pounds 2.5m to save `Jewish Eton' from closure

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Carmel College in Oxfordshire, Europe's only Jewish boarding school, which was due to close at the end of this term because of falling pupil numbers, has been given a last minute reprieve.

Parents and old students have been told by the Charity Commissioners that they may yet be able to save the school - known as the "Jewish Eton" - if they can raise pounds 2.5m by the end of next week.

An open meeting is being held at 11am tomorrow at Yakar, a synagogue and study centre in Hendon. Rabbi Professor Jeremy Rosen, son of Rabbi Dr Copel Rosen who founded the school 50 years ago, has flown over from New York to help raise the money. Beyond the initial pounds 2.5m, campaigners are looking to set up an endowment trust to ensure the school's long-term survival.

The Charity Commissioners' decision follows a letter signed by 70 parents of the 240-odd remaining pupils in which they claimed that the school's governors were not "open and proper" by refusing to put Carmel College on the open market. In suspending the sale of the school for pounds 2.5m to Bewley Homes, a firm of property developers in Basingstoke, the Commissioners wrote: "The opportunity should be given to parents and pupils to put forward their own proposals for saving the school."

The reputation of Carmel College, a 300-acre acre estate near Wallingford, where fees cost up to pounds 14,000-a-year, has spread among Jewish communities throughout the world. Old boys include the film director Roland Joffe, who won an Oscar for The Killing Fields, Gary Davies, a disc jockey with Virgin Radio, and Daniel Serota QC.

Jeff Harris, a member of the "Save Carmel College Campaign", is baffled as to why old Carmelis have not come up with the cash and also criticised the apparent indifference of Jewish leaders. Neither the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body for the Jewish community, have backed the campaign. "The Chief Rabbi is steering completely clear, which is moral cowardice," said Mr Harris.

But Neville Nagler, director-general of the Board of Deputies, yesterday defended the silence. "There is a case for saying that if the community has resources which it wishes to put into education there may be better ways of putting it into schools, say schools which accommodate a bigger number of children."