History of Cheder

Cheder 1986 – 2005 – By Marilyn Dexter

When I arrived in Bournemouth in 1986 with my husband Bernie and three children, one of our first ports of call was to the cheder. We were very impressed with what we saw. Our children were enrolled, and when they walked nervously into the assembly on their first morning, I was pleased to see that many of the children converged on them, and started chatting to them right away. That is the nature of the children, and indeed the adults of the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation. They are always delighted to welcome newcomers.

The cheder was run under the headship of Mr John Wiener, who had previously been the headmaster of the King David Primary School in Liverpool. There must have been approximately 80 children on the roll at that time. The teachers included Irene Weintroub, Laura Swabe and two of the ‘Kale-im’ as the Kale family were fondly known.

I remember with pleasure the end-of-term outings that we used to enjoy. We would go to such local attractions as the Dorset Heavy Horse Centre and Poultons Park. The majority of the families used to turn up, each with picnics and other paraphernalia. We sat on blankets on the lawn sipping wine and watching the children having fun together. We always seemed to have good weather, and a good time was had by all.

One year later, I found myself on the staff of the cheder for the first time in my life. I was thrown in at the deep end, and I’m still there! I started teaching the youngest children, and I ended up teaching the oldest ones. These days, I just teach any class that needs me.

I have seen many teachers come and go, including Anne Ozdamar, Angela Sklan, Paula Bright, Zena Mazin, Mrs Brysh, Tony Wynbourne and Brian Webb. Please excuse me if I’ve missed anybody out. More recently we have had Sophie Lassman, Hayley Millen and Mandy Glazer, all of whom are graduates of the cheder. In 2005 the teaching staff consisted of Rev Lionel Rosenfeld, who taught the Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, Barry Sklan who taught the class below, Jonathan Gollom, Mandy Glazer and Hayley Millen, and the newly-introduced reception class was taught by Aaron Morris and Leonie Kurt, who were also our own cheder graduates.

Over the years, there have been many changes. When Tony Wynbourne was headmaster, he decided that the cheder needed a new name, so he set a competition for the children, and the name chosen was Bet HaSefer. It lasted for a few years, but then the old ‘cheder’ name slipped back into use.

In the early nineties, a new class was introduced, the GCSE in Judaism. It has been a very successful course and most of the students who take the exam pass with a grade C or above, many of them have gained A* grades. They usually take the exam one year early, which gives them extra confidence for their main GCSE exams. During the year that my daughter Judy was due to take the GCSE, her teacher Jackie Harris left. There was nobody to teach her and the other two girls in the class, so we three mothers, Marilyn White, Irene Weintroub and myself, undertook to teach the girls ourselves. We took it in turns to teach a lesson, and we were very proud when all three girls passed with good grades.

In 1995, the Inverne family dedicated a Children’s Library in memory of Howard Inverne. In 2004 we had a large addition of books that we inherited from the Bournemouth Jewish Day School which sadly closed that summer. The library is well used by the children.

I have seen the assembly moved from the beginning of the morning, to the middle of the morning after break, to the end of the morning, and now today, back to the beginning of the morning! Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler taught the children to sing some of the prayers during assembly. Rev Rosenfeld also taught the children through song.

For the last several years, we have been having annual visits from the Tsivos Hashem road show. They travel from London and bring with them various hands-on activities such as a kashrut workshop, a shofar factory and other fun ideas. These have proved very popular with the children.

The cheder has been known to be the cause of controversy at the shul AGM. From time to time, somebody will have the ‘novel’ idea of introducing fees for attendance. They would argue that the parents would take Jewish education more seriously if they had to pay for it. A notice of motion would be put forward, and there would be much debate, both for and against the motion. I am happy to say that, up till now, there has never been a charge for the child of any member of the congregation.

So the cheder continues to evolve. With each new minister we have new ideas. The roll these days is under 50, which reflects the demographic changes in all provincial communities. Two of our alumni have since become eminent orthodox rabbis. I wonder if any of our present little darlings will be going on to similar greater things. Only time will tell!

Cheder 1905 – 1985 – By Jane Victor

From the inception of the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation, interest was taken in the education of the children in the community. When the decision was made on
23rd July 1905 to found the community, the advertisement placed in the Jewish Chronicle read that the congregation was looking for ‘a man to serve as chazan, shochet, teacher and mohel’. Thirty applications were received and at a meeting on 3rd September Mr F Shtein ‘remarked that he thought the most important point to consider was the securing of a good teacher in preference to a mohel, expressing the opinion that if the children’s education were neglected they could not be expected to take interest in the Hebrew Religion.’

When the Rules and Regulations of the congregation were agreed on 5th November they stated ‘In connection with the Congregation, Religion Classes shall be established under the name of the Bournemouth Hebrew Religion Classes’.
However, how successful was their choice of candidates remains to be surmised, as in August 1907 a letter from an irate father read: ‘the Hebrew instruction given to the children at the so called classes is nothing more than a farce. From what I have gathered two of the so called teachers take no interest whatever in their pupils. The idea is to gabble lessons over as quickly as possible………..Fifteen minute lessons are not sufficient to impart into a child Hebrew knowledge. The future of Judaism depends upon the coming generation.’

Although there is no record of the size of the cheder at this time, indication of the growth of the community comes when on 15th December 1912 the intention was recorded ‘That a competent  Head Teacher be engaged without delay, to combine with the duties of  second Reader and collector.’

The Annual Synagogue Report of 1934 however does give the Headmaster’s report, in which it states that 37 children were on the roll, although the average attendance throughout the week was only 20 and on a Sunday 26. The three classes were divided into Beginners from 5 to 10 years, Intermediate 8 to 12 years and Headmaster’s class 10 to 14 years. It was noted that as well as the regular syllabus of prayers, festivals and history ‘in Hebrew an experiment to teach the children the language for actual use showed remarkable results.’

It also noted ‘those who attended regularly show very satisfactory results, while the others show from very moderate results to no results at all.’ Just as happens today, parents were implored to send their children regularly to cheder for them to gain ‘the maximum benefit for their trouble.’

Mention was made that whilst the Shabbat Service took place in the synagogue, the Sabbath Class for children was well attended. Miss L Samuel, who frequently took the class and also distributed gifts to encourage the youngsters in their attendance, was thanked for her efforts.

The East Cliff Court Hotel (then a kosher venue) hosted  a Chanukah Treat, which also appeared to serve as an annual prize giving.

As an end-of-summer-term treat, the children and their parents went to Larmer Tree Gardens. Lack of funds prevented them going further afield, but following the afternoon of sports and tea ‘the party returned to Bournemouth, tired, but very happy and grateful.’

The social aspect of cheder, as a place where the Jewish young could meet up and make Jewish friends, was remarked upon by many. It was and still is especially important in a town like Bournemouth where Jewish pupils are few in number and scattered among different schools.

This is not to say that social activities were not remembered – some with humour. One such recollection is of a cheder outing to Lyndhurst, when the ice-creams handed out were discovered not to be kosher and all the children had to hand them back. There was of course the J P Lorie Fund, which enabled the children to be taken to the pantomime every year, but by the 1980s the fund unfortunately was not sufficient to cover the costs and this treat had to be withdrawn.

As the community grew, so did the cheder, and each minister added his own input. For example, during Rabbi Indech’s ministry, the Bat Chayil service for the girls was introduced.

When Rabbi Sidney Silberg was our minister, two more social aspects were added to cheder. Sunday morning ‘Cheder Breakfast’ was introduced, where over two dozen children had breakfast (provided by a rota of mums – quite an effort at 8.15am on a Sunday!) and then bentched; as a result more children learned to bentch in a very happy and non-pressured way.

Rabbi Silberg also organised a boys’ choir, which sang every Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov.

During the mid 1970s, many young families moved to Bournemouth as large service industries relocated to the area, and at this time there were around 100 children in the cheder. As most cheder children gave up their studies after attaining Bar and Bat Mitzvah, a GCSE class was started during the mid-1980s for them to continue adding to their Jewish knowledge as well as serving as a useful addition to their secular achievements.