Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • The entire culture surrounding Pesach is broken

    The JC Blog
    Apr 19, 2016

    Analysis and views from the JC reporters

    While writing last week's front-page feature on Pesach prices and the way religious folk are being priced out of celebrating their own festival, I heard a lot of blame being thrown around.

    From the KLBD to the shops, to the rabbis, to peer pressure, to general poverty, to anyone else you can throw an afikomen at, practically no-one was spared.

  • Is segregation the price Jewish teenagers must pay for a less stressful social life?

    Student Views
    Apr 12, 2016

    When I was seventeen, I used to beg to go out on Friday nights. My friends would congregate at one house every week after school, and they’d stay until late, drinking cheap wine bought from the wilfully ignorant man in the corner shop who’d decided they were all eighteen and didn’t ask any more questions. It was an institution for the group.

    Unfortunately for my parents, I fell in with this crowd rather than the no-Friday-nights group with whom I’d gone on Israel tour. I can imagine that it would have been easier for them, and for me, if my friends had all been more like me – the rows over the Shabbos table would have been less frequent, I wouldn’t have had to work so hard to stay included, and I could have continued enjoying Friday nights at home with my parents and frustratingly undemanding younger brother.

    Then again, perhaps it was healthy to have something to rebel against. My very liberal, tolerant parents never put an unholy amount of pressure on me about anything (except for the morning of my Physics GCSE, when my mother sat in the car outside the exam hall with me and plutzed about the fact that I could not remember a single one of the necessary equations or rules). They bought me nice clothes, fed me good food and took me on fun holidays. With my parents, I never really had much to complain about. And they were sympathetic when I (regularly) hated teachers; when girls at school were horrible; when (Jewish) boys didn’t fancy me. They looked after me and were supportive in all manners. So it was only natural that at some point we’d come to an impasse, and that’s probably a good thing, otherwise I might have developed those neuroses for kids who are never told ‘no’.

  • Are we doing enough for Jewish students in our universities?

    Imogen Wilson
    Apr 6, 2016

    Last week my Students’ Association voted to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign, with 249 votes for and 153 against. I spoke passionately against the motion, on the grounds that antisemitism is a growing problem in student politics, and that it would be foolish to subscribe to a movement that could divide our campus even further.

    I’ve been an elected sabbatical officer at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) or almost a year now, and my first experience of BDS was at a National Union of Students’ Conference in Bolton last summer. There was an awards dinner event that was sponsored by Coca Cola, a company that is on some BDS lists for having a franchise in the West Bank. NUS have had a BDS policy since 2014, and when some NUS officers found out about the sponsorship there was a complete uproar.

    Many of the students there, including myself, were new to wider student politics circles and issues. Therefore, our first impression of BDS, and NUS, was a protest outside the dinner that was supposed to be celebrating student achievements from across the UK. I remember thinking how alarming this must have been for Jewish and Israeli student representatives, who on top of being surprised by a protest, may have felt that it was somehow targeted at them.

  • Missing boys in Charedi schools

    Simon Rocker
    Apr 1, 2016

    Last night Newsnight ran a lengthy report on the “missing boys” – the hundreds of Charedi youngsters in Stamford Hill being taught in unregistered schools.

    I am not quite sure how “exclusive” it was since we have been reporting on this for years, and other media have picked up the issue too.

    The Department for Education has got tougher and recently ordered one unregistered primary school to close.

  • 'Reform scumbags'

    Simon Rocker
    Mar 31, 2016

    The plan to establish a new egalitarian section at the Kotel in Jerusalem was meant to solve a long-running dispute. But the compromise has now precipitated an ugly round of religious polemics as the Charedi political establishment tries to defend the state against the encroachment of the non-Orthodox.

    Praying at the Kotel is not the only issue but it has become the most emotive, laying bare Israel’s religious divisions. Israel is different from the diaspora but what goes on there has some impact on Jewish communities abroad.

    A few weeks ago I was astonished to read an account of the Kotel controversy in the Anglo-Charedi newspaper, the Jewish Tribune. Astonished because in the continuation of a front page article, “Outcry against Reform”, the paper reported that Shas rabbis had instructed their political leader to “do everything he could to prevent the Reform scumbags from achieving their goals”.

  • Why the Purim story is one for the ages

    Simon Rocker
    Mar 23, 2016

    Purim is the joker in the pack of Jewish festivals. It is the closest we get to carnival, with the fancy dress, the mayhem of the megillah reading, the alcohol – it’s a mitzvah to get tipsy if not paralytic – and the Purim spiels.

    But there is a darker current beneath the merriment. It is the commemoration of thwarted genocide of a diaspora community. And though written more than 2,000 years ago, Haman’s words as he justifies his lethal plot retain their chilling ring. “There is a certain people,” he tells the king, “scattered and separate from the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their rules are different from every people’s….”

    The Jews are the irredeemable Other, a people apart, a law unto themselves, good only for extinction. For some, Purim represents the archetypal story of the situation of the Jews, ever threatened by an enduring enmity that travels through history in different guises. We can never rest in comfort for even when we feel as if we have never had it so good, the danger remains.

  • The top ten Jewish women in history? The list is endless...

    Today is International Woman’s Day. The theme for this year is gender parity, but as in previous years, IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements and contributions of women around the world and throughout history.

    When I think of great, inspirational Jewish women, my list is varied. A quick straw poll of my female editorial colleagues resulted in this list, including a prime minister, an author, a singer and cook.

    Who would you add to our list of the top ten Jewish women in history?

  • There is antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus - but we need to ensure we make the distinction

    Recent events at Oxford have brought to light tensions between left-leaning political movements and the Jewish community. These all revolve around one issue: Israel. On the one hand, many Jews, especially strongly pro-Israel Jews, take any criticism of Israel as antisemitism. On the other, it is convenient for antisemites to dress up their prejudice as anti-Zionism. This is, for example, similar to the Islamophobic discourse that hijacks otherwise justified criticism of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. There are elements of both of these taking place - and the combination is dangerous.

    Antisemitism is indeed present in parts of the anti-Israel movement, as evidenced by the defacing of Holocaust Memorial Day posters in London. However, a knee-jerk reaction to criticism of Israel makes it harder to call this hateful prejudice out. It is unproductive for victims of violence in the Middle East, and for victims of antisemitism worldwide, not to acknowledge that much criticism of Israel is legitimate and not grounded in antisemitism. But clearly not all claims of antisemitism in these contexts are illegitimate.

    Problems arise when left-leaning groups close their ears to Jewish members who say that anti-Israel discussion is starting to sound antisemitic. Dismissing these concerns as uncritical defence of Israel aimed at shutting down debate damages accountable discourse. It encourages an environment where antisemitism can develop and thrive unchecked, even if it wasn't truly present to begin with. It also alienates Jewish members. The exclusion, from university or other groups, of Jews who want to participate in the criticism of Israeli policies means that such groups lose access to some of the most relevant voices on the topic.

  • Why all Jews can sit under the rainbow flag

    Surat-Shaan Knan
    Feb 29, 2016

    February has been busy but brilliant. In fact, February is my favourite month of the year. There are no significant Jewish festivals, I know, but there is a lot to celebrate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, amongst them of course quite a few Jews.

    LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. It originated in the United States and was first celebrated in 1994. In the UK, it first took place in February 2005, and has been celebrated annually each February ever since. The event came in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 (Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 said that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality").It aims to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and promote equality and diversity.

    This year’s LGBT HM theme was Religion, Belief and Philosophy, and of course this was particularly great news for us LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer/questioning) Jews.