Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Where have all the (US) rabbis gone?

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 10, 2015

    This is something I imagine I’d not be writing about again.

    But first some figures.

    Number of United Synagogue rabbis listed to speak in the Limmud UK conference programme:
    2013: 10
    2014: 9
    2015: 1

  • When it comes to domestic abuse we need to act and make a change - I should know

    Esther Marshall
    Dec 7, 2015

    Eight years ago I thought I had found someone who loved me. Sometimes he did seem to love me, but at other times, after the drug taking and the drinking, he became a different person. I was scared of him. What happened shook me and shattered my self-confidence to rock bottom. I would sit in the bathroom crying and in pain. But I never told anyone any specific details - because I was afraid; afraid of people thinking I was weak.

    Then last year I went to a conference called One Young World. One Young World is a conference for young leaders around the world, bringing together 1,300 young leaders from 196 countries - only the Olympic Games involves more countries.

    I sat and listened to all these young people talking about the amazing ways in which they were helping to make the world a better place. I couldn’t stop thinking that other people had done such wonderful things and inspired so many, and that all I had done was hide from the issues. I had written down my feelings but not shared them. I decided that I had to do something. I went back to my room each night and started to draw up a plan of what I’m most passionate about: Safety. Safety for women and girls.

  • Home alone without a Jewish school

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 22, 2015

    Last week we ran a feature about an 11-year-old Hertfordshire boy being kept at home by his parents because he had been unable to gain a place at a Jewish secondary school.

    Although he had attended a Jewish primary school, his applications to JFS, Yavneh College and JCoSS had all failed.

    He was offered a place at an academy in Watford or alternatively he could travel to King Solomon High School in Essex, where there have been plenty of spare places for Jewish children in recent years.

  • The heresy hunt comes to Europe

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 19, 2015

    Two years after a brave young American rabbi published an online essay, the row it provoked continues to rumble.

    You could not say that Rabbi Zev Farber’s thoughts were revolutionary. Others had expressed similar ideas before. But he opened the lid on a box that the Orthodox establishment in the States as well as elsewhere has tried to keep well and firmly shut for many years.

    He could no longer accept the classical Orthodox belief that the Torah was simply dictated intact from heaven to Moses during the Israelites’ years in the wilderness; its text was edited over time by divinely inspired prophets, he argued. The sanctity of Torah still remained for him; it was just that his interpretation of Torah miSinai, Torah from Sinai, differed from the norm.

  • What to do about the children of intermarried couples?

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 17, 2015

    Inreach or outreach? It’s a continuing dilemma for policy-makers in Jewish communities.

    Do you target your educational efforts on those who are already within the communal loop – synagogue members, Jewish day school pupils etc? Or do you try to engage the widest spectrum of Jews, or even potential Jews? If money were no object, of course, you would not have to choose.

    When the intermarriage rate is now close to 60 per cent, as it is in the United States - and 70 per cent of the majority non-Orthodox Jewish population who have recently married have a non-Jewish partner - then it is harder to ignore the children of mixed marriages.

  • Israel, British Jews and the religious divide

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 12, 2015

    The findings of the City University survey on British-Jewish attitudes to Israel will no doubt be talked and argued about over Friday night tables, Saturday morning kiddush and elsewhere over the next few days.

    While some of the headline stats will attract attention – massive opposition to settlement expansion and concern at the Israeli government’s stance on peace - the report overall presents a more complex and nuanced picture of British Jew’s relationship with Israel.

    One striking trend is the relationship between religious affiliation and dovishness. It is not new – as the authors of the report note, it was reported on by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research 20 years ago. But the latest figures present it in more depth.

  • Does the Jewish community care about climate change?

    Amy Leckerman
    Nov 6, 2015

    A few months ago we were told to start thinking about our dissertation – the 10,000-word research project that would be the biggest piece of work we would submit at university.

    I study geography at the University of Sussex, which isn’t a popular subject for Jewish students here; there are two of us in my year of over 100 students. Yet I’ve always been interested in it, and particularly so when it comes to climate change as it is such a topical and constantly debated issue.

    Media, experience in extreme weather events and religion have all had a massive influence on people’s perceptions. However Christianity was the only religion discussed during lectures on the topic. There was no mention of Judaism or any other religion.

  • Here we are, the Jews again

    Marcus Dysch
    Nov 4, 2015

    “Here we are, the Jews again.”

    That was the infamous welcome Sir Gerald Kaufman offered when his fellow Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman rose to speak in the Commons in March 2011.

    I wonder though, as we wade through yet another antisemitism row in Westminster, whether it is also becoming a standard reaction in the corridors of power whenever the Jewish community raises its indignation over the latest outrageous antisemitic comments of one of our politicians.

  • Schism and Jews

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 4, 2015

    It is difficult to know how far the conflict over Orthodox women rabbis in America will go but the battle lines were drawn more sharply over the past week.

    The mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America condemned the ordination of women, whether they go by the title of rabbi or not, while Agudath Israel branded “Open Orthodoxy”, in effect, a heretical movement.

    “Open Orthodoxy” refers to a group of institutions linked to Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, among them Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the most modern of modern Orthodox rabbinic schools, and Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution in America to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders.

  • Remembering David Cesarani - my teacher

    Imogen Dalziel
    Oct 28, 2015

    The first time I met David Cesarani was in 2013, when my father and I travelled to Royal Holloway to discuss the MA in Holocaust Studies that he ran. I’d seen him in documentaries, heard him on the radio and read his articles in newspapers and magazines; in short, I knew he was something of a Big Deal.

    So there I found myself, sitting opposite him in his rather cramped office on the university campus, expressing my interest in the Holocaust and learning more about it. He seemed somewhat amused when he asked what academic books I’d read on the subject and I replied that I’d just finished Laurence Rees’ ’Auschwitz’… erm, but I’d been to Auschwitz and Dachau. At the end of the meeting, however, he smiled and said he looked forward to welcoming me in September. My father was extremely proud that I was going to be taught by the Professor David Cesarani, such an eminent historian and someone who would surely lead me to great opportunities in my studies and beyond.

    He was right, on both accounts. During my MA, David taught two of my courses – ‘The History of the Holocaust’ and ‘Faith, Politics and the Jews of Europe, 1848-1918’. He would usually have a page of a few, short notes (although, to his detriment, had sometimes misplaced them, to great cries of, “Oh, damn! They’re in here somewhere!”) but hardly ever referred to them during the two-hour seminars he held. His knowledge of both subjects was vast; he peppered the facts with details, anecdotes and often humorous impressions of everyone from an Orthodox German Jew to Count de Clermont-Tonnerre of France. His recommended reading list for each course, however, certainly said something about his expectations of his students. More than once we all had the fear of God put into us when we couldn’t answer a question such as, “What were the details from the minutes of the meeting in the Berlin Air Ministry on 12th November, 1938?” David was not a teacher that you wanted to disappoint, but trying to match him on his expertise was an impossible task!