Just before Rosh Hashono I made a New Year's resolution to blog about the creeping fundamentalisation of our community. If I haven't touched upon the subject again it was after all a resolution and not because of a shortage of subject matter. I was not referring to the big things that make the headlines but rather the small relatively trivial matters that are easily shaken off as 'not a big deal' and 'I really can't see what the fuss is about'. While each measure individually may indeed be relatively minor collectively they are of greater significance than the big issues which cause headlines and the occasional backlash. Not just due to the total sum of the parts but because of their size the little things are usually not noticed or are easily dressed up.New norms are thus created which in turn pave the way for the next wave of even greater madness that inevitably follows on their heels.
In a community where there is no platform for dissent (bar the male mikvoes) even those minded to complain think the better of looking silly and kicking up a fuss over nothing. 'You really do have problems, don't you'. And they do have a point. With earth shattering problems like speed humps on Jessam Avenue or a bus lane on Amhurst Park, compulsory tights for 3 year olds or a mechitze the length of the lobby at the Decorium really do pale into insignificance. And so before you know it not only has some new craze been accreted to what we must or subtracted from what we may, but history has even been rewritten as part of the bargain. It was always so, they will tell us and who will make an ass of him or herself to argue.
But having just been granted two super long weekends in succession in addition to Pesach, not only has time been in abundance but yet another new yiddishkeit has come to light: school on bank holidays.
In the past the local girls’ schools were given a day off on bank holidays, presumably because it is a national holiday although this may now be disputed. The boys in the Chasidic schools would be made to attend classes as they study Torah and time for them is just too precious to mark May Day, Whitsun or some other meshugass. Mind you since the boys sit few exams to set syllabuses and not at any particular time of the year you'd think that a day off could easily be made up by for instance finishing later on a Friday in the summer. Isn't that why punctuality in the boys' schools, of pupils and teachers alike, is disregarded and a few days off here and there taken on the chin? But that is how it's always been at most of the boys' schools and it's not about to change any time soon.
Of late however the girls schools have also been opening on Bank Holidays and last Friday and Monday children flocked to school as if Will and Kate weren’t about to kiss and May Day was just for the Soviets. Even YHS which initially bucked the trend has now joined the fray. Despite its voluntary aided status, or perhaps because of it, it sees no need to adopt norms of the national schools. Attendance, it appears, follows governance in which they are a law unto themselves. The YHS boys' school, the most liberal of the lot round here, also used to have half day only on Bank Holidays but apparently not any more either. It would however not be fair in this instance to single out any school since I hear the rot has spread even to genteel Golders Green. Tifereth girls school also operated on the last public holidays.
And so the school vans ply their trade transporting human cargo, cutting corners and honking their horns as if the whole world's up for work. For in our environs silence is desirable and noise deprecated only during the après tsholent, post coital Shabbos siesta which should not be disturbed by some Polish chap, with a heimishe landlord no less, washing his car with the music or match of the day blaring. Some people are just so insensitive. Anyway, it’s all not really a big deal, I hear you say and surely there must be bigger fish to fry. That however is precisely my point.
Of course, it's all easily explained away and revisionism round here has a respectful pedigree. You see, once the schools had goyishe teachers and so they couldn't be asked to come in on bank holidays. But now boruch hashem it's all heimishe school girls, educated and trained at heimishe sems, in heimishe blouses, skirts, tights and pony tails, so why have a day off? Vos epes? In the immortal words of the late Rabbi Dunner, 'we're not banks, so why bank holidays?' (Who ever said the yekes lack wit?) And don't we have lots and lots of yomim toivim which they don't have plus we need 2 whole weeks off before Pesach because it's so important that the girls get to help their mothers so why borrow yet more days off from the goyim? Please don't press the issue for the tone to become even higher pitched: you think helping at home is not important? It's just as important as some of the rubbish they do at school.
Having school on a day others don't has its benefits too. In an era when everyone is trying to outholy the other isolating oneself ever more is a way of putting clear blue water between 'us' and 'them'. Conversely, for those mildly left of centre not having school when other do may expose their right flank. Hence YHS's and the Golders Greeners’ predicament. So as always the holy ones win out in the end and on we march blissfully to our paradisal sunset.
One should however not be too harsh on the schools because they do not operate in isolation. It is ultimately the parents who are only too happy to dump their kids on the school and they would be the greatest objectors if the kids were set free for the day. Of course no one will ever call the school to beg them to take the bloody kids off the furniture because our dear kinderlach are our just too precious for that. So yiddishkeit comes in handy as it always does. And along we adults could go and enjoy bank holiday discounts secure in the knowledge that our pure neshomelech are not cholilo being contaminated by the flesh on show at another bank holiday funfair.