Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • A million cheers for the Secret Millionaire

    Candice Krieger
    Aug 20, 2008

    Did you see last night’s The Secret Millionaire on Channel 4? Property chief Nick Leslau gave away close to £400,000 to worthy causes in Glasgow. He swapped his luxury lifestyle to become an undercover volunteer in one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas.

    At the end of the ten-day stint, he pledged £100,000 to a riding school for children with special needs, £50,000 to Guide Dogs for the Blind and £225,000 to a disability centre. No biggie for a man worth an estimated £200 million?

    Think again.

  • Early morning entertainment

    Danny Caro
    Aug 19, 2008

    Early morning coverage of the Beijing Olympics has clearly come too soon in the day for some at the BBC.

    And there is plenty of room for improvement for members of staff working on the Corporation's subtitles.

    Perhaps, of course, someone is either trying to pre-empt what certain commentators are about to say, trying to be too clever or have simply bitten off more than they can chew.

  • It's the neo-cons, stupid!

    Daniella Peled
    Aug 19, 2008
    There have been plenty of surprises in the Georgia crisis – but one aspect has been utterly predictable.
    In the midst of the complex threats and dynamics of sovereignty and spheres of influence and endless Cold War rhetoric, one issue seemed crystal clear to large numbers of commentators and bloggers.
    It was the neo-cons what done it.
    Yup, those pesky Washington hawks were at it again. Not content with invading Afghanistan and occupying Iraq and ratcheting up tensions with Iran and being all pro-Israeli, they had now gone and messed up the Caucasus.
    For some, it was cut and dried. “This is a tale of US expansion not Russian aggression,” raged Seumas Milne in the Guardian. Robert Sheer in the influential blog, the Huffington Post, invoked “a neoconservative cabal” stoking an international crisis to influence the US elections.
    Even better, Israeli security companies have been giving extensive training to the Georgian army – and were warned to withdraw their employees by Moscow just days before the fighting began.
    So now there was also a juicy Zionist connection, with whiffs of conspiracy too!
    Of course, this is not to downplay US or Israeli involvement and interests in the region. The expansion of Nato, energy security, military co-operation and all the other vital details of international relations certainly played their part in this conflict.
    All that bothersome detail, however, is not as sexy as shouting “It’s the neo-cons, stupid!” across the blogosphere.
    Makes you wonder just what is going to happen if Barrack Obama wins the US elections. Are the neo-cons still going to wreak their wrath, or are we going to have another hazily-defined but supremely evil ideology to blame for all the world’s ills? At least it would make a nice change.
  • Jews in the middle of nowhere: Lubavitch blogs them

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 19, 2008

    Chabad are certainly the PR masters.

    Each summer, some 400 young rabbis are sent to far-flung communities in order to make contact with local Jews, as part of a programme called 'Roving Rabbis'. This year they are running a blog about their experiences - which is actually quite interesting.

    In this post, for example, two young Lubavitchers meet a mental patient at a top-security hospital in Connecticut:

  • How many religious youth become secular?

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 18, 2008

    Tzohar, a (usually) wonderful group that does much to advance religious-secular relations in Israel, held its annual conference recently - and for once focused on issues affecting the religious community. One of the topics that came up was how Orthodox parents deal with children who leave the path of religion.

    In the course of Ha'aretz's piece on the conference, reporter Yair Sheleg comes up with this astonishing claim:

    Prof. Shraga Fischerman of Orot Israel College in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, who chaired the session on children who leave religion, said that about 25 percent of religious Zionist youths "defect" to secular lifestyles.

  • 'This weird guy'

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 18, 2008

    The former long-time Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Bassiouni, has provoked the wrath of the Egyptian authorities after claiming that he was sent to Israel primarily as a spy; calling Ariel Sharon a "sleeping corpse"; and confirming allegations that Nasser's brother-in-law, Ashraf Marwan, who fell off a balcony in London late last year in mysterious circumstances, was a double agent working for both the Israelis and the Egyptians.

    But one magnificent quote stands head-and-shoulders above the rest:

    Bassiouni said that when he brought Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to meet Mubarak, the latter was angry at him and bluntly said, “What are you doing bringing me this weird guy?”

  • Julie Burchill's semichah programme

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 15, 2008

    Julie Burchill - the most enthusiastic advocate of Jews and Zionism in the British media - has made an amazing discovery:

    Dawkins' critique of Judaism seems way too aggressive, when one compares it to the excesses of other belief systems. The oldest and least evangelical of the monotheistic religions, it is also arguably the most civilised and liberal; there are female judges and rabbis in the Old Testament, which makes the C of E's foot-dragging over the ordination of women look a bit sad.

    Female rabbis in the Old Testament?  With Julie Burchill as their advocate, Rabbi Sacks just might be in trouble....

  • Why I hope the case against Olmert proceeds

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 15, 2008

    The key witness in one of the several cases against Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, American businessman Morris Talansky, has declared that he won’t be returning to Israel in order to complete his testimony.

    Olmert’s people say this shows how unreliable a witness he is – and leaves the prosecution’s case in tatters. The prosecution retorts that its case is still strong, and that Olmert will still be indicted.

    And I hope the prosecution is right.

  • 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.