Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Should a charity ever turn down money?

    Josh Jackman
    Aug 12, 2015

    Not accepting money from a convicted paedophile sounds like a sensible idea, particularly for a children’s charity.

    But beyond the initial gut reaction, which is understandable - what justification is there for denying the most vulnerable children across the UK the care they desperately need?

    Barnardo’s works to banish the horrors of poverty, sexual exploitation, disability and domestic violence from the lives of children. For sure, it would be a PR disaster for the organisation to accept money from former Hasmonean pupil Miles Esterson, but cutting funding for these services cannot be the better option.

  • PC Rashty? It's no job for a nice Jewish girl

    Sandy Rashty
    Aug 6, 2015

    I have a confession to make.

    I once dreamed of joining the Metropolitan Police. It sounded like a wonderful career opportunity, a chance to make a difference and help people more vulnerable than myself.

    I thought of rescuing children who had been born into abusive homes, or women who were victims of domestic violence. I felt I had the strength of character and right demeanour to make a good officer. The danger the profession posed and the attacks officers face on a day to day basis, came, rightly or wrongly, as an afterthought.

  • Jews do community and youth leadership better than anyone else

    Nick Trapp
    Aug 5, 2015

    It was two years ago when I first came across the unique Debra Brunner, who masterminds the twinning programme between Finchley Reform Synagogue and the Jewish community of Polotsk in Belarus, and founded The Together Plan. Her proposition was that I and a friend (Jonathan Clingman, a big name in the twinning programme) spend July to September of 2013 there going native with the local community and helping them reconnect with their Judaism, a bit like something out of The Book Of Mormon.

    I'm not Jewish; why would anybody want to spend their summer holiday in Europe's last dictatorship, teaching a religion they didn't belong to for free? My reason was Russian. I had a deferred place to study it at university and had to fill my gap year with language practice. Belarus would be perfect immersion because it's practically foreigner free and none of our roles there involved speaking English. Before leaving I met up with FRS's Rabbi, went to a seder meal at Jonathan's and did some homework (who knew the festival of Kapparot involved swinging a chicken around your head?)

    Those three months were eye-opening. Belarus isn't third world, but it's poor. Polotsk was charming, but full of stray dogs and buildings in need of a repair. Hospitality is second nature to the Belarusians - I'm especially and eternally indebted to the family who put us up for three whole months. Along with the local madrichim I ran events for Jewish holy days, helped out at the town's children's shelter (for children whose parents are absent or in no state to look after them), translated prayers, learnt the Hebrew alphabet in order to draw and read posters, did what I could to support Jonathan as he taught his Bar Mitzvah group, and even fasted for Yom Kippur. The biggest event, though, was the summer camp, for which a group of English madrichim fly over for five crazy days.

  • How to respond to such harrowing events?

    Jessica Weinstein
    Jul 31, 2015

    It has been a harrowing couple of days in Israel.

    We went to bed last night after news of the stabbing of revellers at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade. The attacker was a man who, ten years ago, had been jailed for attempted murder at the 2005 Gay Pride parade.

    We then woke up to the news that a baby had been killed in an arson attack by Israelis on Palestinian civilians.

  • Reflections of pre-camp at the European Maccabi Games in Berlin

    Danny Caro
    Jul 27, 2015

    It's very hard to put the last 48 hours into context. The first ever pre-camp at the European Maccabi Games has given everyone involved plenty of food for thought. Many questions have been asked, with one recurring theme - how, why and most importantly, never again.

    No sooner had we set off the plane in Berlin than we were heading to the Olympic Park. You can almost touch the history of a place that was rocking with controversy in 1936 when the great Jess Owens wrote his place in the history books, again all the odds.

    It was a first visit to the city for myself and a significant number of the Team Maccabi GB delegation who were clearly taken aback by tales of the atrocities in the trips to follow.

  • Conversion reforms reach to the heart of Jewish identity

    Katharine Rooney
    Jul 15, 2015

    My father is Jewish, my mother is not. She never converted, probably because my Dad has never been particularly religious – in fact, you could probably count on one hand the number of times he has been to shul since his bar mitzvah.

    I spent my childhood partly in London, where I was born, and partly in Vancouver, Canada, where my Dad is from and where he moved the family when I was eight. I’m the eldest of four, and one of my sisters, who is two and half years younger than me, also converted to make herself “officially” Jewish the same year I did, 2006. Being dual citizens, we have both split our time between Canada and the UK over the years, so while I did the conversion in Canada, my sister did hers here, at West London Synagogue. Interestingly, when my sister reached the Beth Din, she was told that because of her Jewish background, she could be given an “affirmation”, rather than a conversion – a precursor, perhaps, to the Reform movement’s formal announcement this week.

    Growing up, despite the fact that my parents weren’t religious, I always identified as Jewish, because we spent so much time with my father’s family (all Reform). I have vivid memories of Rosh Hashanah dinners at my grandfather Asher’s house and seders at my great-uncle Abel’s house. But even more than that, it just felt like something that was a part of me: I have always gravitated towards Jewish culture, food, humour and music – I love Woody Allen, Jonathan Safran Foer, Matisyahu and of course, bagels. It troubled me greatly that despite feeling this way – despite having a Jewish parent and being, frankly, more than a little neurotic, I wasn’t allowed to claim my Jewishness because I was from the wrong side of the gene pool. I was forever being told – by Jews and non-Jews alike — “oh, your mother isn’t Jewish, so you’re not really Jewish.” It was hurtful, even if they didn’t mean it that way.

  • My life as a graduate - unexpected but educational

    Tal Fox
    Jul 15, 2015

    Today marks exactly a year since I graduated from the University of Birmingham. My first year as a graduate has not been anything like I imagined it would be but somehow I managed to get to where I hoped I would be by now.

    While my social media accounts are filled with graduation photos and sentimental statuses, I fondly reminisce about my time as an undergraduate and how my experiences helped me in graduate life. Although I didn’t graduate with the coveted 2:1, I am excitedly waiting to begin my Masters in Newspaper Journalism at City University, London in September.

    University was incredibly fun and I’m still in touch with my friends – despite all returning to our own ends of the earth. I always look back with nostalgia but the graduate world isn’t so bad either. So with a year of wisdom behind me, these are the most important lessons I have learned:

  • Why I fought for the Psychoactive Substances Bill

    Maryon Stewart
    Jul 14, 2015

    It’s every Jewish parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child, especially needlessly. That sadly was my experience on 26 April 2009, when my wonderful 21 year-old daughter Hester, a medical student at Sussex University, was given a legal high. She wasn’t a drug taker, but a cheerleader and student mentor. Instead of surviving to become a doctor she went to sleep after an awards dinner and never woke up. Tonight, the House of Lords is hearing the debate on the Psychoactive Substances Bill.

    We all want our children to stay safe and well so that they live to thrive to lead happy and fulfilled lives. These days’ young people face many challenges during their teenage years and the party substances known as ‘legal highs’ are top of the list of pitfalls as many believe they are safe because, until now, they have been legal.

    In 2010 I founded the Angelus Foundation in Hester’s memory, to raise awareness about the dangers of ‘legal highs’ so that young people can make informed decisions and parents can have wise conversations with their children.

  • Antisemites - You Don’t Even Go Here

    Josh Jackman
    Jul 13, 2015

    On July 4, during a neo-Nazi demonstration which was met with the full force of Jewish and anti-fascist fury, there was one banner which stood out.

    Referencing to the 2004 classic film Mean Girls (natch), the sign read “You Don’t Even Go Here.”

    It was as hilarious as it was true. The fanatics, with their stereotypical skinheads and warped thinking, were an anachronism, completely out of place opposite the established democracy of Downing Street and two WWII monuments.

  • Omar Sharif: my secret crush

    Sandy Rashty
    Jul 10, 2015

    We all have Hollywood crushes.

    Omar Sharif was mine.

    I would not be able to tell you how many times I’ve watched Funny Girl – the story of a young Jewish woman who falls in love with a beautiful, but unattainable, exotic man.