Calling Old Carmelis

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Calling Old Carmelis

Two former pupils of the school known as Jewish Eton have started a podcast that is reuniting pupils and staff

Carmel College students in 1964 are guest appearing on the new podcast
Carmel College students in 1964 are guest appearing on the new podcast

UPLOAD old school photos onto social media and wait. Within hours, if not minutes, the comments section goes wild with past pupils recounting stories and reconnecting. There is nothing quite like nostalgia for that dopamine rush of mood-improving endorphins as Carmel College alumni Jill Kenton (1982-88) and Doron Junger (1983-88) have discovered since launching their heart-warming podcast, The Road From Carmel, last year.

The Jewish boarding school, established in Oxfordshire in 1948, quickly became known for its public school traditions twinned with Orthodox culture and teaching. But it closed in 1997 owing to financial difficulties, so there was nowhere for ex-pupils to go to reminisce. “The bones of Carmel exist as the original buildings, but it’s a skeleton of its former self,” says Doron. “But it was the characters that gave life to Carmel, so I wanted to do something to honour past pupils.”

The Miami-based former surgeon turned investment fund manager had guested on podcasts, so felt he knew a little about the technical workings, but he needed a complementary Old Carmeli co-host to bounce ideas off and drive the chat. He turned to Jill, a peer and a pal.

Doron Junger and Jill Kenton founders of the Carmel podcast

As the daughter of June Kenton, owner of Rigby & Peller, renowned lingerie providers to royalty, Jill (@iconiccupqueen) had spent years putting clients at ease as a personal lingerie fitter for the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Nicole Kidman and Cherie Blair and has made multiple TV appearances. Jill also  helped her mother write the book Storm in a D Cup about the building of the bra company, does voice-overs and is a regular presenter on QVC, but she had a harrowing time last year when she had a “tumour eviction” after being diagnosed with a low-grade brain tumour in 2021. Despite this – or possibly because of it – Jill managed to find time to connect with Doron to set up the podcast.

“I’m in the UK and Doron is in Miami, but we make it work,” says Jill. “I’ve got a full list of names to work from after organising Carmel reunions – people are constantly messaging asking when the next one’s going to be.”

Jill (left) with Carmel friends at the school

Doron continues: “We agree on the guest and I’ll reach out to potential interview subjects; lots of different vintages and narratives. We purposely keep the questions the same for each guest.”

The pair launched the first episode last December, just before Chanukah. “We wanted to bring light and remind people of less complicated times,” says Jill. “Of course, we were worried about people’s reactions because there’s a war going on in Israel. But it’s proven such a hit that people are calling from all over the world, saying: ‘We can’t wait to get in the car and listen,’ and there were 1,000 downloads in the first week.”

So, why is Carmel podcast-worthy? “Growing up in Germany, my mum wanted her kids to have a broader opportunity in life than she did,” Doron explains. “I knew no one on arrival at the school but, by the end of day one, I had a group of friends, including Jill.

“There remains such a strength of bond that when I see my 50-year-old Carmel mates, I see the 14-year-old kid inside them. And if there’s one thing that’s been proven to prolong longevity, it’s being connected with others and being useful. I think the podcast achieves both of these things.”

In listening to the stories, Doron notes the commonalities. “Ray Schinazi (1964- 68), is 15 years older than me, but we share so many memories of teachers, being forced to do cross country, plus the culture shock and religious experience of boarding life. Memories become unlocked that we as hosts and our listeners have ‘yes of course! we did that too’ moments, about things we haven’t thought about in years.”

Rabbi  Jeremy Rosen, son of Carmel’s founder

In Jeremy Rosen’s episode (1949-60), he recounts how his father, Rabbi Dr Kopul Rosen (and founder of Carmel) was on a tight budget to furnish the school, going to auction houses to buy furniture. One such addition was a very imposing wooden ‘highwayman’s chair’ for his headmaster’s study, featuring a special armrest button which, when pressed, trapped your wrists. “You had to have a pretty mischievous disposition and a lucky break to sit in that chair!” says Doron.

For recent podcast guest Jack Mizel who left his Stamford Hill home at the age of seven to go to Carmel, Rabbi Rosen has remained a lingering joyful memory. “Coming from where I did, Carmel was like another world, but I loved it and stayed until I was 18,” said Jack. “Amazingly since my episode went out Rabbi Rosen who lives in New York has been in touch to say how much he enjoyed it.”

Toby Tenenbaum (1994-97), tells a bitter-sweet story as the last head boy before Carmel’s closure, when the paint was starting to peel, with permanent scaffolding in place. “I liken those final years at Carmel to when you see a photo of someone bald and wonder what they looked like when they had hair. But I loved my time there. It taught me adaptability and how to reinvent yourself, living away from home. I was in disbelief when the letter came about the closure, so until Carmel returns, I’m still head boy! Maybe that explains some of my ego…”

The latest episode, which was released on 14 February, is with Jill herself, who was fittingly born on Valentine’s Day, but after that the podcast is due to finish its run in March.

“It’s a lot of time away from our day jobs,” laments Doron, “and while we haven’t drawn a firm line in the sand, we can’t keep going indefinitely. Not without sponsorship anyway.” Jill echoes this, saying: “I’ve got a long list of people desperately wanting to come on the podcast, so watch this space. Maybe there will be a special later in the year.”

For now, they continue sharing these treasured stories and, having listened to the podcast, I almost feel as though I attended Carmel – but would I have had the chutzpah to sit in ‘the chair’?

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