Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • A-levels – how much do they really matter?

    Candice Krieger
    Aug 15, 2008

    So, it has been another record year for A-levels results. The national pass rate soared above 97 per cent for the first time. Jewish schools in particular were celebrating – Immanuel College achieved a 100 per cent pass rate for the third year running, with students at King David High School in Manchester gaining an average of two A grades and one B each.

    Yet let’s not get too excited by all the hype.

    I would like to spare a thought – and offer some consoling words – for the students who didn’t do so well. I am a strong advocate for a decent education, having myself followed the school-more school-and university route, but I don’t believe exams are the best indicator of potential or employability. In fact, exams really aren’t the be all and end all. Many of the most accomplished and prominent players in the business world left school without an A, O, G, C, S or E between them.

  • Why Marks still can't find its spark

    Jan Shure
    Aug 14, 2008

    Don't believe the hype. Marks & Spencer's latest bid to recapture a sassy, style-conscious customer base with yet another niche "collection" - this time called Autograph Essentials- is a triumph of hype over wearability. Despite the extravagant claims to the contrary (Autograph Essentials "falls into the buying less and investing better bracket", according to head of M&S womenswear, Kate Bostock), it is yet again a dispiriting and disappointing collection. The fabrics are unpleasant, the colours are horrid and dull and the attention to fit and detail (as opposed to details) is zero.

    In case you are wondering about the relevance of this seemingly random fashion rant to JC readers, not only are a lot of JC readers women - and women who buy clothes, and once bought many, many clothes at Marks & Spencer - but the history of that particular company pulls us atavistically. No matter how Aryan M&S becomes, and how far M& S travels from its roots among those immigrants from the Polish shtetls and the "don't ask the price, everything's a penny" beginnings of Simon Marks, we still feel a connection to the firm and the Sieff-Sacher dynasty whose sons, daughters and grandchildren are writ large across the history of Israel. And that is without any proprietorial feelings we retain about the family's contribution to British retailing.

    I sometimes wonder - indeed, I speculated in a feature some seven years ago in the pages of the JC - whether it is entirely coincidental that M&S began its decline at just around the time that the last members of the Sieff and Sacher families departed the M&S board room. It seems there was something about the resolutely middle class and aspirational values of the founding family - in particular Marcus (later Lord) Sieff, who was chairman from 1972 to 1984 - and of the (predominantly Jewish) men and women who worked at the firm's Baker Street HQ, that translated into merchandise of a quality and style that customers clamoured to buy, and which the present regime seems unable to replicate no matter how much presentational spin and PR effort they expend. In those days, M&S produced designer copies just weeks after they had appeared on the catwalks, but in fabrics that were often of the same quality as the designer originals.

  • L'chaim - to life! Even in the grave...

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 14, 2008

    The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) was recently confronted with an unusual halachic question. As their press release explains:

    A German Jew who passed away had expressed as his last will a peculiar request: to be buried together with a bottle of Vodka.

    As the community rabbi heard this weird request, he immediately contacted the RCE's office in order to forward this question to one of the RCE's halachic experts in order to determine if it is permissible to place a bottle of vodka in the grave of the man. The Jew emigrated from Russia in the 70s and was not connected to the local Jewish community. However, a good friend of his, a regular participant of community events and an acquaintance of the local Rabbi, delivered this last message of his friend to the rabbi.

  • What to read today

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 14, 2008
    • -- A court in Illinois has struck down a will by a couple who stipulated that their grandchildren would only receive their inheritance if they married within the Jewish faith. This piece argues the decision was correct

    -- London isn’t the only place where an eruv fight has turned ugly:

    An anti-eruv ad in a local weekly asked, “Is Westhampton Beach an Orthodox Jewish Community? ... Don’t let it happen.” E-mails and rumors have warned that local shops were being coerced into closing on Saturdays.

    -- Honest Reporting asks why The Guardian includes the “Hamas military wing” in its list of “useful links”

  • Rubbing salt into an already gaping wound

    Danny Caro
    Aug 14, 2008

    Spare a thought for Jo Ankier. Last month she was devastated to miss out on the Team GB Olympic squad. The selectors chose Hattie Dean ahead of her as the third member of the 3,000 metres steeplechase.

    Ankier, 26, finished third at the national Olympic trials which Dean failed to attend, nursing a fractured tibia.

    As revealed, the Barnet Shaftesbury Harrier told me that "there was no way Dean would be fit in time". How right she was.

  • Olmert's Pointless Peace Plan

    Daniella Peled
    Aug 13, 2008
    Ehud Olmert, in the dying hours of his administration, has apparently presented the Palestinians with a “peace deal” – but unfortunately one so pointless that is has been rejected by the Palestinians and ignored by Israel.
    This plan seems to have all the familiar elements – land swaps, renunciation of the refugees right-of-return, a demilitarised Palestine – while ignoring some rather crucial issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the future of the Jordan Valley.
    And the territorial exchanges it suggests are not exactly practical.
    The borders of the future Palestinian state are not going to exactly follow the 1967 lines. Everyone expects some kind of land swap. But this kind of acknowledgement of “facts on the ground” – ie whole swathes of West Bank settlement blocs annexed to Israel – doesn’t even make for a legitimate start to negotiations.
    Not to forget the fact that this whole plan is dependent on the Palestinian Authority regaining control over Gaza, and is only a toothless interim agreement proposed by a lame duck Israeli leader so weak that he makes Mahmoud Abbas seem like a towering pillar of strength and unity.
    The late Yasir Arafat faced justifiable criticism for rejecting Ehud Barak’s 2000 proposals at Camp David; but no-one could honestly expect President Mahmoud Abbas to do anything but reject this latest deal out of hand. Which he did. His spokesman said the whole initiative was “a waste of time” and the Israeli media appeared to agree - and barely bothered to report it.
  • Gearing up for the new season

    Craig Silver
    Aug 12, 2008

    Is anyone else getting excited about the new football seasons about to begin in the Premier League and JC MSFL?

    This year, as always, I will be interested to see how my Spurs will do. I have to say it's a very different-looking team which, to be quite honest, can only be a good thing for us.

    What interests me most is how young the team is. I don't believe we will get close to competing with the top four for a Champions League place, but it will be interesting to see if this team can stay together. With the likes of Dos Santos and Modric, I think it will be very strong in midfield.

  • Not gripped by Olympic fever

    Danny Caro
    Aug 12, 2008

    As someone who loves sport and writes about it professionally, people are under the assumption that I must enjoy watching the Olympics. Guess again. I’m not sure if I’m overawed by the enormity of the beast but, quite simply, it just doesn’t do it for me.

    I grew up on a diet of Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett having a broiges with Steve Cram coming in as the new kid on the block. That's not forgetting my childhood hero Daley Thompson, the original superman.

    Most people seemed impressed by the colourful opening ceremony but not me, I didn’t even watch it, and that had nothing to do with the fact that it was on a Friday night. As it transpires, some of the fireworks were pre-recorded, pre-Shabbat me thinks, or edited via computer graphics.

  • Is it safe to fly in and out of Ben-Gurion airport?

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 10, 2008

    This week, I wrote about the serious security implications of the story of the little girl who got left behind at Ben-Gurion airport while her family flew on to Paris.

    How, I asked, could an airplane take off from such a security-sensitive airport with luggage on board that did not belong to any passenger? Isn't this a basic security no-no?

    Now it emerges that the same problem exists on planes coming into Israel. As Haim Watzman blogs:

  • And I was Hitler's maid's sister's cousin's neighbour

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 8, 2008

    Many of you will have caught the feature in the Guardian this week on Germans who converted to Judaism and are now living in Israel.
    It included a rather remarkable interview with an unnamed professor of Jewish Studies at one of Israel’s universities, who claims that his grandmother Erna was, at one point, married to one Hans Hitler – the illegitimate child of Adolph’s half-brother, Alois Jr.
    As he explains:

    "Hans married my grandmother Erna after she divorced my grandfather."
    He immediately states that he hates the Hitler branch of his family. He becomes agitated. "I have neither any blood nor DNA from Adolf and his family," he insists. "I was not socialised by that family." He met Hans only once. The Hitlers came for tea when he was 12 years old. "Hans was a very nice man," he says. "No passions, no brutality." But Erna was thrilled to have married into the Hitler clan, and remained a Nazi until she died. "I didn't know her," he says of his grandmother. "She wasn't part of my family."

    The professor gave the same account of his relationship with Hitler two years ago to the American Jewish Action magazine. It included many details about the awkward situations he faces as a German convert - he doesn't, for example, participate in Holocaust Day ceremonies - and on the sometimes hostile reaction of his friends and neighbours to his background.
    At the time, it provoked much excitement in Jewish circles, and the article was widely reprinted on the internet.
    And now, the JC has learned, the Mail on Sunday is also chasing this gentleman – and intends to expose the “Jewish relative of Hitler” this weekend.
    Well, I hate to ruin the party. But I am simply not convinced by his story.
    According to Ben Barkow of the Wiener Library – the most authoritative Holocaust archive in the country – there is simply no record, anywhere, of a “Hans Hitler”.
    Hitler’s half-brother Alois Jr, according to Mr Barkow, certainly had one son, William Patrick. There was also another son, Heinz, who was reputedly Hitler’s favourite nephew but who was killed in 1942 on the Russian front. But certainly no Hans Hitler.
    So who is the unidentified and mysterious Israeli academic who is apparently trading on Hitler’s name in a rather sickening manner?
    I suppose we will have to wait for the Mail on Sunday to find out….
    Meanwhile, this just proves once again what a predilection we have to believing such stories. Nothing makes us happier than hearing of a descendant of a Nazi who converted to Orthodox Judaism, or of a one-time PLO terrorist who now preaches Zionism, or (in some circles...) of a Jew who eats pork on Yom Kippur becoming a Belzer Chossid. Such stories are a way of assuring ourselves we were "right" all along -- if even our greatest enemies (or their descendants) can come over to our side, surely the truth is with us.
    There is also an enormous appetite for stories creating a personal connection between Hitler and Jews. Who amongst us hasn't heard the old urban legend of Hitler having a Jewish great-grandmother? But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good headline?