Blogs

Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.


  • Being a French Jew - in London

    Le Blog Français
    Jun 10, 2016

    The views of a group of French Jews who are now living in London

    The first time Rabbi René Pfertzl told me about a “French Jewish blog”, I admit I hesitated. As with many French Jews, I’m fed up with all these articles speaking about “Les Juifs de France” as L’Express wrote on its front page a few months ago. For those of the readers who do not speak French and/or do not know L’Express, it means “ The Jews from France ” and L’Express is one of the most important weekly newspapers in France.

    Why am I stressing this point ? Because words are important. I’m not a “ Jew of France ”, but a French Jew. Writing about “Jews of France” simply means that Jews are not considered totally French. The media has some responsibility for the rising of antisemitism in France, writing articles and news only when there are some attacks or other tragic events between French Jews and French Muslims. But never when they are working or simply living together like anybody else. And this obviously happens very often.

  • After university how will I reconcile the religious life I grew up with and the one I adopted while away from home?

    Student Views
    Jun 7, 2016

    In 2014, a bunch of friends and I sat around on camp and discussed organising our own kehilah which would meet over Shabbat to daven, eat and hang out. The arguments were that larger communities aren’t good at empowering young people, don’t allow room for changing values and aren’t exciting social spaces where we want to spend a large chunk of the weekend.

    So we started meeting that summer, organising our own services, borrowing a torah generously lent by one of our rabbis, singing our own tunes carried over from our Noam days and spending long hours after lunch wandering around North West London between people’s houses. On a fairly regular basis we were still sitting round someone’s kitchen table when it was time for Havdallah.

    But on the other hand, I missed my shul. I may not always get to sing the tunes I like, hear drashot from friends or lead my favourite parts of Mussaf, but it’s still my shul – my community, the place where I grew up, where I know everyone and everyone knows me. Our new kehilah was fun and exciting, but I couldn’t sit next to my mum or hear my rabbi say something amazing, or join in the singing filling the Beit Knesset. Twenty voices just don’t have the same effect as two hundred. I couldn’t even complain about the bar mitzvah boy singing Anim Zemirot, because we didn’t have any bar mitzvah boys and we didn’t sing Anim Zemirot (because we all hate it).

  • Torah and cheesecake

    Simon Rocker
    Jun 3, 2016

    Next weekend we’ll be celebrating what a friend the other day referred to “the cheesecake festival”. While Shavuot remains probably remains the least observed of the five major festivals in the calendar, it has been undergoing a revival in recent years.

    More synagogues these days offer a nocturnal learning programme on the first night of the festival, a tikkun leil Shavout, a practice that originated with the kabbalists. In Israel, study programmes have even become fashionable among secular Jews.

    If you can’t make it to one of the organised events, you can always opt for a DIY alternative at home. Limmud has compiled an online Shavuot pack which you can simply download and print out for discussion among family or friends.

  • A list of football managers' woes

    Louis Van Gaal was his usual ebullient self in his final press conference as manager of Manchester United. But for once, I don't blame his stubborn self-defence. Angrily placing the lidless FA Cup on his desk, he thanked the media for “sacking me for six months”. The English media is a brutal machine. The endless rumour mill and constant criticism have driven many managers over the edge.

    To add to the manager’s woes, the impatience of the football fan has grown in recent years. To sack a manager who has won the FA Cup and come fifth in Premier League, as Jose would say, a ‘transitional period’, seems mad. But fans of the ‘world's biggest club’ have been calling for Van Gaal’s head since day one. Fan protests are so commonplace that it seems like a miracle when no banners are unveiled criticising the owners or the manager, or, often, both. Post-match analysis focuses more on the managers and the referee than the game itself.

    According to the League Manager’s Association, there is an endemic problem in British football. Arsene Wenger is the only long-serving manager left in the Premier League, after 20 years, more than 16 years longer than second place, Eddie Howe of Bournemouth. Watford have had five managers in the last 18 months alone, and Manchester United have struggled to hold down a head coach since the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson ended. Jose Mourinho has never been a long-term option for any club, and I don't suppose that United will be any different.

  • On Simon Schama, whose Zionism defies simple explanations

    Student Views
    May 31, 2016

    I was fortunate enough to recently experience Simon Schama deliver a series of talks for the TORCH project at the University of Oxford. In his customary charismatic style, expounded with much chutzpah, he took in everything from Herodotus to hip-hop. It was also fascinating to see him engage in a roundtable discussion with respected historians Craig Clunas and Margaret MacMillan.

    Across these events, Schama touched upon a number of pertinent themes that deeply resonated with me. He laments what he terms “the return of atavism.” He detects it in Donald Trump, elements of the Brexit campaign, as well as the rise of ideological extremism across the Middle East and Europe. He remarks that this was something he could never have predicted in the 1960s when he was a student at Cambridge during the height of the Cold War.

    Schama’s historical understanding and Jewish sensibilities are keenly informed by an awareness of the fragility of open societies. He repeatedly referenced the late publishing giant Lord Weidenfeld, a pillar of the Anglo-Jewish community who had also sponsored the TORCH project. Weidenfeld was himself a refugee of a decaying liberal democracy crushed by the jackboot of totalitarian darkness. Schama said it was as if Weidenfeld’s shadow towered over everything.

  • No one should have to compromise religion for politics - but the NUS elections made me doubt myself

    Student Views
    May 24, 2016

    Today I voted in a university-wide referendum over whether our student union, CUSU, should remain affiliated to the National Union of Students. I’d been debating for weeks over what the right decision was, agreeing and disagreeing with people left, right and centre, and changing my mind about it every 48 hours. And this morning I held my breath, selected my choice from the drop-down menu and clicked ‘Vote’.

    And then I thought to myself, am I going to share my decision online? Am I going to tweet about this, citing the articles which convinced me, and encouraging others to vote the same way as I did? During the London mayoral elections a couple of weeks ago, I shared my support for Sadiq Khan all over my social media accounts and tweeted congratulations to him when his victory was announced. Last year, I resolutely supported Labour through their entire campaign and shared angry anti-Tory articles in the aftermath of the election. I’ve never before been afraid or embarrassed to share my political views; I completely understand why some people don’t and I’d never harass anyone to tell me which way they voted, but I’m just not fussed about what people think of my political choices. I’d rather make my voice heard and try to persuade people to agree with me than keep schtum.

    But something held me back from wanting to let everyone know about my choice over NUS affiliation. It’s not to do with whether or not I’ve made the right choice – believe me, I’ve wondered regularly whether or not the Labour Party deserves my membership and my vote. Nor do I think it’s to do with my relationships with people on either side of the campaign, either those whose politics I usually support but cannot condone in the context of the NUS, or those whose ideology is so far from mine and yet seems so right (or, at least, reasonable) at a time like this. As I said before, I’m not fussed about what people think of my politics, and I’m more than happy to disagree with friends and agree with…well, others.
    I think what’s holding me back from wanting to share my decision is the fact that it’s a decision linked so fundamentally to my Judaism. When I vote Labour, I’ve always been able to detach my choice from that part of myself; or, even, recognise how my Judaism commands me to support socialist policies. My Judaism has never come between me and my automatic preference, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s informed and strengthened it.

  • The end of the season, but not the end of football for 2016

    The Football Blog
    May 17, 2016

    The end to this unpredictable and unforgettable season has, regrettably, arrived. A season in which the perfect underdog story took place as Leicester won the coveted Premier League crown by 10 points. A season in which the mighty Chelsea fell from grace and the nail-biting competition between the bitter Manchester rivals for a valuable Champions’ League place went right down to the wire. A season which divided London as Arsenal mercilessly claimed second place to taunt fans of Spurs, but which also united the country in support of Captain Claudio and his motley crew.

    It is the inevitable fate of the football fan, that, at the end of every Premier League season, we sit on our sofas staring forlornly at the television, begging for some more Ford Football Specials. But alas they are no longer there. Yes, we still have three major cup finals to look forward to, but there just isn’t the same atmosphere of a good old giant-killing or the drama of post-match press conferences.

    And then we realise; it’s 2016 - the year of the hotly anticipated Euros in France. Our televisions still have some pleasure in store for us yet. We won’t have to watch cricket all summer long.

  • Was the Chief Rabbi right on Zionism?

    Simon Rocker
    May 13, 2016

    The Chief Rabbi made his strongest public statement since coming into office two and a half years ago when he intervened in the Labour antisemitism controversy, warning that the party had a “severe problem”.

    But one point he made has particularly generated over the past week – the relationship of Zionism to Judaism.

    This is what Rabbi Mirvis wrote: “Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years ago. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.”

  • Small can be beautiful

    The Football Blog
    May 11, 2016

    Leicester City's astonishing Premier League victory has been one of the most romantic footballing stories of all time. Struggling against relegation last season; lifting the world-renowned trophy at the end of this one – Claudio Ranieri himself said it felt like a dream.

    Leicester hasn't only brought joy to fans all over the world, they have done a service to the Premier League as well. The rapidly widening gap between the richer, more famous clubs was becoming a concern for fans of the world's 'best league'. But Leicester’s unprecedented victory has proved that money is not a necessity for success, and that the top-flight should not be an exclusive playground for the big four.

    Looking back at my league predictions from July, the unpredictability of English top division is clear. I said that Chelsea would come second and Leicester, remarkably, rock bottom. Such was the magic of a true underdog story, to overcome all the odds (specifically, odds of 5,000/1).

  • Being stuck in revision is the very reason I need Shabbat

    Student Views
    May 11, 2016

    Friday evening rolled around and I was sitting in a corner of the library making notes on the performance history of Othello. At one point I checked my phone to see if I could justify turning in yet. It was only half seven, so the answer was no. It was still light outside.

    Then I realised that, if I wanted, I could run to my room and change, and then cycle over to shul in time for Kabbalat Shabbat. I only had forty-five minutes but that was enough. It was enough time for me to choose to have a proper Shabbat, to lay off revision for twenty-five hours and not feel guilty, to go to JSoc and appreciate a part of my life which I’ve sort of left behind.

    I used to really love Shabbat. It was something I looked forward to, and I’d get home from school on a Friday and have a shower and walk to shul, whatever the weather. I used to feel calm sitting at the back of the service, singing or listening, alone or with family or friends. When I was about seventeen I had a white sundress that I would wear in all seasons, and my brother had these strange white pyjamas, and we probably looked like idiots but we were doing it for a reason and we were happy about it. Kabbalat Shabbat used to be something routine and important. It’s not anymore.