (snide?) comment about my “selfless efforts to help Hasmonean out in their hour of need,” why wouldn’t I? It was my school, and I have overwhelmingly fond memories of it. And, if some readers of Hasmo Legends feel the same way, perhaps they really would like to assist.

    Its admissions policy aside, Daniel, I hope you don’t begrudge Hasmo’s change for the better (if you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself!), which – reading between the lines of your comment – is the feeling you kind of give.

  18. I remember with 90% certainty, that the OFFICIAL policy of Hasmo on admissions when I joined in 1981, was that all pupils had to be from shomer shabbat families, and that parents had to state in their application forms that they were; the school then accepted such statements at face value, without further investigation, and effectively honoured the policy in the breach.

    I wonder whether any readers can confirm whether this is an accurate recollection or not?

  19. Daniel Marks

    It’s never nice to be called snide, so I’ll state my opinion in, what I think is a simple and frank way.

    1. I know that the phenomenon of people supporting causes they basically disagree with, for personal or emotive reasons, exists. I just always find it hard to understand.

    My Chevruta is a good case in question as he is an extreme right winger and has hated the Kadima Party since it was founded.
    That didn’t stop him helping out a friend and finding him someone to run our local branch of Kadima during the last elections. I asked him is he’d help the Hizballah out for a friend or family member, but he assured me that there he’d draw the line.

    2. Regarding the question of segregating students because of their parents’ observance of one mitzvah, I think that the idea is repulsive, as I’ve already explained. I wonder if Rabbi Akiva or Resh Lakish would have been allowed to study at Hasmonean in their youth according to such criterion.

    Neither am I certain what, “..a mix not working as well educationally..” means as Jewish studies were always pretty much segregated anyway.

    3. Finally, you say:

    “I hope you don’t begrudge Hasmo’s change for the better”

    I begrudge nothing and I have no idea whether Hasmo has changed for the better or not. As you point out, results were always good and I recall even back in the 70s that middle aged guests were always favorably impressed with what they saw.

    One thing that seems to have definitely changed for the better is the friendly, jolly-looking headmaster. But again, I seem to recall people of their age having only good things to say about our head teachers back then too. So maybe it’s us that have changed as much as the school?

    If I do one day return to the UK during school time I might take you up on your offer and pop in. I’d be interested to see whether Torah is now being taught as a living, breathing adventure or whether it’s still just an exercise in translation and not falling asleep. I’d be interested in seeing whether teachers in 2010 are today living on the same planet as their students and can intelligently discuss important life questions with them.

    Oh..And I’d have a quick look at the very impressive art room exhibition too.

  20. There was one boy in our year who wasn’t even halachically Jewish!

    I recall Rabbi Roberg, at my interview in 1978, asking me to read a few pesukim from the Siddur. That was it. Even the brand new Menorah Grammar School – I was at the Primary – had a proper entrance exam.

    It might have been a better idea for Roberg, instead, to ask me whether I had any future plans to write a blog!

    I spent last Shabbat (or at least part of it . . . confirming Daniel Marks’ outing of my “lifestyle”) in Bet Shemesh, where – unlike in Tel Aviv – it is impossible to walk down the street without meeting ex-Hasmos, who always provide me with new material. And on Friday evening, I bumped into Mark Faber, a few years below me at Hasmo, who regaled me with a story highlighting one of the school’s unique features: the blurring of the professional and the private/personal . . .

    Following some misdeed (involving no other Fabers), “Cyril” informed Mark: “I don’t want to see you or any of your family ever again.”

    Why teachers would bring families into the equation – my cousin was once told by Mitch Taylor, “I don’t like you or your family” – is anybody’s guess.

    Anyway, Mark gratefully obeyed Cyril’s request, no longer attending French . . . though without informing his folks. And so, on the following parents’ evening, the Fabers stood in line with all the other parents to speak with the great man.

    When they introduced themselves, Cyril flipped, screaming: “I thought I told your son I didn’t want to see him or any of his family ever again!” He then picked up his books and stormed away from the desk, leaving a long line of disappointed parents.

    On reporting the incident to Rabbi Roberg, the ever-proactive Headmaster, the Fabers were met with a shrug of the shoulders and something along the lines of: “What do you want me to do? He’s only got another five years until he retires.”


    PS Daniel, “snide” was a question (I thought the question mark was a bit of a giveaway).

  21. S(h)imon Soester

    As usual, a pleasure to read your posts (apart from the political ones).

    I must say that the way you describe the New Hasmo reminds me of the parallel universe in the last series of “Lost”. For all those not addicted, half of the series took place in a sort of purgatory – a world that was almost the same as the real one we knew, but everyone was a sticky sort of nice and everything became perfect as a preparation for olam haba.
    The Hasmo described in the post resembles perhaps the old school, but as in Lost it is a mere mirror of its other, old, self. Like Lost the same characters appear but in different positions, “Dave” is now “Rabbi Meir”, there is a non-changing constant (Mr Boker/Desmond in Lost) and there are no doubt many evil Men In Black who are actually monsters.

    I don’t want to ruin the description of the Brave New School Mike visited but I do have a few questions:

    1.What is the school’s current stand on Zionism? What happens on the 5th of Iyyar (actually in Israel nothing happens on this date because if Yom Haatzmaut falls in a week with a Shabbat in it, it moves)? Does the school actively support the State of Israel, or is that still left to the Israel Society run by the 6th formers?

    2. Culture: Is “Romeo and Juliet” still not considered kosher literature and looked on as pornography as it was in our time (or slightly after)? I notice on the Hasmo website that the ethos of the school is still the Hirshean “Torah im derech eretz”, but instead of the original ideal of Torah and modern culture, it has been translated as a yeshivish “respect for others”.

    3. Are Bras and Panties still added to pictures of Greek Goddesses in history books? Are drawings with naughty bits still removed from First Aid Guides (I remember Osher with a pile of drawings describing how to deliver a baby that were removed from text-books)?

    The barring of non-shomer-shabbat pupils is saddening, if it was in place in my time, I would have been barred from the school, and the Jewish World would have lost the great tzadik in our time I have no doubt become. The “respect for others” is translated into a policy that sounds like the school in Immanuel.

    As a footnote: I would love to donate to the school, but as I live on a kibbutz that doesn’t keep shmitta by Hasmo standards (and “holds” by the heter mechira), all our fields are attacked by plagues of locusts every 7 years (as we were told that happens to all shmita-offenders) and we are totally skint.

  22. Daniel Marks

    I too wondered what Mike’s position is regarding the 48 haredi families that may be going to prison for refusing to desist from religious segregation in Immanuel, and whether he sees room to compare them to parents of Hasmos in 2010. Surprisingly, our haredi brethren here are also using educational rather than cultural reasons to justify their “shomer shabbat policy”.

    I personally support the high court on this one, but I’ve got a feeling that Immanuel could also use a whip-round no less.

  23. Shimon,

    Lovely to hear from you, as always (in spite of your continued, miserable failure to obtain any contribution whatsoever from “Sir Jeff”). And I would like you to know that you are always welcome for a good square meal down here, in Tel Aviv, should things on kibbutz get really tough. We have kosher food here, too (if you know where to find it).

    I never saw “Lost”, but I believe a memorable episode from Seinfeld – “Bizarro World” in which the three male protagonists meet their good versions – could apply equally.

    What do you mean “apart from the political ones”, cheeky bastard?! I refer you to no less than Rav Yossi of Edmonton.

    Mike Ha-Melchetti

  24. Ok, so here is the story behind Mike’s visit to Hasmonean . . .

    Shortly after “Hasmo Legends” began, I called Mike to tell him he was killing me. I was up laughing till all hours of the night reading his posts, and the comments of ex-Hasmos, reminiscing about the old days. Most painful of all was not being able to subscribe with stories of my own!

    In our discussions, I told Mike that he had to come and visit and see how things had changed. Little did I expect him to turn up on the penultimate day of term, and in true Hasmo style . . . late!

    For those who suspect that this was an exercise in subterfuge, let me tell you that pulling the wool over our intrepid reporter’s eyes is nigh on impossible. There was no Mr. Chichios assembling the trampoline for parents evening, or locked classrooms and pre-planned routes. Our blogger chose where to go and when, and in his own inimitable way has managed to encapsulate much of what has changed over the past few years.

    On a personal level, I cannot help but wonder when I will finally graduate from Hasmonean and, yes, it is very strange leading a school with my own former teachers on the staff. There are still days when I feel more suited to be waiting outside the head’s office than working in it!

    It is not my intention to respond to every aspect of Mike’s post and the various comments following it, but I do want to pick up on a couple . . .

    The “Enrichment Programme” also offers subjects such as Aikido, Mandarin, and Share Trading . . . and Aromatherapy is only for the Girls’ School!

    A number of alumni have expressed their disappointment that Hasmonean is now only for students from shomer Shabbat families. It is interesting to note that Mike’s second “Hasmo Legend” was titled “Yids vs. Yoks”, and I think that speaks volumes about the Hasmonean of old.

    Rabbi Dr Schonfeld z”l founded Hasmonean as a refugee centre and educational establishment for children who had fled the Holocaust. At the time, it seems to me, its core purpose was to ensure a future for the children of the Holocaust. I doubt that standards of teaching and learning, and staff and student monitoring, were top priorities. It was a school for all Jewish children and, whilst Hasmonean was founded on shomer Shabbat principles, there was little attention given to religious differences among the intake.

    The reality is that this “one size fits all” approach did not work, and many of the tensions highlighted by “Hasmo Legends” are a result of the policy. For religious parents, the behaviour and influence of the less religious students were unacceptable, while less religious parents felt that many of the school’s principles were irrelevant and undermined their lifestyle. This resulted in a dissonance among the students and a partisan approach by the staff, with many aligning themselves to groups of students in accordance with their particular religious orientation.

    At the same time, the management of the school was trying to respond to the wishes of each sector of the community, with demands for broader secular teaching often resulting in counter measures from the kodesh department. The result, as we have seen from “Hasmo Legends”, was a school lacking focus and direction, and students lacking discipline and control. There were still, however, pockets of excellence and many teachers who, despite their idiosyncrasies, acted far above and beyond the call of duty. I have no doubt that teaching in such an environment must have been an exceptionally challenging and thankless task.

    What is clear is that Hasmonean could not answer everyone’s educational needs, and the school needed to focus on who it was educating and what it was aiming to achieve. As a result, the principles of “Torah im derech eretz” were brought to the fore, and the school became unapologetic in its desire to teach kodesh and secular to the highest standards. I believe that it is the focus on the word “im”, the synthesis between kodesh and chol, that makes today’s school so special. The JS and secular staff respect and value each other’s roles, and support one other. There is a single policy of rewards and sanctions across both sectors of the school, and the product is a student capable of entering the top yeshivot (white and black) and then going on to the top universities.

    “Zionism” is no longer a dirty word, and Yom Ha’atzmaut in the school serves as a testament to how Orthodox Jewry should be celebrating the day. There are those who celebrate (the majority) and those who don’t. Though organised by the Israel Society, staff, including myself, are present and participate. A soldier associated with “One Family” speaks every year, with one even mentioning to me that he preferred the celebrations in the school to those in Israel.

    Should Hasmonean only be for children from shomer Shabbat families?

    That is still a subject for debate. What I do know is that this policy has helped us clarify what we are and helps ensure that we really meet the needs of our students. It has removed the many unpleasant tensions within the school and is one of the factors that has helped us to turn it around.

    It should also be noted that Hasmonean is no longer the only school in town, that there are many other excellent schools to the religious right and left of Hasmonean, enabling parents to find the school that best suits the hashkafa of their family. It is perhaps to the credit of Anglo-Jewry that we have built outstanding establishments capable of meeting the varied needs of the community. However, Hasmonean still has a very broad intake, with a healthy cross-section of Orthodox families of varied backgrounds from across London.

    It is also worth noting that there is greater interaction between these Jewish secondary schools and, indeed, between Hasmonean and other schools in Barnet. It is an indication of the change in our school that, this year, Hasmonean won the Maccabi tournaments in football, basketball and cricket and reached the final in the Barnet Football League.

    What is clear is that what made the old Hasmonean so special was the spirit of the students. Whilst we have worked very hard to improve Hasmonean, and dare I say turn it into a real school, what is essential is that we have retained the Hasmonean spirit at its core. Thank G-d, I think we have achieved this and, though better educated, the Hasmonean student of today still has that “je ne sais quoi” that makes him unique.

    There is no question in my mind that it is the legacy of past Hasmoneans that has built the foundations for the Hasmonean of today: a school that competes successfully against the top schools in the country, and one which we all can be proud of.

    I would like to thank Mike for the memories of the past and the support he has shown the school of today. His footnote (above) regarding the shortage of funds is a poignant reminder that the future of our school is dependent on far more than just the staff at the school.

    As far as I am aware, the purpose of “Hasmo Legends” was never to recruit support for the school, but this blog has shown that, in so many ways, all of us still have a special bond with it. It might be a nice idea to try and find something specific to sponsor – perhaps, for those who have made it to Israel, the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations . . . or even a chair outside the Headteacher’s office for “that boy Isaacson”!

    Warmest regards from the other side of that gate.

    David Meyer

  25. Hi Mike

    Fantastic Blog – it has brought back so many memories, and has had me in stitches at various points.

    The current ethos of the school interests me, particularly the excluding of non Shomer Shabbat students. I was never Shomer Shabbat when I was at Hasmo (79-86). I came from a traditional, but non-orthodox home. In other words – kosher home, kidush on Friday night, two sedars, Yom Kippur very important etc etc. My Dad used to lay Tefilin, but after my bar mitzvah I never did. I was fairly and squarely in the “Yok” category!!

    The problem I had with the school was the attitude the teachers and many pupils took to people like me – almost as if we weren’t “real Jews”. On countless occasions people of my religious observance were treated with barely concealed contempt. Instead of trying to awaken a greater appreciation and love of religious observance, the entire ethos of the teaching staff sent me the other way. By the time I left I kept almost nothing save for fasting on Yom Kippur, and even then I would watch TV all day and saunter in to Shul around Neilah time. Being a passionate Zionist, the attitude of many teachers (even those I liked) alienated me further.

    I went to The LSE from 87 to 90 at the time of the first Intifada. It was not a pleasant experience as I had never seen before such intense Jew Hatred at first hand. The Equal Opportunities Officer of all people tried to ban the J Soc and Israel Society of which I was co-chairman. This, together with the scud missiles of the first Gulf War had a profound effect on me and I slowly began to take an interest in Judaism for the first time in my life. It was almost as if the environment I was in constantly reminded me that I was after all a “real Jew”. Since that time I have kept kosher, lay Tefilin every day, and attend regular shiurim. I am also moving closer and closer to keeping Shabbat (those who have made this lifestyle change will tell you it is not easy!!!)

    I had 7 years in a very religious environment, and it did nothing for me. What a shame I had to leave Hasmonean in order attain an appreciation of what being Jewish really means. The sad fact is that Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat did more to awaken something in me than 7 years at Hasmo ever did.

    Todays’ Hasmoneon could do a lot worse than learn a thing or two from the likes of Aish and the JLE – two wonderful organisations.

    That said, and for reasons I can’t explain, my memories of Hasmo are generally happy ones, and I still feel a tremendous amount of affection for the school.

    The openness shown by Rabbi David Meyer in responding to this (hilarious) blog does him credit. I think our old school is in good hands!!

  26. Moshe Abelesz

    I was saddened by David Saul’s comments.

    I was clearly in the “Yid” camp of the school. Nevertheless, I thought that I, and most of my “Yid” friends too, always got in well with the “Yoks” and had a good relationship with them, including you, David (unless you’re a different David Saul:). In fact, I remember clearly being at your side in one of you rants against Gerry, in one of his short-lived hashkafa shiurim about Zionism, to six-formers.

    But to be honest, the “Yids” were not monolithic, and there were times, especially around Yom Ha’atzmaut, when even “Yids” like me, felt that they were also looked upon by the school, they way you described.

  27. Hi Moshe – its been a long time. Hope you are well??

    My apologies, but I probably should have stressed that I was by no means referring to all “Yids”, and like you say, I had a number of good friends (particularly in 6th form) who were clearly in the “Yid” category.

    By the time I left I probably had more Yid than Yok friends, and they were never ever judgmental about how I lived my life. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with everyone and, it is sometimes the negative experiences in life that make the strongest impression.

    Funny, until you mentioned it I had entirely forgotten about my rows with Gerry (and others). Even so, I did like Gerry as he was one of the teachers who at least made an effort to get me interested (though unsuccessful at the time).

  28. John Fisher

    Headmaster! Where is your respect for English tradition? A country that produced Thomas Arnold and invented Mr Chips, David Powlett-Jones and Wackford Squeers, not to mention the posthumously crowned homosexual Albus Dumbledore, does not expect its Headmasters to be defeatist. When some Jesuit priest said “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” he wasn’t intending commissioning a consumer survey on what the madding crowd would like to receive for their fees. No Sir! Let the accountants account, let the lawyers do whatever they do and let the educationalists educate.

    What is all this nonsense about the problems of the past? What problems? If you were to commission a survey (which you should not because that is not your job – you were born to lead) among the 238,000 ex-Hasmoneans and hangers-on who have accessed this blog since its inception, I am sure that, TO A MAN, they would agree that the experience of being educated in a solidly religious environment among a broad cross-section of Jewish society was one of the most fundamentally enriching experiences of their lives. To raise children under laboratory conditions as you are doing makes me wonder if the quote should be “Give me the child until he is eighteen and I will give you the genetically modified cucumber”

    I appreciate that you do not call all the shots. As one of your illustrious predecessors once wrote to another gentleman with major influence at board level “Reasoning with you is like banging your head against a brick wall”. This was pretty prosaic for him , but it made the point (whcih was, I am sure, totally ignored) and he never gave up the good fight even though he got nowhere.

    In the immortal words of that famous school drop-out, Ronald Reagan:

    “Rabbi Meyer – tear down this wall!”

    I am sure all 238,000 of us will be behind you (maintaining an, albeit, respectable distance in case something goes wrong).

    Go for it, Dave!

  29. John, you are wasted in finance! And an ideal replacement for the ‘late’ Nick Kopaloff on these humble pages.

    Saul, good to have you here. For some reason, I recall you in a Tottenham shirt. Correct? You (conveniently) omit to mention that your mother worked in the school office. Any chance of a post from her? She must know more than most about the nonsense that went on in those days!

    “Like[d] Gerry”?! For me, he – and DJ, of course – represented everything that was rotten about Hasmonean and that particular brand of “Look Down Yer Nose” Judaism.

    I was actually a “Yik” (“Yod”?): my father went to the US on Saturday mornings, but was partial to his Grandstand – especially the roogby league (with the legendary Eddie Waring and, later, Ray French) – in the afternoons. Being a Fundamentalist Litvak, he had little time for Hasmo’s religious ‘elite’ (or their ilk) . . . and, due to his influence, I never let any of them get to me.

  30. You may well have seen me in a Tottenham shirt at some point!! I’ve probably still got it too – some things are meant for hording. Yes, my Mum did work in the school office (retired years ago from the madhouse). I will ask her (let me have your email address).

    The thing with Gerry is he never subjected me to the snide comments and put downs that many other teachers did. He actually tried to get me interested in a Chumash class here, a Mishnah class there. Most others didn’t even bother, since people from my background weren’t worth the effort obviously! Perhaps I was just lucky, or maybe he knew I would one day become a partial Baal Teshuva.

    DJ on the hand is another matter. After one of our many stand up rows, he told me in the middle of the dinner hall that “I was the worst boy in the history of the school”. I can’t even remember what I had done, but I do remember the pride I felt given the stiff competition around at the time.

  31. Perhaps the decision of the current administration and Head, to call time on the failed experiment of a wide religious mix, is an acceptance of the genuine frailties of human nature: Utopian ideals rarely stand up to the harsh analysis of a high school playground, or classroom.

    But what is unforgiveable to my mind, is that the ideals of Dr Schonfeld zt”l could not withstand the litmus test of the STAFF room.

    Rabbi Meyer and his colleagues are to be congratulated for re-shaping the school on a pragmatic basis, that evidently works.

    But shame on his predecessors. You have Someone – and that’s no typographical error – to whom to answer.

  32. Daniel Marks

    David Meyer’s thoughtful and reasoned posting represents a stark contrast with that of another Hasmonean rabbi. His intelligently written defense of the school’s acceptance policy interested me greatly.

    I think that David basically presented four reasons:

    1. For religious parents, the behaviour and influence of the less religious students were unacceptable, while less religious parents felt that many of the school’s principles were irrelevant and undermined their lifestyle.
    2. This policy . . . has removed the many unpleasant tensions within the school.
    3. It should also be noted that Hasmonean is no longer the only school in town.
    4. It is also worth noting that there is greater interaction between these Jewish secondary schools . . . Hasmonean won the Maccabi tournaments in football, basketball and cricket and reached the final in the Barnet Football League.

    I guess we are talking about a child of irreligious parents wishing to attend Hasmonean. Reason 3 reminds me of the long debunked “separate but equal” argument, so often once used by segregationists. As early as 1954 US courts ruled: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

    However, my main objection to this policy is neither legal nor even educational, it is Jewish. On the one hand we teach our son that from the age of 13 he becomes a man and he, and not his father, will be held responsible for his actions. On the other hand we define the same “man’s” religiosity (awe of heaven) not by his actions but by those of his parents.

    Even from a practical point of view, would we give parents a mathematics test and then divide up their sons according to their parents’ results?

    If this point sounds semantic, it is anything but. How many classmates did we all have whose level of religiosity was completely different to that of their fathers? I have a good friend who by the age of 11 had decided to be much more religious than his father. Today he has children and grandchildren living G-d-fearing lives in Israel, all because he was accepted to Hasmonean despite his family’s level of observance.

    By determining in advance that a man’s potential for Jewish growth cannot exceed that of his parents we endeavor to perpetuate the status quo – an action that diametrically opposed to the revolutionary intent of the Torah, “To repair the world in the kingdom of G-d.”

    I suspect that the policy has little to do with Jewish education as this was always segregated and everything to do with “frum” (I choose that word carefully) galut Jews not wanting their frum galut sons to have friends whose parents aren’t as frum as them.

    Sorry to pour cold water on the upbeat nature of this page, but I consider this issue to be important to Am Israel even if they live in Hendon.

  33. “shame on his predecessors. You have Someone – and that’s no typographical error – to whom to answer.”

    Dan, I know He may be a decent bet for next Chief Rabbi . . . but isn’t capitalising references to Him taking things a little far?!

  34. David Prager

    I’ve got to agree with Daniel Marks. I have any number of friends who, as classmates during 1968-74, came from non- or less-religious homes who are now fully religious (even by DJ or Gerry standards), who had they not been admitted to Hasmo would most probably never have become “frum”.

    The irony is that mostly it was not the school that was responsible, indeed it failed miserably on this issue. I believe it was the friendships made that was the catalyst, as most of said Baalei Teshuva only started their “journey” as their school careers came to an end.

    Having said that, there were a small number of lads from “frum” homes who became less so, maybe because of their exposure to kids from other backgrounds, and it is probably this risk that has caused Hasmo’s new intake policy.

    As always, the jury (no pun intended) is out on the cost-benefit analysis of this policy.

    I personally regret it – I truly value the wide spectrum of religiosity of my classmates.

  35. Instead of passing the plate among the pews Dave might want to try out some commercial fundraising ideas.

    The obvious and easiest is selling the name of the school to an individual or group who identifies with the school’s ethos. An example might be “The John Vorster Hasmonean High School for Boys Who Satisfy The Requirements Of The Constitution Which Can Be Viewed In The School Office Weekdays Between 10am And 2pm”. This could be abbreviated on the Neon Coca-Cola sign outside to “Vorster High”

    Another would be taking a franchise with the London Walks Company. My wife and I spent a wonderful afternoon last summer doing the Victorian London Walk in the company of our guide, a delightful elderly polymath by the name of Jean together with an eager group of Japanese tourists who only knew they were in London because that was the destination of the plane they had boarded in Tokyo. I had a marvellous exchange of correspondence with Jean on my return concerning the stunning and accomplished Victorian actress Dame Ellen Terry and Rav A I Kook (who, to relieve all doubt, were not connected- Rav Kook having been firmly rooted in Volozhin while Terry was playing Ophelia to Henry Irving’s Hamlet). I am sure I could persuade Jean to organize a Hasmo walk under the guise of “Horatio Lord Nelson’s Double Life” given that the school is built on the estate of Nelson’s mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton. The fact that the old building dates from around 1880 and Nelson went West at the Battle of Trafalgar 75 years earlier would be totally lost on the two classes of visitor – ex-Hasmoneans who wouldn’t know a Full-Nelson from a Half-Nelson and Japanese who are just biding time until they can get back to the airport to look for the next country.

    As a last resort they could start auctioning off some of the older teachers who have passed their sell by date, at Sothebys.

  36. Greg Cantory for Chief Rabbi??!!

  37. Greg?! What . . . and get a bunch of Gay Street nutters – who want to make peace with our enemies, no less 😉 – on the Beth Din? I don’t think so!

    David writes:

    “I have any number of friends . . . who are now fully religious (even by DJ or Gerry standards)”

    And I bet their folks wish that Hasmo had been “frummers only” then, too!

    The school, however, must miss out on the great Yid/Yok moments, such as when a non-religious asthmatic boy in our year – clutching his spray dispenser close to his mouth – burst into A-level English (in the Mobile Unit) wheezing:

    “They made me a prefect! They made me a prefect! But I can’t even daven mincha!”

    Finally, John, I salute your brilliant suggestions for raising much-needed cash for the alma mater. I fear, however, that, were they to be implemented, one would not be able to spread the proceeds on a conservatively-sized water biscuit.

  38. Attention: 80s Memorabilia Collectors.

    The following genuine official Hasmo documentation on offer;

    – Hasmonean School for Boys, “A Guide for Pupils & Parents”, including an introduction from non-other then Rabbi M. Roberg.

    – Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys, School Regulations.

    – A letter from Double 0-Ziyin concerning “a ‘once only’ charge for the Jewish Studies…”

    – Other odds & ends I find lying around.

    As I say these ARE the Original items, never used 😉 ….Of course if someone wanted to use them for other purposes….

    I’m NOT asking for any donations, and non are expected, very un-Ex-Hasmo I know. Any received will go to the cause above.

    Time Left: 1st July, 6pm BST…..After that they go in the bin.

  39. Walter Becker

    Mike, I agree with you, the school has changed over the years. In my time, we had Jewish antisemites, now the school employs non-Jewish ones.

    Just a few years ago, my son who was not yet into his teenage years came home in tears. He said that a teacher had yelled at him:

    “Nazi, Nazi”

    That teacher is still at the school. Indeed, he has even been promoted.

    The matter was brought to the attention of the then incumbent headmaster, Rabbi Radomsky.

    At the meeting, I was incandescent with rage but to give the rabbi his due, he quite skilfully managed to calm me down and said that he would have very strong words with the teacher in question.

    At best, the man is an insensitive fool. I rather think that he is more sinister than that.

    Take note David Meyer, take note.

  40. Daniel Marks


    Ten days ago I wrote:

    “I begrudge nothing and I have no idea whether Hasmo has changed for the better or not. As you point out, results were always good and I recall even back in the 70s that middle aged guests were always favorably impressed with what they saw.”

    I thank you for your informative posting, which to my mind went some way towards confirming my suspicion that the changes that Hasmonean has undergone may be mainly in the area of public relations. The religious segregating must have been a wet dream of many teachers even back then.

    It would be interesting to hear from other parents of Hasmonean pupils whose sons no longer study there, and who can allow themselves to speak frankly.

  41. “Ten days ago I wrote . . .”

    Well, Daniel, before indulging in your favourite pastime (i.e., patting yourself on the back), “Walter Becker” has – after I removed the identity of said teacher from his comment – written to me off-blog, admitting to assuming the name of one half of Steely Dan.

    And, even if his tale is 100% accurate, it does very little to “confirm” anything.

    How you can claim to “begrudge nothing” – when all you have done here is to begrudge Hasmonean, even if not the finest school in North-West London, the clear improvement it has made since our day – is beyond me.

    I did not visit the school, nor pen the above post, in the capacity of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools. I merely went to see, with my own eyes, the Hasmonean of today.

    Enough with the malevolence.

  42. Daniel Marks

    I have many pastimes and hobbies. My family, Gemara, chess, cooking, writing, hasbara, history, occasional public speaking. Patting myself on the back is not a pastime, but like most people I prefer it when it turns out that I’m right rather than on the many occasions that the opposite happens. like many people I pray to be right 51% of the time.

    There are times when I prefer to be proven wrong. When you and others were mocking Israeli gays I warned of its danger and was shocked and deeply saddened to be proven right so soon. When I questioned whether a certain BNP supporter could remain not anti-Semitic for long and you were sure he could I honestly hoped you were right too.

    Regarding Hasmonean I have mixed feelings. I was skeptical from the start regarding your excellently written but naively upbeat report about the new Hasmonean. I realized that we were talking about a headmaster who is one of your best friends’ brother. I also noted that your host had told you:

    “Everyone told me I was mad to invite you,”

    I assumed this would lead to some kind of subconscious desire to prove “everyone” wrong.

    I’ve worked for almost three decades in education and know that guests rarely leave schools unimpressed. I’ve rarely been to a teacher’s meeting where I wasn’t told about dramatic recent improvements in almost every area (usually except for finances, which are going through a crises). And yes, I am a little cynical. The old joke ending with the punchline, “If everything is so good, why is everything so bad?” often passes through my mind.

    The only part of your report that shocked me was the admission of religious segregation. Your reaction to it was, in my opinion, in stark contrast to what I would have expected it to be if such segregation had taken place anywhere else. Therefore, though I like you very much, I concluded that your judgement had been dazzled a little by the maroon carpet treatment that you had received. I still hope that Hasmonean has improved and I still don’t know whether it has or hasn’t.

    Regarding what I begrudge or don’t begrudge, I invite you and all your readers to reread everything I’ve written about my schooldays and to judge for yourselves. I acknowledge a certain ambivalence that I believe I share with many schoolmates of that era.

    On the one hand, I hope that Jewish education is improving everywhere in the galut though I know this is rarely the case. On the other hand, I am sure that there is special corner in hell for the ignorant, lazy “rabbis” who beat the innocent love for Torah and mitzvot out of so many, too many of my friends. In this matter I fully identify with what David Prager wrote on June the 22nd.

    Regarding your final comment I think it was Camus who said that Regarding you final comment I think it was Camus who said:

    “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

    Have a great week my young friend,

  43. As annoyingly self-indulgent, patronising, and “full of it” as ever! And, this time, intellectually dishonest to boot.

    But I haven’t got time now . . . so I’ll deal with you later!

  44. Daniel Marks

    “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.

  45. Before I commence, let me say that I “like you very much,” too, Daniel – we have actually met up a couple of times without so much as a fist being raised! – but it seems that, when it comes to commenting to melchett mike, either your brain disengages from your typing fingers or an oversized ego takes over.

    “When you and others were mocking Israeli gays I warned of its danger and was shocked and deeply saddened to be proven right so soon.”

    Is this the “mocking Israeli gays” to which you refer? And are you seriously suggesting or implying that it had even the slightest thing to do with this?!

    Please spare us the self-righteousness, Daniel. Do you really need and/or want me to dig up some of your own contributions to this blog (many of which could well be construed to be a lot less PC than anything I have come up with)?

    Moreover, you know me well enough by now, and my writing style, for me to consider your linkage between the gentle fun I poke at Tel Aviv’s Gay Parade with the killings on Nachmani to be grossly unfair, if not intellectually dishonest.

    “I realized that we were talking about a headmaster who is one of your best friends’ brother.”

    I have no idea whether Dave even has a brother!

    “Everyone told me I was mad to invite you.”

    Dave actually wrote this in an e-mail he sent to me after I had finished the main draft of my post. So, once again, your “assum[ption]” is way off the mark.

    Moreover, labelling Hasmo’s admission policy “religious segregation” paints a rather misleading, Immanuel-like picture, does it not?

    I stand by what I wrote about you appearing to “begrudge” our old school the progress it has indubitably made (readers may wish to make up their own minds, by reading down from your first comment above).

    Anyway, talking of “Nazis”, I’m off to Mike’s Place . . . 2-0 to the Ingerland! (Did anyone else witness that clueless asshole Avi Ratzon, on Channel 1 yesterday evening, being asked what teams he thought would make the semi-finals, and answer “Italy, . . .”?!)

  46. Daniel Marks

    No, I did not mean that the still unapprehended killer was a Melchettmike reader. I did think that your rushing to the conclusion that it was perpetrated by a religious Jew was unfair.

    Regarding my saying that David Meyer is your best friend’s brother I categorically apologize. For some reason I got it into my mind that he was “Shuli’s” brother. I have no idea how but I was clearly wrong.

    Good luck with the football. I’ll be cheering for Germany. Firstly, the German government pay me a salary (of sorts) and secondly, like every true Israeli I like to back a winner when I can.

  47. Dave Meyer has a younger brother called Shuli.

    Who is not the same person as Shuli Myers, among other things must be about nine years apart in age, “Big” Shuli having been 3 years above me in school, and “Little” Shuli, 5 years below.

    Now I hope that the L-rd will judge me, albeit in some tiny way, to have done my bit to bring that elusive quality – peace – to the realm of Melchett Mike.

    But I greatly doubt it, on the balance of probabilities.

  48. Daniel Marks

    I thank Dan for explaining my SNAFU. Once again I apologize to Mike, not to be confused with Michael Goldman.

    I never dreamed that there could be a Shuli Meyer and a Shuli Myers.

    I’ve never met anyone in my life called Shuli and suddenly there are two with similar family names. The mind boggles!

    I will assume that the headmaster’s brother is not homophobic too as, that would surely be too much of a coincidence for one day.

    One Shuli too many, if you ask me.

  49. You see, Daniel, that is what you do: make totally outrageous, unsubstantiated allegations – in this case, linking a clearly tongue-in-cheek post with the murder of two youngsters – and then, when challenged, brush over it with a tasteless joke (“I did not mean that the still unapprehended killer was a Melchettmike reader”).

    As if that were not enough, your fanciful, ego-fuelled imagination then runs away with you even further:

    “I did think that your rushing to the conclusion that it was perpetrated by a religious Jew was unfair.”

    Who “rush[ed] to th[at] conclusion”, Daniel? Not me! This is what I actually wrote (here), in the aftermath of the gay murders:

    “. . . unthinking chiloni (secular) Israelis have already pointed fingers of blame for Saturday’s attack at haredim (the ultra-Orthodox). Needless to say, that is totally wrong. It is far from inconceivable that a chiloni homophobe or just a plain nutter perpetrated the atrocity, or that it was the result of some internal dispute.

    Conversely, kneejerk reactions that a haredi was unlikely to have carried it out are similarly unhelpful. Among the curious reasons provided in one particular comment to melchett mike were: “1. A haredi is recognizable with or without a mask. Beard, peyot, clothes, etc. 2. Most haredim neither have automatic rifles nor know how to use them. 3. Motzei shabbat [post-sabbath] seems an “unlikely” time for a haredi to act. 4. Where did he get the intelligence?”

    It is as if, English football fan-like, many Israelis have chosen their side and will support it whatever.”

    And, quel surprise, guess whose comment I was quoting (which actually had “rush[ed] to [a] conclusion”)? That’s right, Daniel, yours! (And, in my view, you have “chosen [your] side” and are “support[ing] it whatever” – completely oblivious to all the evidence – in relation to the new Hasmonean, too.)

    So, from now on, Daniel, instead of getting carried away with your own verbosity and having to “categorically apologize” afterwards (“for some reason I got it into my mind . . . I have no idea how but I was clearly wrong”), please read what I actually write and engage your (no doubt considerable) brain before hitting “Submit”.

  50. Daniel Marks

    “I did think that your rushing to the conclusion that it was perpetrated by a religious Jew was unfair.”

    Who “rush[ed] to th[at] conclusion”, Daniel? Not me! ……

    Here were your words Mike. Here is you rushing to conclusions:

    “Terribly sad. The center is just two minutes’ walk away from my apartment. The ambulances woke me up.

    The dangers of halacha? Or just of some (many?) peoples’ warped interpretations of it (as seen in comments above)?

    When will we learn?”

    Who rushed to conclusions Mike?

  51. Look Mike & Daniel

    For goodness’ sake…..

    there are TWO DIFFERENT people, but BOTH called Shuli…right?

    They happen to have VERY SIMILAR SURNAMES…

    stop me if I’m going too fast here…

    ONE is Dave Meyer’s brother – Shuli MEYER

    THE OTHER is not related – Shuli MYERS.

    I’ll explain again if you want, just say so.

    All friends now ???


  52. Did one of them murder a homosexual? I’m getting confused.

  53. Question Marks for Daniel Marks

    The dangers of halacha?

    Or just of some (many?) peoples’ warped interpretations of it (as seen in comments above)?

    The emboldened text above illustrates the use, in questions and follow-up questions (cf. “conclusions”), of a device and symbol [?] known in the English language as the Question Mark.

    In the context above, these Question Marks are used to question the dangers posed by the attitudes and opinions of religious bigots, such as “I would never apologise to someone [i.e., a homosexual] who halachicly she be put to death” (source).

    Next week’s Basic English for Settlers (even those claiming to teach it!): Exclamation Marks for Daniel Marks.

  54. Mike,

    I have read with interest the comments left after your post, and there have been some valid ones, unfortunately often coupled with wildly inaccurate statements.

    Reading some of the comments, a non-Hasmonean would assume that the Hasmonean of old, though it may have had faults, was some form of utopia where any Jewish child was welcomed and educated.

    My recollections are very different. They are of a school where the shomer Shabbat boys were placed in the Yeshiva Stream, and grouped into A1, A2 or A3. The non-Yeshiva Stream students were placed in O1 and O2. As a friend of mine in O1 once pointed out, the message is quite clear: a non-Yeshiva Stream student is not worthy of being in an A group or even a B, C, D or E group. They are relegated to half way down the alphabet, reflecting their standing as second class citizens or worse.

    Of course there are stories of students becoming more religious, but I am surprised that this is used as an argument supporting a broader intake. I would find it worrying to think that our school had a hidden agenda of kiruv and can’t quite see non-orthodox parents being overly enthused by this.

    I read with interest that Daniel Marks has had many years’ experience in education, in which case he will appreciate that there are significant differences between the needs and approaches required for the education of children from irreligious backgrounds, as opposed to those from Orthodox homes. I have had experience working in both areas, thank G-d with some success, and though equally valid areas of education, they are very different.

    One of the comments queried whether the approach of Jewish studies has changed since our time as students. The answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

    From the professionalism of the staff to their rapport with the children and parents, the whole approach is different. There is a coherent curriculum using some of the most advanced educational programmes available in order to instill in students a love of Torah values and give them the foundation upon which to build lifelong learning.

    Unfortunately, Mike visited in the afternoon, and did not get a chance to see the Hasmonean Beis Hamedrash programme in action. This programme sees 120 Sixth Formers participate in an intensive learning programme which includes a voluntary shiur at 7 a.m. followed by shacharit, breakfast, chavruta learning and shiurim. Lower down in the school, Gemorah is taught using computers and the Gemorah Brurah Programme (designed by Meir Fachler). Hasmonean was the first school in Europe to use this programme.

    Perhaps the most obvious indication of this change is that so many boys now daven in the pre-school minyanim that we serve over a thousand breakfasts a week!

    So, yes, learning and teaching JS has transformed.

    However, this transformation would have been totally unsuitable for the less Orthodox students, for whom learning the nuances of Aramaic texts is not a priority. These students require a different approach, and schools like JFS, Immanuel College, King Solomon, and Yavneh College have invested considerable time and energy in developing suitable curricula for them.

    Hasmonean has in fact not changed its entrance criteria, rather it is now enforcing one that was in place for many years before I became a student in the school. As to whether it should be changed so as to accept non-Orthodox children, anyone who has followed recent educational legislation in this country will know that this policy has actually become a saving grace for our school. The infamous JFS case means that it is now illegal to differentiate between applicants based on whether or not they are Jewish. This has caused many schools considerable difficulty. However, as Hasmonean differentiates on grounds of religious practice, this is not an issue. Ultimately, for this reason above all others, changing the admissions policy is not an option.

    Though I am confident that the school has improved greatly, we still have a long way to go, and it is perhaps the challenges ahead that are the most exciting, as we strive to ensure Hasmonean’s excellence.

    As with every communal organisation, and especially Jewish ones, I have no doubt that there are many people with concerns and complaints. However, this blog is not the place for disgruntled parents to voice their concerns; they are always welcome to contact the Heads of School or me directly.

    It was somewhat disappointing to see that Daniel Marks jumped on the lone allegation of a disgruntled parent, whose real complaint has more to do with a perceived injustice last week than 6 years ago! However, even this parent would no doubt grudgingly admit that Hasmonean today has progressed considerably from the Hasmonean of the 1980s.

    Daniel, I don’t think we know each other, though it is possible that you collected toilet money from me when I was a first year (another custom that thankfully is no longer)! The fact is that you are doing Mike a disservice – I do not accept that his “judgement had been dazzled a little by the maroon carpet treatment”, on the contrary he had the integrity to visit the school with an open mind.

    Furthermore, any suggestion that the staff and students colluded to pull off the greatest of deceptions is ludicrous. Of the many schools you have visited, how many welcomed you on the final afternoon of the school term, and how many invited you to observe a fire drill?!

    There is no question that, when certain VIPs visit the school, we make sure we put on a good show. As Prince Philip once put it, “Why is it that everywhere I go I smell fresh paint?” Regrettably, Mike simply isn’t in this league, though had I known of his supposedly close association with my brother I may have offered him the red carpet treatment!

    I am not surprised that you are unconvinced. Turning the school around has not only been an immense challenge, but one that has been achieved. Getting people to recognise this, however, has to date been a bridge too far.

    However, the doors of the school are not just open to Mike – if any alumni of the school would like to visit, please be in contact and we will be happy to give you a tour.

    Best wishes,

    David Meyer

    PS Simon, on the assumption that no one has offered you a six-figure sum for your collection, please pass them on to the school and I will see if we can use them to teach our students a little about their heritage!

  55. Ellis Feigenbaum

    A few salient points.
    It would seem that the method of using alphabetical class numbers changed at some point. As the lettering system you described was not in existence at the time when Daniel or any one over the age of 45 was at the school.
    The system in place at that time had 3 form classes with a reasonable mix of religious and non religious in all the classes. The line seemed to be drawn more on what primary school you went too as opposed to how frum your parents were. And to be honest I don’t think that either group had any great effect on the other. Although the frum group did manage to teach me how to count my sweet selling profits in Yiddish.
    Secondly, to claim that learning the nuances of Aramaic texts is inappropriate to non religious children, is to miss the whole point of leaning Gemorrah. And that would be to learn how to hold a discussion seeing all sides of an argument regardless of what actually ends up as law. This should be of paramount importance to all children Jewish or not, it is your job as an educator to find a way to do this, as opposed to saying it is not suitable for non religious ones. We as a group are lucky to have such a wonderful educational tool.
    Thirdly, and possibly most importantly for the future of Hasmoneans everywhere, if you really think the practice of collecting money for something by older children from younger ones for some reason, be it toilet money, headmasters birthday cake money, teachers retiring fund etc has stopped, then the boys have managed to pull the wool over your eyes.
    Ellis Feigenbaum

  56. Hi David,

    Sure thing, the collection is on it’s way to you, it may take a week or two but I won’t have forgotton.

    Certain auction sites are behind the times, healthy commercial activity was going on long ago in the Hasmo playground, and classrooms during lessons, on the sports field, the 240….

    When you say….

    “…use them to teach our students a little about their heritage!”

    ….I take it you mean the old students, commenting here, of the era ? 🙂


  57. Daniel Marks

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your kind invitation. I rarely visit the UK and on the occasions I do it is during the summer holidays, but I’ll keep it in mind. In my opinion by the time I joined Hasmonean in 1972 the headmaster’s birthday fund was a legend and joke rather than a practice though I might have thrown you in the sand pit and then sold you a Mars bar (of dubious kashrut) at an inflated price to help you to recover from the trauma.

    I find myself in the strange position of defending Hasmonean (albeit of yesteryear) to its current headmaster, but I would respectfully correct a few points:

    1. “…the shomer Shabbat boys were placed in the Yeshiva Stream”

    The choice of Yeshiva Stream, Morning Shiur or Regular was a decision by parents (with a greater or lesser degree of consultation with their sons) and not the school’s. There were many boys from Shomer Shabbat families not in the Yeshiva Stream, and several boys in the Yeshiva Stream whose parents didn’t keep shabbat. I think it would be in bad taste to name names but suffice it to say that both of these types are among the regular contributors to this excellent blog.

    2. “I would find it worrying to think that our school had a hidden agenda of kiruv and can’t quite see non-orthodox parents being overly enthused by this…”

    I never use the word kiruv as it seems to imply “religious people” persuading “irreligious people” to be “frum” like them. I used the expression Jewish growth.

    However, all Jewish education is “kiruv” in the sense that its purpose is to help the student come closer to his G-d, Torah and Mitzvot. You are not teaching him gemara solely as an intellectual exercise, and you’re teaching halacha so he knows how to behave as a Jew.

    Of course your work is kiruv work. You’ve just decided that you’ll limit yourselves to making the frumers frumer.

    3. “…any suggestion that the staff and students colluded to pull off the greatest of deceptions is ludicrous.”

    I agree. I didn’t think or imply that you and your staff had cooked up some elaborate plot to fool Mike in order that he’d write a positive report for this excellent blog.

    As a rabbi, however, I’m sure you know the story (Ketubot :ק”ה) of Shmuel who refused to judge a stranger, because the stranger had helped him to cross a bridge.

    Nobody suspected the stranger of intentionally trying to influence the case by his action. Shmuel was just astute enough to realize the possibility that his judgment might be influenced because he was grateful to the stranger. The example is given to illustrate that bribery doesn’t have to be financial or even intentional. That is what I meant when I said “dazzled by the maroon carpet”.

    Anyway I have no quarrel with Mike’s description. I’m sure that your computer lab and art room are quite divine.

    As I said, were I to visit I would ask to quietly sit for 45 minutes at the back of a second form Chumash and Rashi lesson. It is the work of a teacher and his interaction with his students that defines a school, not what’s written on your timetable or even which computer program is installed on your hard disc.

    4. You methodically answered everything, even taking off time to remind me of the now infamous “Shuly Meyers-Shuly Meyer Fiasco” but never got round to addressing my main point so I’ll restate it:

    As religious Jews we know that from the age of 13 a Jewish man is responsible for his actions. He keeps or breaks shabbat, he prays or daydreams, he learns Torah or pretends to. He makes the choices and he must give account to his Maker for the decisions that he makes.

    However, as far as I can understand, the acceptance policy to Hasmonean is based on one single (extremely important) mitzvah, and the question being whether father keeps it, not him.

    David I sincerely wish you, your staff and your pupils well. I have no doubt that your intentions are leshaim shamayim. Judging by the way you write you are both wise and open-minded.

    I think it highly likely that you’ll be in Israel before I reach Hendon and since our discussion is about education, not wood and stone, it could just as well take place here. I have to say that the idea of having a beer with the headmaster of Hasmonean (naturally in a kosher, shomer shabbat, unmixed establishment) is quite delicious and I believe that we would not be alone either.

    If I know my friends you’d leave the evening smiling, with few cheques in your pockets but plenty of well-intended advice.

  58. “you’d leave the evening smiling”

    Daniel, I am not sure that what you have in mind would be suitable for the Headteacher of the “new” Hasmonean.

    The least you could do, in the circumstances, would be to ensure that the “banot” in question were Shommer Shabbos.

  59. Daniel Marks writes:

    ‘I never use the word kiruv as it seems to imply “religious people” persuading “irreligious people” to be “frum” like them. I used the expression Jewish growth’

    Is this not just a little sanctimonious, Daniel? Kiruv means “drawing near”, or less literally translated, “befriending”.

    No particular sinister missionary connotations to that, from where I’m standing.


  60. David Meyer


    Your blog is addictive! I don’t really have the time to respond to all the comments, but felt I had to respond to a couple of them . . .

    The reason I did not discuss the shomer Shabbat element of the entry requirement is that it doesn’t really exist. The phrase “shomer Shabbat” is used as a shorthand for Orthodox Judaism. The entry criteria actually states: “A child must observe and practise Orthodox Jewish traditions and practices.”

    I strongly support the view that there is more to Judaism than being shomer Shabbat, and would put honesty and integrity high on my expectations from any Torah Jew. It may interest you to know that I co-authored a curriculum on Money and Morals which, though originally conceived for Jewish schools, is currently taught in over 700 mainstream schools across the country. Feel free to visit http://www.moneyandmorals.org/. So I am sorry to have to tell you that we may well agree on this key point, which is further proof that you are wrong about your other assertion – that I am wise!

    Nevertheless, I look forward to sharing a beer. Though, given my position, it is going to have to be a Maccabi!

    Ellis, I will not pretend to know more than you about what goes on in Hasmonean today, though I am pretty certain there are no collections for the Headteacher’s birthday cake – as my birthday was last week . . . and nada!


    Dave Meyer

  61. Daniel Marks

    The concept of a wise, open-minded headmaster at Hamonean is quite surprising. The fact that you have a sense of humor too makes me suspect that you are just a front man, a pretty face – and hidden away in the dark, damp dungeons of Holders Hill Road (under the long room) is the real man who is calling the shots.

    In relation to the Hasmonean entrance policy, I remain skeptical as to how many boys are refused each year because they come from homes that lack in “..honesty and integrity..” but who knows. As your wrongly accused, non-homophobic brother might hasten to point out, I’m often wrong.

    Regarding our eagerly anticipated kosher drinking binge, I’m happy to tell you that with Israel’s improved economic climate, standards of living here have gone through the roof. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to share that beer after all. PG we’ll be able to have one each.

    Shabbat shalom,


  62. I’m beginning to accept that Hasmo may have existed in some sort of quantum physics world in my day (73-80) because I don’t recognise so many things that have been written above. Were there multiple Hasmos in identical universes?

    I don’t remember a headmaster’s birthday fund, but I do remember the, ahem, Amenity Fund. I remember almost no amenities, however. Strange, that.

    I don’t remember discussions about Gemara and Mishnah, I do remember the likelihood of getting a whack for not toeing the line. One Rabbi in particular used his wooden ruler often enough for him to have nicknamed it “Sam 6”, an anti-aircraft missile in use at the time (yes, I googled it).

    I also lost all respect for that particular Rabbi after his reaction to my question “Are there Jews on other planets?”. Discussive? No. Percussive? Yes.

    My year seemed to be part of an experiment in that of the three forms one was solely comprised of Yeshiva Stream students, mine was of those perceived to be more observant (how it must have galled them that I, a former Menorah Primary student, opted for neither Yeshiva Stream nor Morning Shiur) and the other one was made up of the rest of them. I think we integrated quite well as a result of it.

    As the Stanton era was drawing to a close it certainly veered to the right. I can remember the incident over a couple of tickets for the Benson & Hedges final at Lords that were ripped up by a certain deputy head after its owners were ratted on by a couple of their classmates who imagined themselves to be closer to the Almighty.

    Shuli Meyers was the younger brother of Ari Myers, who was in the year below me.

    Oh, and Jack Buechler – whatever became of Mrs McHaggerty?

  63. Adrian Reiss


    I met Willie, as he was affectionately known in the Hasmonean during the late fifties and early sixties of the last century, on three occasions. Each occasion lasted longer than the previous one.

    The purpose of the first meeting was – having passed the eleven plus – to be interviewed by Willie with a view to my acquiring my Grammar School education at the Hasmonean. Being just eleven years old, I was escorted to the meeting by my mother, who on the way there tried to prepare me for the interview.

    “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

    “An airline pilot”.

    “No, that’s not good enough. You should become a barrister”.

    “OK, barrister”.

    I remember little of the actual interview with Willie, apart from the fact that he sat slumped back in his chair and both his feet were stretched out upon his desk.

    Here it must be said that Willie suffered from severe arthritis. This influenced both his seating position and his collossal cynicism and sarcasm, which coloured almost every sentenced he uttered.

    I remember him asking one student:

    “What do you want to do in life?”.

    “Law, sir”, the student replied.

    “Oh yes? Which side of it?”

    The other part of the admission-procedure was a written exam. Here we sat in the stock-room, supervised by the teutonic maths master, Mr. Bernard Valier Grossman z”l. I still remember one question from that exam: A lily grows in a pond, and each day doubles itself in surface size. If it covers the entire pond on the 81st day, on what day did it cover half the surface of the pond? The obvious answer was the day before, the 80th day. But somewhere I got stuck somewhere around the forties, and got the answer wrong.

    Apparently Willie decided that the education of an ex-future-airline pilot and would-be barrister should not be hindered by trivial matters such as maths and lily-ponds – and I was accepted to the Hasmonean.

    However, building on the success of my acceptance, my parents decided to aim even higher, which resulted in my receiving a scholarship to Carmel College. Which was where I went to (boarding-)school for the next three years.

    My second meeting with Willie was on a three-week Hasmonean trip to Switzerland and Italy. My parents gave me this as a Bar-Mitzvah present. Willie, his wife and two daughters – Michelle and Judy – were also on the trip. I remember him commenting on
    someone who’d suddenly temporarily gone missing, as saying “He’s probably standing outside the Money-Changer’s booth, saying Tehilim”.

    During that trip I bought a small camera, and Willie, when he saw it, for some reason made quite a few sarcastic jokes about its capabilities. While in Milan I took a photo of his two daughters standing in front of Milan Cathedral. The photo came out quite well, and I sent it to Willie. He was decent enough to write a nice ‘thank-you’ note, and even apologised for his jokes made on the trip about the camera!

    All holidays end, and so back to Carmel College. I spent those three years trying my utmost to sink to the bottom of the class – but even in that I failed; one congenital idiot had apparently registered the position with Land Registry, and could not be budged from there. After three years my parents began to realise that Einstein I was not, and so brought me home. I had a rain-check for the Hasmo (from the previous interview with Wille three years earlier), and so joined form 4B.

    Here began my third – and longest – acquaintance with Wille; it would last for three years.

    I spent the next three years in a fashion similar to the years I’d spent in Carmel College, and thus came under fire many a time from Willie’s sharp tongue. Once he came into 4B to review our term exam results. That was the year the Russians had entered a horse to run in the Grand National. When yet another student told Willie that he wanted to become a lawyer, Willie replied “you’ve got about much chance of becoming a lawyer as that Russian horse has a chance of winning the Grand National.” And in a burst of self-humour he added “you’ve got about as much chance as _I_ have of winning the Grand National!”.

    I stayed in the Fifth form two years running, ending up with one O-level – English. There wasn’t any point in my remaining at Hasmo, so I left. But I remember that at one point in time Willie interviewed me regarding my future, accompanied by Mr. Rich who was the school Careers adviser. When Willie asked me what I wanted to do in life, I said that I wanted to become a photographer. This was at that time true, because I was well into photography then. Mr. Rich said “but you’ll need chemistry, to mix up all those chemical solutions required for developing and printing films”. I replied that the solutions came in ready-made bottles.

    At this point I heard the real, non-sarcastic, decent Willie Stanton.

    “Adrian,” he said. “If you think carefully, you are just using photography as an excuse not to study”.

    On one occasion I was tearing down the stairs and turning a corner bumped – hard – into Willie. I expected a real verbal thrashing – but he just looked at me and said: “Oh, well, you can’t keep a good man down!”

    On another occasion he stopped me for making a noise in the corridor and asked me what were those books sticking out of my pockets? I showed him two or three paper-backs, all featuring a gentleman known in public as Alfred E. Neuman. “MAD?” he said. “MAD? You’re MAD, boy!”.

    On a third occasion, he caught me talking in assembly and told me to write a 500-word essay on the subject “Speech is silver, silence is golden”. I understood the instruction as being told to write what I thought on the subject. What I actually thought was that speech is far more important than silence – and that is what I wrote, giving biblical examples such as the Tower of Babel, where G-d stopped everything by harming the villains’ linguistic – and thus, speech – capabilities. The next morning Willie caught me talking again in assembly – and asked for the essay imposed yesterday. I handed it to him, he began reading – and blew up! “This is pure chutzpah!” he said. “You’ve done the exact opposite of what I asked you to do! This time you will write fifteen hundred words on the subject”. Of course, I did.

    On one occasion I managed to leave Willie speechless. Someone in 5B had brought a large tape-recorder to school. Our form-master at that time was Bernie Steinberg, the French master. Bernie asked the tape-owner if he was recording lessons? I called out “there’s nothing in the lessons worth recording”. To which Bernie replied “go to Mr. Stanton and tell him what you’ve just said.” I did so, and Willie said to me “if there’s nothing worth recording in the lessons, then there’s no point in your attending them.” This was a reference to the table outside his study, a punishment table for seating students like myself. I knew that table well.

    I had an inspiration. “No sir. We attend lessons for their educational values, but record things for their entertainment values”. He didn’t have an answer to that, and so sent me back to Bernie’s class, unpunished.

    In later life, here in Israel, I would find myself teaching various computer-related subjects in three Israeli universities (including Bar Ilan and the Technion), and for nine years I taught year-long courses in Computer-Communications Programming in Hadassah Technical College. I never met a student as bad as I had been, but then by university time they’ve usually been weeded out.

    The only thing I got from Carmel College was the ability to stand on my own two feet – which greatly assisted my earlier Aliyah years. I’ve never managed to figure out what – if anything – I got from the Hasmonean. I guess that if I’d remembered half of the subjects taught in the Hasmonean during my time as well as the incidents concerning Willie that I have reconstructed here, I could well have become a teacher at the Hasmonean. Having read the stories told in Melchett Mike, I thank the good Lord that I didn’t!

    Someone recently wrote on Melchett Mike that Willie was heard to have said “If I had to do it all over again, I’d become Headmaster of a school for orphans”. It doesn’t really matter if he said it or not – for that sentence contains the essence of Willie’s wit and sarcasm.

    You had to mentally dig a little to see the real Willie – a good, decent man who dedicated his life to educating several generations of Jewish boys.

    May he rest in peace – with pupils like me, he earned it well.

  64. Ben Wulfsohn

    I know I’m a little late on this blog (my work and family schedule gives me the only occasional opportunity to catch up on the Melchett Mike site), but I wanted to reach out and say hi to David Saul who gave some appreciated and accurate contributions to this discussion. I remember David and his mother well. Both were very likeable folks and Mrs. Saul would give me the occasional lift to Hendon Central Station, which was kind of her. I also remember David had an immense fear of snakes. Is this still the case David?

  65. Hi Ben

    Nice to hear from you. Sorry its taken so long to respond – just logged on for the first time in several months. Hope you are well, and yes I did and still do have an irrational phobia when it comes to snakes – how the hell did you remember??????

  66. David

    Just one of those funny little details that stay in your memory even as you age, whilst the more important short-term stuff gets forgotten. I do remember sitting next to you in Posen’s bio class watching a documentary in which a snake was hunting for bird eggs in a tree. You were squirming in your seat like a nudist on an ant-hill.

  67. Dave Meyer makes the Telegraph . . .


    A little disingenuous of him, though . . . when he could have just provided the names “Gerber” and “Jacobson”.

  68. Hasmonean Raphael Meyers, son of Shuli, the Mary Whitehouse of melchett mike, has just posted the following to facebook:

    “school closed on the first day of skoool!! Water pipe broken”

    I respectfully call on Dave Meyer to:

    (i) expel the boy for, if not being his father’s son (being a younger brother always used to be grounds for victimisation and/or expulsion at Hasmo), his impudence in highlighting the (still) poor state of infrastructure – and, indeed, of English tuition – at the school in a public forum; and

    (ii) apologise to me in writing for making out that the school had changed!

  69. Just when Hasmo had made a reasonable case for having come out of the Dark Ages . . .


  70. An official notice I received by email just now, if it helps anyone get to the levayah . . .

    Baruch Dayan Hoemes

    We regret to advise of the Petirah of Mr Benjamin Meyer z”l, father of our former executive headteacher, Rabbi David Meyer.

    The Levayoh will take place TODAY Wednesday 1st March at 17:45 from 2 Danescroft Avenue, Hendon for Kevuroh in Yerusholayim on Thursday morning. Details of the Kevuroh will follow.

    Wishing Rabbi Meyer and his family Chaim Aruchim.

    Wish you long life, Dave.

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