This interview with Clive Lawton OBE was originally going to be edited down and placed into the first episode. However it was impossible to edit because the conversation was so good! Hope you enjoy and if you do, let everyone know and share around.
Hayden Cohen 0:00
Hello and welcome to the ‘Bagel Bite’. The part of ‘The Bagel Podcast’ where I’ve tried and failed to circumcise enough to go into a main episode. And with Clive Lawton, it was always doomed to failure, as he’s just too interesting. If you don’t know who he is at the moment, carry on listening, and you’ll find out. We cover how we formed Holocaust education in the UK, his work with Jewish youth movements and education as a whole. He shares general leadership tips and of course we discussed his background with Limmud. It was a bit of a surreal experience to have Clive in my flat. I’ll paint the picture. He knocks on my door with turquoise jeans and turquoise long sleeve t shirt, his trademark ponytail and beard, and wearing sandals– No socks, no coat, in December. As I’m a fantastic host, if I do say so myself, I offer Clive a cup of tea, making care to tell him that my milk is not kosher supervised, before I hit record on our interview. What then followed was? (pause) Well, I don’t know what it was. A talk? A lecture? a something? About how he would have been more offended if I had kosher milk. He touched on Midrash, the role of the Sanhedrin and the commercialisation of kashrut. And this was before the interview had even started. Before I hit play on our interview, please could I ask that you share the bagel with at least one friend or even better, be like Noah, and get two on board? It really does help us out considerably. Anyway, enjoy.
Hayden Cohen 1:30
So it’s my pleasure to be joined by Clive Lawton OBE, who’s here, in my flat. It’s a surreal experience for me. Welcome, welcome. How you doing?
Clive Lawton 1:42
Yeah, fine. It’s quite surreal experience for me as well.
Hayden Cohen 1:44
Clive Lawton 1:45
Yeah, all is well.
Hayden Cohen 1:46
It’s just because we’re so used to seeing each other, either at Warwick University or a hotel in Birmingham for Limmud. This is just out of our comfort zones, right?
Clive Lawton 1:57
Yes, it’s big like little children at primary school, when they see their teacher in the shop and they just can’t believe that the individual exists out of context.
Hayden Cohen 2:05
Clive Lawton 2:05
But it’s nice to know that we both really do exist.
Hayden Cohen 2:07
And it is, it is good. Yeah. But I’d say that just for the majority of listeners, especially at the moment, because this is going to go out on the first episode, will probably know you or at the very least know somebody who knows you. But for those who don’t, I mean, I’ve previously described you as Mr. Limmud. But then that also presupposes that people know what Limmud is right?
Clive Lawton 2:36
Yeah. Absolutely. To assume that most people know me ,is really highly unlikely. It becomes very, very easy to be a big fish in a small pool and think that everybody knows who you are. But the fact of the matter is that out there, the vast majority of people don’t, is perfectly possible for me to go to a Jewish food shop and not greet anybody I know. And I think that in fact, I had this brought home to me very forcefully, many, many years ago. It must have been in the 1980s or so. I’ve already made a bit of a name for myself, I was working at the Board of Deputies and so on. And I was approached by a publisher to produce a series of primary school books for children about religions. And it was my job to kind of design the books, you know– suggest what they should look like and how they should work. And I suggested that these books should be called ‘I Am a…’ whatever it was. Christian, Rastafarian, whatever it might be. And the design would be–a child talking about their lives in this religion. It would be a picture per page. There’d be a little sentence from them. This is me lighting the Hanukiah, or whatever it might be. Then a little paragraph from me, as it were saying Hanukah is the festival of…?? That was the idea. So, the editor that I was talking to, was very pleased with this and went off to the publishers and said, this is what we’re planning to do. And they came back and said, ‘Hmm, We’ll.. We’re going to do the first six books and What we thought we do is, ‘I am a Rastafarian’, ‘I’m a Catholic’, ‘I’m a Buddhist’, ‘I am a Muslim’, ‘I am Jewish. I am. I said ‘Why I am Jewish’?. Why not, ‘I am a Jew’?
Hayden Cohen 4:13
And they said “Are you sure that’s not offensive, Is that alright?” And I said “No, that’s that’s fine. I am a Jew”. It’s okay. Oh, all right. “Well, no fine if you think that’s all right, fine”. So the book came out. Very well received, sold into all kinds of libraries and schools and what-not around the country. And they got a letter–From Mrs. Goldbloom or Goldberg or Rosenberg or something or other from Stanford Hill. She found the book in Hackney Library, and wrote to say, that she had no idea who this Clive Lawton was. But if only he’d consulted a Jew, he would have known how offensive this title is.
Hayden Cohen 4:51
And that was it. I think before before all the all the dodginess happened, Louie C.K. did a routine about it where he said that Jew is the only word that I could think of that’s both a ordinary descriptor and an insult.
Clive Lawton 5:08
Well, I mean, there are probably others– black, I think probably has that same effect. And maybe even, I don’t know Welsh or French. It all depends, what side of, whichever line you’re on. Irish, maybe I don’t know. Groups people like to be contemptuous often. But also it is interesting, I mean ‘Jew’ does do something to your face when you say it. It does kind of scrunch it up a bit Jew kind of scrunches your mouth in unison together. It’s not an expensive word doesn’t make you smile. ‘Jew’ is not easy to say with a smile. So I think it does have some of that uh, that aggression term. Oh my goodness, we got to reclaim it. Haven’t we, you know, ‘Jew’ is beautiful.
Hayden Cohen 5:41
Yes, it is. And we are two beautiful Jews (Laughs)
Clive Lawton 5:45
(Laughs) Speak for yourself. (Laughs) Lucky, this is radio.
Hayden Cohen 5:48
So yeah, I just wanted to kind of go, go back then. right because you seem to have every time. Every time I have a conversation with you, I learn that you’ve had a different role somewhere else?
Clive Lawton 6:01
(Laughs) Yeah, well, if you keep moving they can’t get you. That’s the basic principle.
Hayden Cohen 6:04
Clive Lawton 6:05
I started out as a teacher- English and Drama. And fairly quickly, found myself at JFS school. A bit of a surprise, I grew up in West Ealing right out on the west of London. I went to the small Ealing United Synagogue shul. And that’s where I grew up. I’m very enthusiastically Jewish family– A quite uncommon Jewish family, in the sense of that My mother was Sephardi, from Gibraltar. My father was from deep long, English Jewish stock– A Highly assimilated family actually. He, therefore learned most of his Judaism from my mother So domestic practises were all Sephardi. And synagogue practises were all Ashkenazi. But we were shomer shabbat. We kept the rules of shabbat. And I always said, we were the only amateur shomer shabbat family in Ealing because you had the rabbi and the kosher butcher and the chazzan. But I think we were the only people losing money out of keeping Shabbat while
Hayden Cohen 7:02
Clive Lawton 7:02
Everybody else was making a living. And, so I grew up in this family that was tremendously positive and enthusiastic Judaism. I didn’t have a lot of that ‘Oy Vey’ , ‘Lachrymose’ Jewish Isn’t it tough being Jewish thing?’ I didn’t have the Yiddish tradition, didn’t have any real access to the Holocaust story. My parents were from long standing ‘proud and out, isn’t, “Aren’t we lucky to be Jews kind of thing’. Anyways, so that’s what I grew up in. I became a teacher and as I say, went to JFS. I don’t think I’d seen so many Jews all in one place. I had as a youth, I got very involved in a youth movement, which no longer exists, called Jewish Youth Study groups. And that was a fabulous movement. It did what it says on the tin. It’s Jewish youth and it studied.
Hayden Cohen 7:47
I really wanted to get in there, but it never got to Leeds.
Clive Lawton 7:50
No, we never had a group in Leeds. Well, I became National Chairman and that resulted in me, swanning around the country and going to Newcastle, and Glasgow, and Cardiff, and wherever. Brighton and so forth and meeting Jews from all around. And these summer and winter camps, are tremendously enthusiastic places. And that enriched my enthusiastic Jewishness still more. Anyway, I became a teacher. I turned up at JFS, which gave me a different insight, I guess into the way that the Jewish community is, and behaved and felt. And then I went from there to the Board of Deputies, where I became Director of Education and Community Relations– Got very involved in sort of interfaith stuff, into religious stuff and religious education, and became something of a maven on R.E. and religious studies, uh subsequently doing a master’s degree in Hinduism and Islam. As a result of that, I became Chief Examiner for A-level and so forth. While at the Board of Deputies, I got very involved in Holocaust Education, but it should be said that there was no Holocaust Education when I arrived at the Board of Deputies. It simply did not exist. I know it’s really difficult for people to believe, but in 1979, when I got to the Board of Deputies, nobody,
Clive Lawton 8:59
Nobody knew what Holocaust Education was. Let alone what it could look like. It simply didn’t exist.
Hayden Cohen 9:05
What did you mean? Full stop or….?
Clive Lawton 9:08
Full stop. Uh, There were a few youth movements that were occasionally on Tisha B’av or some other miserable day doing some programme designed to upset their children and, you know, make them cry, whatever. They would use the Holocaust in that context. There were of course, schools doing the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’, which of course was terribly upsetting as a book, but when you think about it, of course, it finishes, just as the Holocaust element starts. So, you didn’t really get into that, uh except for the sort of– dot,dot,dot at the end of it. ‘The World At War’, which had been a big sort of landmark BBC programme, had had an episode narrated by Laurence Olivier called ‘Genocide’. But I mean, that was a TV programme, it wasn’t a school thing. that. There simply nobody talks about simply nobody talked about it. When I was at the Board of Deputies, I became responsible for organising the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial meeting, where a lot of elderly people with Central European accents came and made sad statements and a few children lit candles and whatever, but nobody knew anything. And of course, Remember, that the vast majority of the lands where the Holocaust happened, specifically, the Nazis used Poland for that, didn’t they? That was more or less cut off from us. We couldn’t get there because of the Iron Curtain, so nobody could visit or see anywhere. So three things happened soon after I arrived at the Board of Deputies. One of the American networks, CBS whatever, something like that, produced a miniseries called ‘Holocaust’, which was a sort of 2/3 night glossy Hollywood show. Lots of Jewish people were tremendously purist about it, thought it was a disgraceful and not enough people died. It wasn’t honest enough and all the rest of it. But the fact that it was kind of quite a romanticky sort of story, quite glossy, meant to say that lots of people watched it. The result of that was, that lots of people started asking questions, ‘How come we didn’t know about this before’. The second thing that happened– was that the Bishop of Stepney, the then Bishop of Stepney, had visited Auschwitz and had negotiated– this was communist still, had negotiated that he could bring to the Crypt of Stepney Cathedral or whatever it is–His place. He could bring to the crypt elements from the Auschwitz Exhibition, and he could set up the Auschwitz Exhibition and this was tremendously warmly supported by the then Mayor of London, who is a furious anti-fascist, of course, because he was a hard left man called Ken Livingstone.
Hayden Cohen 11:33
Clive Lawton 11:33
And uh. So, Ken Livingstone, and the then Inner London Educational Authority (ILEA), decided that they wanted educational materials to go with this so that schools could all schools in ILEA should go and see this Auschwitz Exhibition and nobody knew what sort of material to produce and they gave to the Board of Deputies and there I was, Education Director, and I was given the task of producing this pack. And I drew together a bunch of teachers, none of us had a clue how to start. That’s just remember that when I was at school 20 years earlier than that in the 1960s. I did an O- level History– Modern European and British History 1914 to 1951. Anybody whose history is not strong and needs to be reminded that that spans the years of the Second World War and the nazi period. I did that course like I said, I was a proud out happy, confident, educated Jew. At no point in that course, was the Holocaust mentioned. At no point did I think it was odd.
Hayden Cohen 12:30
Clive Lawton 12:31
It just wasn’t on the agenda. And one of the reasons why, was because everybody said, “Well, this is just too upsetting. You can’t do this with small children”. And uh, I discovered that in fact, it wasn’t even on the curricula of Modern History programmes for undergraduates, because generally historians at universities felt it was too upsetting for people so young. Did one of the loud voices resisting, putting it into such programmes was a well known Jewish historian. of the time. I…
Hayden Cohen 13:01
Was it, was it because that they felt that it was too soon?
Clive Lawton 13:04
Well, I don’t know about too soon. We’re now talking about the 1980s. I think uh, that they felt it was too upsetting. You see, when you haven’t processed something yourself, you don’t know you want to talk about something, then you don’t want to teach children bout it. But let’s face it, we’ve had the same thing with Drugs Education, or Sex Education, or anything else. This is all to do with the fact that teachers are worried about getting upset when they talk about it. Because kids aren’t. They couldn’t care less. They’ll talk about anything. It’s teachers who are scared, and. And therefore they just don’t want to talk about anything which might upset them. And the Holocaust is a good example. So, when I approached the A-level Boards from the Board of Deputies to ask why this wasn’t on the syllabuses, they said, “Well, it’s just too upsetting”. And I said, “If I can devise a pedagogy and a syllabus, and a curriculum, that can be taught to this age group that fits this age group, will you put it on those syllabus?” “Well, of course, it’s missing. It should be there” so I did and they did.
Hayden Cohen 13:51
Because it seems like a ridiculous excuse. That it’s too upsetting
Clive Lawton 13:55
It was real. I mean, after all, why, you know, why don’t we do perfectly straightforward things like for example, like sex Education in a serious , I do that for or because it was just kind of, you know,
Hayden Cohen 14:07
I was, I was just expected I was expecting from the other way that it would be, that it was difficult to find enough survivors to speak because it was too recent for them to talk about.
Clive Lawton 14:15
Yes, in those days. Nobody was talking about survivors. No, that was that wasn’t on the agenda. Um, at all. As far as I recall, I then went to the O-level Boards as they were then the GCSE things and said, “Why isn’t this on the curriculum?”, they go “Well it was too upsetting for children at this age”. And I said again, “You know, if I and they said “yes”, and it went on to the GCSE syllabuses, and then the national curriculum was established in 1988. And I felt that if you could get this into Key Stage Three, because that’s the time before people give up history, then everybody would do something about the Holocaust. So again, I went to the National Curriculum Council. I was on the National Curriculum Council for English and R.E.
Hayden Cohen 14:54
Of course you were. (Laughs)
Clive Lawton 14:55
Um, so I went and said, “Why is this not on the history curriculum?” They go well, “Kids are too young they’re only 14 as I said” If you can teach them…” and they said “Yes, well you can” and so it is now in Key Stage Three. And then, subsequently, I produced the first book and to this day surprisingly, the only book– history book, on the Holocaust designed for middle school children children aged nine…..
Hayden Cohen 15:17
Well, middle schools don’t exist anymore. So that’s…
Clive Lawton 15:20
but that age group, the nine, the top juniors into lower um…..
Hayden Cohen 15:25
No other books exists?
Clive Lawton 15:27
Not history books. Not history books. There are, sometimes slightly disgraceful books in there like ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’, which leads people to think that they’ve dealt with the Holocaust, even though it’s a fiction and not very accurate,
Hayden Cohen 15:39
Right. But then, but I. For example, ‘A Detail of History’? But I don’t know if you know Arek Hersh? who’s a survivor up up North
Hayden Cohen 15:45
you wouldn’t give that to 10 year olds.
Hayden Cohen 15:46
No, I think it’s designed. It’s designed for No, yeah (uh) , you probably wouldn’t.
Clive Lawton 15:50
It’s older. Older
Clive Lawton 15:51
It’s, It’s Key Stage Three, it’s um 11 to 14, and that’s fine. I’m not saying everybody’s got to study it at age 5. But of course, it’s just true to my own convictions, that there is No subject, you can’t teach– any child– at any age– the key is in determining the best way to deliver it. You know, all this nonsense about whether you can do Drugs Education with preschoolers. Of course you can. It’s just find the right things to say and the pertinent issues. Kids ask questions, kids are interested. They don’t carry all the guff that adults carry. Uh
Hayden Cohen 16:21
That probably makes it better. Right? I mean, is it? Yeah,
Clive Lawton 16:23
Yeah. Yeah. So that was one of the things I did at the Board. Was getting involved in this Holocaust Education field, and I would say, probably inventing it for school age Back then,
Hayden Cohen 16:34
But how did you? What inspired you to do that?
Clive Lawton 16:39
Well, it was just obvious. Education, is necessary, isn’t it? I mean, if there’s a field that ought to be known, then it ought to be known. I was certainly prompted not least by the Inner London Education Authority and the Auschwitz exhibition at Stepney. So it was a Christian and antisemite, who made me do this. I think you know, there’s a field of knowledge and nobody knows how to teach it. What I mean, Well, that’s just a gift isn’t it, you got to explore that ,you got to know how to do it. But that, of course, is not the only thing I was involved in there. And while I was there, three friends and I got together and invented Limmud, and I was very happy to be able to use the kind of air cover I suppose that the Board was prepared to give a good project to enable us to get some of those things going. I remember also while at the Board, I supported an organisation in those days called ‘AJ. 6’– Association of Jewish sixth formers.
Hayden Cohen 17:30
IWas in AJ6.
Clive Lawton 17:32
Right, Well,AJ6 had a lot of difficulty getting, for example, you know, renting a space because it was a bunch of kids. So , I would bring the Board in and together will guarantee this and attend and make it alright. So I was given a lot of leeway. I was very lucky. I was given a lot of leeway by the Board to pursue my own enthusiasms. So I was there and then I became Head at King David, Liverpool. And then became Deputy Director of the local education authorities Liverpool LEA. Then headhunted back down to London for a thing called ‘Jewish Continuity’, which was the then Chief Rabbi, Lord Sachs’ big initiative, and then went freelance and continued to do a whole range of different things both inside and outside of the Jewish community. I must say that that three years with ‘Jewish Continuity’ was the only time in my life that I worked pretty well exclusively within the Jewish community. I’ve always tried to have a foot on both sides of the castle.
Hayden Cohen 18:27
Clive Lawton 18:29
Because the world is both deep and wide. And, I love the depth and intimacy of working in the Jewish world. And of course, the Jewish world is also very wide. I mean, it is a world. Let’s face it, but it has its own particular angle. And one of the exciting things about working outside of the Jewish community– To go and do some educational advisory work in Southeast Asia or in Sub Saharan Africa or Latin America or indeed Ormskirk is just to find the voice to talk to a different kind of world.
Hayden Cohen 19:06
Do you find that the principles are similar? or not?
Clive Lawton 19:10
Umm, In certain ways. Many people cluster into communities and have that sense of relationship one, with another certain intimacy.
Hayden Cohen 19:20
That, that seems to be your community, Community seems to be. Community Education seems to be your bag, you know, in terms of… or, or Is that unfair?
Clive Lawton 19:29
No, I think that’s probably right. Although that’s broadened into the generic business of kind of leadership and organisational management. So, it’s not because of that, that I became Chair of a hospital board. And it’s not because of that, that I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority. Those are other things. But they are a genuine interest in how communities care for themselves, or how communities manage their delivery of their needs. So I think, it’s become broader than that. And certainly, as far as education was concerned, From a very early stage, I was absolutely convinced that schools are really unhelpful. So, while I was head of a school, so I’m going to can’t completely bad mouth the institution, I’m deeply committed to the idea that education is what goes on, you know, when schools get out of the way most of the time and
Hayden Cohen 20:19
I’m a, I’m a. I’m a fellow ex English teacher, so I get it.
Clive Lawton 20:22
Well, one of the things I loved, love about Limmud is that it refuses to play the game and kind of hierarchy and experts and authorities and so on. And allows anybody who wants to teach something to anybody to do it. And trusts the student to make sense of the experience they’re having, and I think an awful lot more of that.
Hayden Cohen 20:43
That is such, That is such a diplomatic answer, resonate with, you know, will? Anyone who’s been to Limmud has sat in a session by someone who maybe isn’t is under research and is inexperienced, but then I suppose part of the Limmud experience is allowing people to do that. Right?
Clive Lawton 20:49
And to grow.
Hayden Cohen 21:02
Clive Lawton 21:02
But they’ll come back next year and there’ll be a bit better, maybe. And certainly limmuds around the world have created a country of educators.
Hayden Cohen 21:10
Can you just just for those who don’t know what Limmud is, can you just distill it in? I’ll give you two sentences.
Clive Lawton 21:15
Clive Lawton 21:16
So a Limmud is an organisation, I suppose that’s what one should say, is an organisation which creates events and opportunities,in which the, the aspiration, the dream, the ideal, is to bring the entire Jewish world into that place. And allow people to learn whatever they like about Jewish things, Jewish stuff. Uh, Without anybody telling them what they should learn, or telling them what is more or less important or more or less pertinent. That’s one sentence And the second sentence–
Hayden Cohen 21:49
A very long sentence.
Clive Lawton 21:50
Oh, yes. I’m an english teacher, afterall. .. l know about compound sentences. And the second sentence I’m just going to quote the Limmud strapline– the Limmud mission, which is “Wherever you are, on your Jewish journey, Limmud undertakes to help you take one further step”. So it’s about YOU. It’s not about, We in Limmud think this is what you need to learn, or the ideal Jew should know this, or any of those things. You have. You want to be moving. There’s nothing duller and deader than a Jew who’s smugly happy with what they know. So you ought to be trying, wanting. But, what the next step is– Who can possibly tell you? You need to and you probably don’t know yourself. So you come something like Limmud and you try some of this and you try some of that, you learn a bit or that, you listen to some of this. And over time, You begin to find your own direction or preference or growth area, you might find many,
Hayden Cohen 22:45
But it’s it’s interesting, because that that whole concept, is to a certain degree. opposite to what a lot of rabbanim, rabbis would, would say. There’s some rabbis who are very much Limmudnicks and very much You know, I don’t want to. But, there are some that I, you know, you nto be taught by experts?
Hayden Cohen 23:05
Well, I think. We can recognise everything like I mean, there’s not just rabbis, It’s professors as well. There’s such structures, such authority, such statuses are constructed on the authority that, that individual has, that the individual carries that status as a mark of their authority to say something decisive, definitive about whatever it is they’re teaching–whether it’s chemistry or Talmud. And therefore, they’re going to be very uneasy about a bunch of people who turn up and go, “Well let anybody do it”. No, I mean, lots of people. And of course it is, let’s be honest, some people can deliver complete nonsense. They just don’t know.
Hayden Cohen 23:40
But the one thing I love about Limmud is if if you say anything that isn’t 100% right, there will be someone who knows more than you who will be more than happy to correct you.
Clive Lawton 23:51
Well, of course, that’s the beauty of adult learning is one of the realities of all other kinds of learning of kindergarten or university or whatever– is There’s a contract, which is the teacher knows more than the student. All right, that might just be a little bit more, but knows more than the student. And, to some degree, also they have a greater life experience, we usually then the students so they can take the thing forward, and they can draw themselves up to their full height and say to the student, “You be quiet. I’m the person with authority here. In adult learning, you cannot do it– First of all, because frequently, the people in the room, have
Clive Lawton 24:23
much more life experience than the teacher. They may well have much more wisdom. And of course, they may have more knowledge. Why does somebody come to my session on I don’t know, whatever it might be ‘Israel’, let’s say because they are very interested in Israel, and they’ve made it their own life study. I’d like to know what I have to say about it. So there’s lots of reasons for turning up. They might come because they’ve never heard of assertion about Israel, or they might come because this is absolutely their favourite subject, and therefore they know a lot more than I do. That’s all part of the discursive dynamic of Adult Education. And it’s a beautiful thing. I begin to believe that education ought to be x-rated and we shouldn’t let children near it until they’re about 18
Hayden Cohen 24:34
(Laughs). That’s an interesting moral to take away. You know,
Clive Lawton 25:02
It’s where people learn, isn’t it? It’s when the learning goes on, we take children, I mean,
Hayden Cohen 25:08
Probably just because you’re not learning, right? Here’s the way you paraphrase it, you know, you’re repeating ?
Clive Lawton 25:13
Well, you think about what we know, we know that little tiny toddlers, you know, up to about the age of five just do not stop exploring, asking they want to know everything, right? And then, after that age is gone by, then we stick them in school, right? And slowly, they become more and more bored with the world. And so by the time they’re teenagers, they couldn’t care less about anything. And they just roll their eyes and go, “Whatever”. And they’re not interested, and they don’t want to know anything. And then, When they emerge from that teenagehood, and they’re slowly beginning to see the world as a place of interest, and I need to get to grips with it. And I want to understand what’s happening and I need to be a player here, we chuck them out of school. So compulsory schooling spans the period of the time where kids don’t want to learn.
Hayden Cohen 25:49
I don’t. I don’t
Hayden Cohen 25:49
of time when kids don’t want to learn
Hayden Cohen 25:49
II don’t agree Oh, I was, I was an inquisitive teenager. You know, I was an annoying asking questions, trying to figure the world out. And , I would wager that you were as well.?
Clive Lawton 26:02
Yes, and this is the big mistake. We are people who were successful in the system as you said yourself, you were teacher, I was a teacher. We are the people who made it through. For teachers to judge the pertinence of the system, by the people who succeed, is to fail to notice the people for whom it says nothing. Right? Schools, classrooms, curriculums, uh timetables, uniforms, all the trappings, discipline- For goodness sake! You know, we’re not supposed to be police officers, we are supposed to be teachers. All of that business, that goes on in British schools. And let’s face it, the British have never liked children. So why would they want to do anything nice for them. All of that, is not designed to deliver education is not designed to create learned, wise, autonomous, individuals. It is designed to fit people into the system. More, it was more overt when you had grammar schools and secondary modern schools. We, again specifically we have so many jobs in offices and so many jobs in factories. That’s what They’d better learn, but it’s still, pretty much there. We’re not trying to create anybody, encourage anybody to think for themselves. That’s the last thing we want to do.
Hayden Cohen 27:10
So, so one just to defend myself. I did write 9000 words attacking Michael Gove’s education policies of creating hegemonic structures. So I thought you’d like that. Yeah, he
Clive Lawton 27:20
Yeah, he hadn’t been born by the time I was.
Hayden Cohen 27:23
(Laughs) But I, I just think it’s uh, it’s interesting than as to what do you find what we found frustrating in that process? Because I think what what you’ve, you’ve done a lot of incredible successful things that have grown. Limmud–I don’t think anyone could ever have expected it to be as big as it’s now got. Maybe you did. Maybe it wasn’t. But you know, it’s in how many countries you know, like 40…..
Hayden Cohen 27:48
It’s about 40 to 50 countries in about 95 different places around the world
Hayden Cohen 27:52
Right. So what were the um, because I’m always interested, what were the pressure points along the way?
Clive Lawton 27:58
Well, I said at the very first Limmud, which we had about 70 people back in 1980. I said I see no reason why we shouldn’t have 3000 people here. So I don’t know if that was just bravado or a genuine vision but I do remember saying
Hayden Cohen 28:11
It could have been both.
Clive Lawton 28:12
Right, I do remember saying it. We haven’t quite got there yet. 2,500 is pretty close.
Hayden Cohen 28:17
So, so what was that? but what why are you just there? Why? Why did you see a need for it in the first place?
Hayden Cohen 28:24
Oh, because British Jewry was so dull and stupid. uh, and boring. And uh, we were going to spend the rest of our lives here. It’s a good cup. It was a very ignorant community and very smug and satisfied with its ignorance. It was a Philistine community mostly, I mean, the Jew in the Bude didn’t have a clue. So, so this was about popularising the opportunity to learn, as well. Giving people a chance to learn and think and do more and to broaden their sense of who had a right to Jewish stuff. That is it shouldn’t belong to some specialist or expert or nominated fellow with a qualification or something. So it was very much about democratising Jewish learning, making it available to people. And democratising the capacity to transmit what you knew to other people. So not saying “No, you’re qualified”, “You’re not qualified”, “You can speak”, “You can’t speak”. So, That was there, from the very beginning, I think we, we knew that there were a lot more interesting people in the community than any single individual would know. And of course, one of the great fault lines of the community is between the Orthodox and the Progressive, say. So as a general rule, nobody in the Orthodox camp knew, there was anybody interested in the progressive camp, and vice versa. Nobody amongst the progressive knew there was anybody interesting in the Orthodox. And stereotypes and stupidity about the other group. So I mean, just simply to take that, and give people an opportunity to find out they’re interesting people there. But that’s also true about Manchester to London, or Scotland to England, or young to old ,or any of those things, male or female, whatever. So, just opening that whole thing up. Also, from the very beginning, It was important to us that there were people that from overseas because again, Britain was and is becoming again pretty insular, inward looking place.
Hayden Cohen 30:07
Only 53% of the time? Well,
Clive Lawton 30:09
(Laughs) Well, the vast majority of British Jews know nothing about Jews overseas and don’t want to really. You know, it’s I mean. There are fascinating communities all around the world. And generally speaking, I mean, if they go on holiday to someplace they might go and visit and come back. “No, did you know that, isn’t that weird?” But they’re not really that interested? So we know a bit about American Jewry and broadly contemptuous of it. And we know about a bit Israeli Jewry and don’t know what it’s all, and how it works. And that’s about it. And otherwise, it’s our own suburb, emotionally.
Hayden Cohen 30:31
Just a Quick sidetrack on it, though, if there is anybody for any of those communities that wants to come on the bagel podcast, I genuinely Do want hear from people that we don’t hear from. Yeah, that’s genuinely one of the reasons I started this is so that I would hear stories and hear about communities that no one hears about.
Clive Lawton 30:57
Right. Well, I mean, there are Turkish Jews here. There are Adeni Jews here there are Indian Jews here. There are Jews from Romania, there are Jews from Italy. I mean, London luckily attracts people of all kinds are here. And you’re right. It’d be lovely for people to hear of them and about them. And these communities are fascinating and they throw a light on how one can live Jewishly, but not exactly as we do. You know that you’ve called this The Bagel Podcast, and a half the Jews of the world have no clue what that meant. Right?
Hayden Cohen 31:25
Clive Lawton 31:26
And just to know that to broaden that sense, so we wanted at Limmud as well, that there should be overseas people because we wanted to produce a kind of paradoxical experience for people who came– On the one hand, we wanted them to go away saying, “Aren’t we lucky to live in this place?”, “Look at the resources we have”, “Well, I never knew what a rich diverse interesting crowd of people we had”, that thing. But at the same time, we wanted them to go away going, “Oh my goodness, there’s so much out there we didn’t know about I mean, how come Britain has never heard about this initiative, that idea, this development, and so forth”. So we wanted people from overseas. It was or nearly 20 years later, that a chap called Andrew Gilbert, who was very significant in that sort of mid stage of Limmud’s development– Very, very significant in that proposed that Limmud could and should go to communities overseas. It’s not in the spirit of Limmud to try and set itself or go and tell people what to do. But by that time, we had had people visiting from other countries, not only as presenters, but just simply because they liked and wanted to come. And I was appointed very part time first Professional Officer, Executive Director of Limmud, at that time. And so I made it my business, and not least prompted and nudged by Andrew to approach these folks who are coming from other countries. And saying, “Well, you know, why don’t you create your own Limmud”. And started thinking about how to how to do it and advising them and training them and so on. So that’s one of the reasons I got so involved in the business of training and developing these Limmuds overseas. I probably worked with, I suppose about three quarters of them over time, helping them grow their local teams and understand what makes Limmud–Limmud. And so on,
Hayden Cohen 33:01
Because I know that was an interesting point within it. I’ve seen something over the past few years, where it used to be that regional Limmuds were about. So regional Limmuds, day Limmuds that happen in other cities rather than the main two and a half thousand hopefully 3000 conference festival. And it, it was that, the to find their own voice whereas now There seems to be a bit of a branding unification that’s going on, which is quite a different tact?
Clive Lawton 33:29
I’m not sure about that. I think that there’s always been what makes a limmud–a Limmud?
Hayden Cohen 33:35
Clive Lawton 33:36
Well, learning. There are in fact, 10 values–Learning, obviously is one of them. There are other things– Respect and uh Mutual Responsibility and Diversity, Various things. Anybody who’s attended Limmud and thought about it a bit could probably dream up six or eight of them straightaway. Those values are what make a limmud– a Limmud. And if some group of people in Antarctica, want to get together and do this thing. They will be told by Limmud Well, what you need to do, is you need to be sure that you follow through on these 10 values. And if you do that, you can call yourself a Limmud. And we’d be very happy to have you come to join us at festival, We’ll train your leaders, and we’ll send somebody out and work with you if you want. If you don’t want, don’t have to, but that’s what it is. And that’s part of joining the Limmud family. There’s no formal stipulation that says “And if you do that, don’t you dare do anything other than use our logo or whatever it might be”. But one of the reasons why people want to associate with Limmud is because of its brand. It’s now a worldwide famous thing. And to be able to say you’ve heard of Limmud, it is now coming to your own doorstep, this “This Global Phenomenon”, is a pretty fancy thing. So then, by all means, I mean every Limmud has its own logo. Uh There are 95 logos and it’s a beautiful thing to see and they’re all particular to that place in one way or another. But there is a What should we say–international global Limmud logo, which we asked them to put on their material, too, and it’s to their benefit, because they can say we belong to this family. So that’s what it is. And it’s not a franchise in that sense. They’ve I mean, nobody’s asked to sign a contract or pay a fee or anything like that. They’re in a family.
Hayden Cohen 35:17
And so, how did they even develop? It just, it seems. Because Limmud now is a is rather sprawling, in terms of the projects that Limmud does? It it, I mean, I’m a Limmudnick, I would say, and I don’t know 1% of what Limmud does. So, how is that even remotely manageable?
Clive Lawton 35:34
(Laughs) Well, it’s one of those glorious little things, isn’t it? I think it’s uh, There’s a lot of trust involved. So, you’re not trying to control every feature of everything. You’re trusting people because they’ve signed up to a similar shared culture and concept. It’s a process of support. So if things are going well, you don’t need to interfere with them. But if they’re going badly or not as successfully as you’d like. Because there’s not a blame culture, because Limmudnicks want to support each other, then somebody will bring to Limmud very quickly “This is not working, can you help us” rather than “Oh, dear, we better hide it under the carpet, otherwise we’ll be penalised or judged to fail or whatever it might be”. So I think that there’s a very comfortable, fluent conversation amongst the various leaders around the world.
Hayden Cohen 36:28
Do you think, You have to be a certain type of person to have those leadership roles? So actually have the confidence to stand up and go, “Yeah, it’s not working so well. That’s okay”. Do you think that there might be a danger that there’s some people who were chased away?
Clive Lawton 36:45
Well, there may be uh, an illusion that there’s some kind of ideal person or something, but that’s a bit the same as somebody saying “Certain kinds of people can be parents and certain kinds of people can’t”.– Ah, That may actually be true, but the kinds are not along the categories that you and I might try to define. Clearly, some people become parents and afterwards you look at them and go, this person is no good at this. This is a catastrophe. You might be able to train them a bit, you might be able to help them a bit, but no doubt, there are some people who are simply incapable of doing it. But, generally speaking, you would say, well, anybody can have a go at this. And most people have enough sense to make it work, well enough. And if you give them support, even better. And, I think that’s about leadership, really. This idea somehow, that there’s a special cast of people who are brilliant at leading, and everybody else is rubbish. I think it’s kind of important to remember you know that our key Jewish leader was Moses, and although he got a 40 year, apprenticeship in Egypt in the Egyptian Court– so he learned to be haughty and imperious and directing and willful. He then, needed to spend another 40 years being a Midianite Shepherd in order to learn to become humble and obscure and uh less confidence in himself. That was only when he was about 80 that he became a Jew and learned and that everybody complains. So, I think, you know, Moses is quite an interesting model, because he wasn’t a kind of ‘Show-offy’, ‘Listen to me, everybody’- I’m the guy. I mean, you know, he even wasn’t confident that he could talk to the people at all.
Hayden Cohen 38:16
Well he couldn’t, Right?
Clive Lawton 38:16
Well, we don’t know, as much. That’s Midrash for you. But, you know, I think that, That’s quite inspiring for us. And I know certainly when I do leadership training and around the world in various different contexts, you work with the people that you’re presented with. And there are a variety of ways of being a leader, and skills of being a leader. You know, if you look back through British History and look at the various people who were prime ministers, you can’t suggest they were all the same, or all at the same qualities or brought different things to that. And the lucky person is the one who knows how to capitalise on what they have. It’s a lovely model to that Moshe says he can’t do it. And he’s given Aaron and Miriam turns up too. And they make a kind of triumvirate. Because any decent leader, is smart enough to know there’s some things I can’t do. I do very well to have a trustworthy…
Hayden Cohen 38:25
Clive Lawton 38:29
Hayden Cohen 38:32
Sounds a bit like Harry Potter. Right?
Clive Lawton 39:05
Well, it is, it is in many Look, there was nothing original in Harry Potter. Let’s just remember that?
Hayden Cohen 39:09
Clive Lawton 40:08
Yeah, why not? Let’s give it a go. “Well, why don’t you step up to that”, rather than “Oh, I don’t know, if you’re up to it”, you haven’t done Level 3 training before you–Means to say that people blossom. Because no human being uses their full potential. We are all of us dreadful at that. And therefore, if any organisational setting says come here and do something with it, then people invariably impress. And that’s one of the things wrong with schools. Again, we’re already constantly trying to decide how they failed. Now, they’re not good enough, or they haven’t quite made the grade. Instead of giving people their heads, and trusting them. You get a bunch of adolescents in a school and you trust them, The sky’s the limit. All right, nobody’s more creative, dynamic, enthusiastic, determined than adolescents, when they’re not being told what to do. And what schools do, they screw them down and tell them to wear stupid ties and stuff like that, as if that’s gonna make them grow
Hayden Cohen 41:03
Have you seen the research, the fascinating research that says that one of the reasons why the UK produces a disproportionate number of creatives, so say famous artists, musicians, whatever– Is because of that authoritarian school system, which matches with it with living in a free society, So it means that, that kids can push against it? So they’ve got something to push against? Whereas, in environments where everyone’s all hippie- dippie, and a bit like “You go and do whatever you want”, they don’t end up doing very much creative activity, because they’ve given so much freedom, they don’t know what to do with it?
Clive Lawton 41:43
Well, that would work perhaps, if the people who were the creatives were the people who largely succeeded through the system. But nine times out of 10, they’re dropouts, or they will tell you how the system never did them any good or how they couldn’t wait to get out or whatever it may be. The entrepreneurial instinct is not mostly nurtured by schools. Now I have to say, of course there are certain schools which are shining exceptions to this all up and down the country of every sort. And, and I think, generally speaking, Jewish schools because of the idiosyncrasy of Jews. The you know– Jews are very committed to the individualism and the right. “I’ve got my rights”. My opinion matters. And all of that means to say that schools are really… Although they try desperately hard to pretend they’re Eton, right? They couldn’t, couldn’t whip people into shape at all. Luckily, so the kids come out gloriously independent and individual, however hard the school tried to bang them into school uniform and so on. So that instinct of Jews to be entirely unorganisable is our saving grace. And it’s one of the things that makes I think Jews frequently rise to the top in all kinds of structures. But no, I don’t think it’s our regimented structure that makes us infinitely more exciting and creative. It’s, I mean, it’s an interesting thing. Certainly in the 60s and 70s of the people who went to art school who came out and did this stuff. It’s not the people who got lots of A-Levels and went to university and went to the public schools and so forth. Course.
Hayden Cohen 43:07
Well, now it is right?
Hayden Cohen 43:08
So well, I was gonna say– What the public schools have done, is they got ahead of the game again frequently got ahead of the game. And they now know, that cultivating people’s individuality and their artistic skills and so forth, much more important than just trying to get them to jump through a bunch of hoops. Ultimately, if you’ve been to Eton, having 24 GCSE Grade A stars, is not what’s going to make you Prime Minister. It’s about your capacity to debate. (Laughs)
Hayden Cohen 43:35
or getting PPE from Oxford?
Clive Lawton 43:37
Yeah. But that’s right.
Clive Lawton 43:38
But, you know how to do that. And they teach you the self confidence to walk in and shake hands and sell yourself. And it’s there to…Again that, Jews are good at, because Jews have that, you know, wonderfully disproportionate self confidence. And so to that extent, that’s, you know, there’s a remarkable virtue and privilege that Jews have,
Hayden Cohen 43:38
Hayden Cohen 43:59
So Yeah, It’s interesting about the confidence thing, though, is it? Is it. Do you think Jews do have that confidence? Or do you think the Jews that everyone’s heard of and seen have that confidence? which are two very different things?
Clive Lawton 44:10
Yeah, I think Jews are lippy. As a general rule, they talk more, they argue more. I think this is something to do with the Jewish tradition of argument and debate, questioning. I mean, you know, the Seder, the four questions, the little kids go to ask them questions. And there’s this bizarre British line, you know, “Children should be seen and not heard”. I mean, it’s impossible concept in the Jewish world that everybody goes, “Oh, shush shush, no, I was gonna say something” and 25 adults around the table have to shut up while he whistles on about some nonsense. And you know, they’ll always go “Oh he’s so clever”.
Clive Lawton 44:43
So everybody thinks that every child is amazing, and that’s wonderful. And I think that, generally speakin, there is that tremendous enthusiasm, commitment. By the way, I think Bar Mitzvah is a remarkable element in that process. And when I was head of King David in Liverpool, half of our children were not Jews. The other half were obviously were. And a significant proportion of my staff were not Jews, but they told me that even if they didn’t know which weekend a boy was Bar Mitzvah, they could tell on Monday. He walked a little taller. Something had happened over that weekend, where that boy did cross a line. Now you and I may not observe that, because we’re so preoccupied with how many Parker pens he’s gotten. Stupid, you know, sculpted and chopped liver and whatever. And we don’t we we know all the accesses and stupidities of it but something goes on inside that boy at that moment at age 13 that makes him think, “I should take myself seriously”. It might wear off after a few months or something, but it’s happened to him and it is in there. I, it is highly significant. And it’s marvelous to see it happening now for girls as well because, girls go through a different thing, which is menstruation. So whether or not they had had that ceremony, they also go through A moment where they suddenly, consciously or unconsciously stand a bit taller and go, “Oh Blimey, I’ve become an adult”. I’m now childbearing potentially. I mean, that’s unimaginable, isn’t it for us as men to know what that’s about. But I think that’s remarkable. And I think despite what we say about the traditions of you know, men and women– Women don’t kind of go and stuff. Generally speaking in the Jewish world, women, I think have been pretty assertive and participatory and listened to.
Hayden Cohen 46:33
Well, it’s sort of something in terms of leadership roles. It’s only recently right? where women have started to get those seniors?
Clive Lawton 46:41
To take, to take leadership roles in in mixed environments. So yes, to become president of the Board of Deputies or whatever– Yes, but, what did women do then instead, they set up equally potent female organisations. Because they couldn’t break in, so they set up something like WIZO. I mean, nobody took no notice of WIZO. It wasn’t a it wasn’t a nothing organisation, the League of Jewish women. I mean, these were significant bodies that still are, make a big impact on the community and make demands of the community. You can’t ignore them. You can’t pretend they’re not there.
Hayden Cohen 47:15
You can’t ignore WIZO
Clive Lawton 47:15
Well, that’s right. Exactly. And, you know, it was Go-getting it was creative, it was dynamic, it was assertive. It was all of those things and gave lots of women again, the opportunity to train participate. And when you compare that with its sister organisations, like, you know, the town’s women’s guild or those kinds of things. It is astonishing, the level of assertiveness, creativity, determination. Think of the 35’s in the Soviet Jewry movement, a bunch of women who came together and said we are going to deal with this. There’s no sign then that somehow women were told to wait while the men got their act together or something. The women just went and did it. And people like Natan Sharansky are perfectly clear, that 35s were hugely significant in the Soviet Jewry Campaign.
Hayden Cohen 47:21
I need to tell my quick Limmud Natan Sharansky story.
Clive Lawton 48:06
Hayden Cohen 48:06
So, this was, I don’t know when it was maybe five years ago, we came to Limmud something like that. And I was doing Tech or putting some video or audio stuff. And I was at the back of Ram1 yeah, the lecture room Ram1, where they had their own tech booth. And I was just in there, fiddling. Before I know it, a door flies open– Natan Shransky comes in, storms in, closes the door, but he wants to get away from all the people and just starts like, staring at me pacing it. “I need to get away from these people”. And he started like pacing and I’m like, I’m not going to start fanboying on Natan Sharansky when he’s in that mood. I just got o wait for him. And it was just, it was such a wonderful experience. It would only ever happen at Limmud
Clive Lawton 48:52
What a wonderful thought, isn’t it that a man who was subjected to solitary confinement and prison, finds too many people unacceptable. He wants to get himself into a little cell and pace up and down in order to be happy. So nobody’s quite happy with whatever situation they’re in.
Hayden Cohen 49:09
(Laughs) Right?. I feel like to be perf…. I feel like we could go on for quite a while.
Clive Lawton 49:15
Hayden Cohen 49:16
And I think we’d probably like to get you back at some point in the future to maybe do a part two.
Clive Lawton 49:22
Hayden Cohen 49:22
But for the moment, Clive Lawton, thank you so so much.
Clive Lawton 49:26
Hayden Cohen 49:27
Well, I hope you enjoyed that. And if you want to hear more around the year from Clive, he does a lot of Jewish teaching at JW3 in London and at Limmud events across the known universe. The main second episode is coming in the next I don’t know two or three weeks or something. It depends how busy life gets. I want to try and have a schedule but you know, life’s hard and gets in the way of podcasting. Grrr….. Until next time, share and share alike bagel podcast.com, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, is everywhere you’d expect to be really until then, Shalom Aleichem.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai with additional editing by Ronni Bloch