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Tales Out of School

Sari Israeli

He’s an educator, mental health counselor, psychotherapist, stress consultant, addictions specialist, and founder of several Jewish crisis hotlines and resource centers. What’s this Bobover chassid doing in England’s public schools with his long beard and frock, often the first Jew his students have ever seen?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hundreds of school inspectors throughout England work for Ofsted, the governmental Office for Standards in Education, and each of them brings his own distinct cultural background to the job of inspecting public and private schools around the country. But line up all those inspectors, and Rabbi Dr. Chanan Tomlin unquestionably stands out. With his chassidic garb and long beard, Rabbi Tomlin sometimes gets odd stares from teachers and students who’ve never seen an Orthodox Jew; but his confidence, dignity, and natural warmth create a welcoming — if not curious — impression of the People of the Book.

“Of course, there have been times when school principals were in shock when they saw me, so I’ve made a point of calling before I visit a school and making sure that they know where I come from, how I look, and the rules governing my behavior,” Rabbi Tomlin relates, meaning, of course, no food and no handshakes with women.

British law mandates that every school, public or parochial, meet certain standards. Rabbi Tomlin visits classes to assess teaching style and content level, speaks with faculty, reports on what needs improvement, and examines the school building. But what is closest to his heart is the personal contact he has developed with students, both Jewish and gentile.

As a former headmaster of London’s Yesodei HaTorah school, a mental health counselor, psychotherapist, stress consultant, addictions specialist, and founder of several crisis hotlines and resource centers, the Manchester resident, father of ten, and Bobover chassid is a sought-after advocate for kids in distress.

“Oftentimes, students are sent to me by the teachers, but sometimes kids approach me on their own to speak with me,” Rabbi Tomlin says. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m a nonjudgmental listener, or maybe it’s just the beard. Many of these youngsters don’t even know what a Jew is, but what they do have is a very clear sense of a person who truly loves them, who believes in them and won’t judge them.”

As much as Rabbi Tomlin is a culture shock for so many of the people who approach him, their lives too are a world away from his own insular, chassidic family life. 


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