Reading some of the news items in Telegraph over the last few days brought the differences between Britain and Israel into sharp focus.
Of course, my usual concern is the rising wave of anti-Semitism, both in Europe and the United States. In a recent interview, outgoing British ambassador, David Quarrey commented on anti-Semitism in Britain “one of the most difficult aspects of my four years in Israel has been witnessing a growth in antisemitism in the UK, and I think it is completely wrong to pretend – if anybody does – that there isn’t a problem.”
But anti-Semitism was put aside, if not forgotten, for a few moments by these cutting-edge stories……
In the United Kingdom, black students are failing to apply to Cambridge University ‘due to lack of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers’. The Telegraph – May 9th
This important news item quotes Naomi Kellman of Target Oxbridge, a programme that helps black students apply to Oxford and Cambridge:
“If you are from a majority group you assume you will be catered for, anywhere in the country can manage your hair,” she said. “But if you have afro hair, the expertise is needed. Things that are really basic and simple become quite a big challenge.”
I found this astonishing story while combing the British papers for reports on our recent hair-raising experience with the missile barrage from Gaza. Let us look at the bald facts. We in Israel have just endured some six hundred missiles aimed at our population centres. There were not many stories about the attack, and most were written from the Palestinians-as-helpless-victims point of view.
But then I saw another Telegraph news headline, and all became clear.
“Barbers have become the fastest growing shops on the British high street”
The Telegraph – May 11th
It seems that the British are more concerned with their tresses than our distresses.
Another unbelievable Telegraph story (May 5th) informs us that delegates at the National Association of Headteachers’ annual conference were told “Children are finding foreign languages so stressful that they are being medically signed off from the classes. Pupils are coming to school with a doctor’s note explaining that they must be excused from learning languages because it is causing them extreme anxiety.”
We in Israel are no strangers to foreign languages. As an estimate, there are around 35 languages and dialects spoken. English, of course, is a must for communicating with the outside world. Our children do not rush to the doctor after the “stress” of an English lesson. They are more likely to run to their TV sets to pick up one of the many English language programs that do not bother with Hebrew sub-titles.
But perhaps there is good reason for British children to find foreign languages a problem. In British schools, more than 300 different languages are now spoken. In many schools, English is a foreign language; English-speaking pupils find themselves in the minority.
Even going to the doctor for their get-out-of-language-lessons card may be stressful as not a few of Britain’s imported doctors have poor or no English.
And finally, my apologies to all those Arabic, Russian, Yiddish, Amharic, Romanian, Polish, Circassian, Spanish, Ladino, French, Bulgarian, Persian …….. speakers in Israel who will not be enjoying this Blog.