The History of Jewish Life at Clifton College

Clifton College’s unique and longstanding relationship with the Jewish community goes back to the founding Headmaster, John Percival, and the establishment of a boarding house for Jewish pupils that opened in 1878.

Polack’s House remained a ‘Jewish home in an English public school’ until its closure in 2005, since when the school has collaborated with the Polack’s House Educational Trust to ensure that this precious relationship continues to flourish in the 21st Century. The presence of this strong and vibrant minority community within the School has always been a great strength, and this has been recognised by pupils, parents, staff, governors and inspectors alike.

The heart of Jewish life at Clifton is now the Polack Centre, which exists for the mutual benefit of both the Jewish pupils at Clifton College and the wider school community.

Jewish Life at Clifton College Today

Jewish Cliftonians are members of one of the twelve houses at Clifton, whether they are Day pupils or Boarders, girls or boys. In addition, Jewish pupils are encouraged to celebrate and nurture their Jewish identity, for their benefit and the benefit of the wider school community. Clifton is a school that believes a diverse community is a healthy and dynamic community, and one where ‘the dignity of difference’ is an integral part of the overall ethos.

Clifton’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Anna Gerrard, is responsible for the Jewish community at Clifton, assisted by Mr Greenbury, the last Housemaster of Polack’s. Together, they will endeavour to meet the needs and support the Jewish life of all Jewish pupils at Clifton college, regardless of Jewish background, denominational affiliation or level of religious observance.

The Polack Centre is Clifton College’s Synagogue and it occupies an ideal, central position on the campus. Jewis pupils attend morning prayers in the Polack Centre on when other pupils attend chapel and the venue is also used for Friday Night Dinners, Jewish festival celebrations and other learning, cultural and social opportunities.

As they approach 12 or 13, Jewish pupils have the opportunity to prepare for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in a specially designed programme that fits around the busy school day.  Other opportunities to explore and develop their Jewish identities include Hebrew classes, engagement with the local Synagogues and Jewish community, trips to places of Jewish interest and participation in whole school events to mark significant Jewish dates.

While Clifton College is unable to cater for strict kosher observance, the catering team do offer a kosher option at every mealtime.  The kosher option is prepared in a separate part of the kitchen using separate utensils and any meat used will be certified kosher meat.