Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Hat last!

    Alex Kasriel
    Oct 3, 2008

    Until last year whenever I went to shul it always involved conducting a surreptitious hat contest amongst the women in the Ladies Gallery. One year, the jaunty bucket style always won, and in another, the more masculine trilby caught my attention. In the early noughties, women went even more casual with wooly hats adorned with sequins and I was loving the look.

    After getting married in July I was due to cover my head for the first time in shul this Rosh Hashanah. The husband, who is a devout liberal, said: "Are you going to wear a hat?" thinking I would be embarrassed about going along with what he sees as female oppression. Quite the contrary, this was the perfect excuse to try out a whole new world of accessories. If you wear a hat on any other occasion you are seen as a little eccentric or attention-seeking. Just look at Jamiroqai whose individual style earned him the unfortunate moniker of ‘The Twat in the Hat’. Mercifully, in shul the only judgment is whether your chosen head covering is stylish, not whether you should be wearing one at all.

    And being a hitherto hat virgin I had the opportunity to try out two new looks over the two days of Yom Tov. The first was a demure beret, worn over the ears (not French style) and the second was a more bold, print headscarf inspired by the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk this season. Fabulous, but not something you could get away with wearing down the pub. So thank God for shul!

  • A fashionable move by Next

    Candice Krieger
    Oct 3, 2008

    How refreshing - albeit it slightly strange - it was to learn this week that Next, the high street and catalogue retailer, has bought Lipsy, a fashion brand for young women, for £17.4m.

    Now I don't claim to be a fashionista , but Next, headed by Simon Wolfson, needed to do something to improve its Next-appeal among younger shoppers.

    Last month, it reported a drop in like-for-like sales of six per cent over the six months to July, and seems to do homewear better than it does clothes. Admittedly, I would not have paired Next with Lipsy - think salmon-wrap blouse over bubble-hem corset dress - but business is business.

  • The politics of fear

    Daniella Peled
    Sep 29, 2008

    As if to confirm our worst suspicions and prejudices about them Europeans, the far-right in Austria stormed the polls on Sunday.
    The two parties which campaigned on an anti-European Union, anti-immigrant platform won nearly a third of the vote, with the mainstream parties pushed into last place. A rather frightening scenario.
    I recall, visiting Vienna a couple of years ago, being struck by how Austrian seemed to view themselves as “the first victims” of national socialism. They certainly didn’t mind having former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim as president in the 1980s, or handing Jörg Haider’s freedom party a hefty slice of their votes in the 1999 elections.
    But it would be unfair to cast Austria as country of extreme racists and neo-fascists.
    Sunday’s election results can also be attributed to public disillusionment with the failure of mainstream politicians to form a functioning government, the previous coalition having collapsed in June. Austrians have also proved highly suspicious of the influence of the European Union, and supremely paranoid over immigration. Sound familiar?
    It’s brutal but true - fear of foreigners, and, to put it bluntly, of Muslims, is prime political fuel in Europe these days. Politeness tends to prevent us Brits from any real excesses of xenophobia – the UK’s 100 BNP local councillors doesn’t quite amount to a fascist takeover - but fear is all too easy to exploit, and the UK, unfortunately, is not immune.

  • Looking for love? Head to Israel.

    Candice Krieger
    Sep 24, 2008

    Looking for love? Head to Israel. According to a Central Bureau of Statistics report this week, the proportion of single Jews in Israel is continuing to grow, particularly among the young. In 2006, 76 per cent of Jewish men aged 20-29 were single, up from 73 per cent in 2000, and 60 per cent of women in this age bracket were single, up from 54 per cent in 2000. But if you're after a proposal, be warned - the main reason for the increase? A desire to delay marriage.

  • We don’t do broiges like we used to

    Simon Rocker
    Sep 24, 2008

    For all the tensions that exist between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, we probably manage them more civilly than in the past. Go back to 1853, for example. When the first delegates from the West London Synagogue (the country's first reformist synagogue) came to the Board of Deputies, the debate over whether they should be allowed to take their seats became so heated that the police were called. But when the constable arrived, the wardens of the Great Synagogue, who included Sir Anthony de Rothschild, would not allow him to enter the building.

  • Year of the Lame Duck

    Anshel Pfeffer
    Sep 23, 2008

    Gordon Brown will probably manage to ward off the latest Labour rebellion, for now, and depart from his party's conference for the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Effectively a lame-duck prime minister, just waiting for the moment in which one of his cabinet ministers plucks up courage to wield the knife.

    President Shimon Peres has also left for New York, after calling in Tzipi Livni last night, to entrust her with forming a new government. Ehud Olmert remains caretaker prime minister for at least a few more weeks, as Livni will not likely succeed in scraping a coalition together until the High Holy Days season is over. If she fails, then Israel goes for elections, with Olmert still standing uneasily at the helm.

    Peres and Brown will meet another lame duck in New York, George Bush, who has been reduced to irrelevancy in the White House. Real power will return to Washington only in January with the inauguration of the new president.

  • A deadly ritual

    Daniella Peled
    Sep 23, 2008

    The news of the latest attack in Jerusalem came with a sense of inevitability. A vehicle driven into a crowd of people; the young driver, a resident of East Jerusalem, shot dead by a passing soldier.

  • Who killed the anti-eruv website?

    Simon Rocker
    Sep 23, 2008

    The North-West London eruv has become such an established fixture since the five and a half years since it went live that it is hard to remember the opposition it generated when it was first mooted a decade ago. Some secular Jews talked hysterically of new ghettos, the good folk of Hampstead Garden Suburb complained of treelines being spoiled by alien poles.

    Most of the hostility died down in time, but one source of resistance has lingered on, from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, whose rabbinate regard aspects of the Shabbat boundary dubious in their opinion on Jewish law.

    At least one dedicated anti-eruvite even launched a website,, where posters traded halachic arguments for and against the poles and wires, along with the odd bit of tittle-tattle about local rabbis. Who was behind the site was never revealed, since he, or they, remained behind a mask of anonymity, as did most of the contributors to the threads. Well, over the summer, the site has vanished from the Judosphere. Did the anti-eruvites find it too expensive to maintain the domain? Or is the disappearance of the site evidence that within the Charedi world opposition to the eruv is melting away?

  • The Credit Crunch and the Jewish Question

    Anshel Pfeffer
    Sep 16, 2008

    The collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers over the weekend prompted an interesting debate in the online forum of the white-racist website Stormfront. Some posters saw the demise of the financial institution, founded by America's grandest German-Jewish banking dynasty 158 years ago, as the ultimate triumph. "Who said Jews were ever good at money? They run a Con Game. Jews can't even manage their own banks," wrote one of them. Others were less jubilant, since "Jews didn't own Lehman Brothers, shareholders did. You me and anyone that has a pension scheme or an insurance policy has lost. The Jews will have known it was coming and moved their investments to a safer place months ago." Still others argued that, despite the bank not being family-owned for decades, this was still a debacle for the Jews as its senior management were hook-nosed.

    Putting these rantings aside, it is still too early to say whether the subprime mortgage crisis is good or bad news for the Jews. Do the stories of Jewish-founded banks such as Lehman and Bear Stearns resonate differently than good ol' American household names like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Have internal dog-whistles gone off? It would be encouraging to believe that in the 21st century, outside of the depraved imagination of supremacists, Jews are no longer the prime suspects in international financial disasters, and indeed there are no signs of that happening yet. But ancient stereotypes are double-edged. In today's politically correct environment, saying that Jews are good with money can cost someone their job and reputation. But let's admit the truth: many of our chosen people have done quite well out of that image when trying to attract investors over the centuries.

    When the credit-crunch crisis is finally over, and the Chinese, Japanese and Gulf Arabs are energetically rebuilding the ruins of Wall Street and the City, will we finally be released from one of our oldest stigmas? The goons can always go back to using the blood-libel.