Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Another brick

    Jenni Frazer
    May 31, 2011

    Long ago and far away when I was studying English literature we were introduced to the concept of exegesis. I understood that it was to do with separating the personal feelings and beliefs of a writer or composer from their work, so that one could learn to value and judge the work objectively.
    Sadly, of course, it becomes well-nigh impossible, in many cases, to make such a separation. Thus Wagner is forever associated with antisemitism, Mel Gibson's films can never really be viewed in the same way, and there are certainly those in the public eye today for whom my grandmother's hissing epithet of "yiddenfeit" is a perfect fit.
    Thus I was somewhat discomfited to hear Desert Island Discs on Sunday when the guest was Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. Waters went on — and on and on — about his father, killed at Anzio when he, Waters, was just a few months old, and how that death had informed his political viewpoint right up to the present day. Waters' present version of Floyd's iconic "Another Brick in the Wall" is an overtly politicised presentation with rather too much emphasis, in my opinion, on attacking Israel.
    Imagine the aggravation to hear that Waters had chosen Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire" as one of his eight records. "I can't have you liking Leonard Cohen!" I snarled at the radio, and switched it off. I do realise this is a marginally insane response. But it's my marginally insane response — exegesis and all.

  • Jewish Schools and Israel

    Simon Rocker
    May 24, 2011

    Last year’s survey on the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel pose interesting questions for Jewish education, according to Jon Boyd, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which ran the survey.

    Let me quote from part of the synopsis of his presentation at last week’s UJIA education conference:

    “There is a clear relationship between hawkishness and religiosity and, similarly, dovishness and secularism…

  • The Synagogue and the Naked Lady

    Simon Rocker
    May 23, 2011

    On the way to shul last Shabbat, I mused upon a mystery: how is it that some synagogues come familiarly to be known by the roads in which they are located, while others do not.

    London’s North-Western Reform Synagogue is invariably known as Alyth Gardens. Think too of Lauderdale Road (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Maida Vale), or Raleigh Close (Hendon United) or Kinloss (Finchley United, situated in Kinloss Gardens).

    But then Mill Hill Synagogue or St John’s Wood Synagogue are always referred to as Mill Hill or St John’s Wood, not by their streets.

  • France's Jewish problem: Strauss-Kahn

    Jennifer Lipman
    May 20, 2011

    The Daily Beast offers an interesting follow-up piece to Bernard-Henri Lévy's bizarre defence of the disgraced DSK.

    In it, academic Eric Alterman argues that the case is "primo fodder for anyone wanting to lob anti-Jewish comments in DSK’s direction, or even issue antisemitic broadsides about Jews inevitably rising to the defense of one of their own, regardless of the circumstances".

    He's right. DSK, for those who hadn't worked it out from the surname, is Jewish, as is his wife. The crime he is accused of is, by anyone's standards, shocking; arguably made all the more so by virtue of his status as a powerful and influential person.

  • A message to the boycotters

    Robyn Rosen
    May 19, 2011

    This week I attended the country’s largest security event in Birmingham. I would be the first to admit I’m not so techno-savvy so the prospect of walking into an exhibition hall with 600 companies displaying complex technology with some pretty headache-inducing explanations was overwhelming to say the least.

    But what I came away with after a full day of intense interviews was a simple lesson about the contribution Israel makes to our every day lives.

    As soon as I entered the gigantic NEC hall on Monday I was hit by a wave of Hebrew accents more suited to Ben Yehuda Street than the Midlands.

  • The women-only Bin Laden White House pic

    Jennifer Lipman
    May 17, 2011

    By now, everyone's seen that photoshopped White House picture - you know, the one where Hillary Clinton mysteriously disappeared from view.

    Thanks to blogger Erica Sackin (on a very different Brooklyn site -, we now know what the scene would have looked like had it been only women in the room.

    Whether there would have been the scene in the first place had Hillary been charged with making the decision on Bin Laden is a different matter, though Mrs Clinton's shocked face suggests things could have played out very differently.

  • 'Pinkwashing': Israeli pride and the peace process

    Jennifer Lipman
    May 13, 2011

    If I asked whether the Obama administration was using its record on healthcare reform to excuse its policy on Syria, what would you think?

    You might well have strong opinions on either subject – perhaps that healthcare reform was a brave but costly step, or that the White House should put its money where its mouth isn't quite on Syria. But looking at the two together? For most people, the one has very little to do with the other.

    Now, change the Obama administration to "Israel", healthcare reform to "gay rights" and Syria to "Palestine", and ask the question again. Except that you don't have to: Time magazine has helpfully done it for you in this week's issue. Writes one David Kaufman:

  • Truly, madly, deeply

    Jenni Frazer
    May 12, 2011

    I have just had a hilarious discussion with a good friend, apropos the great Hillary Clinton airbrushing by not just one but two strictly Orthodox newspapers in New York.
    My friend's partner was once employed at a now defunct Charedi newspaper in Israel. The editor, described as very observant but aware of the world, slightly despaired of his readers.
    "You see," he said, "they don't read the paper. They study it. And on Shabbes afternoons, they take a magnifying glass to it."
    Accordingly, my friend's partner had a singular task on the paper. His job, in the early days of PhotoShop, was judiciously to apply beards to any random young women caught lurking on the edges of a photograph. Better to suggest overwhelming throngs than blank spaces in the crowd.
    So now I am fascinated. All those familiar pictures of black hats and beards. Were half of them really women?

  • Engaging with Israel

    Simon Rocker
    May 11, 2011

    Sunday’s “We Believe in Israel” conference has been billed as the largest advocacy of its kind in this country. But if you go to the conference home page, you’ll notice that the word “advocacy” does not appear.

    Advocacy has political overtones. The buzzword instead is “engagement”, which signals an attempt to appeal to a broader constituency, including in particular the so-called “huggers and wrestlers” - those who identify with Israel but may be critical of some of its policies.

    One of the tracks on Sunday is being run by Makom, a Jewish Agency-backed organisation which specialises in education about engagement. It is headed by Jonathan Ariel, former UJIA director of Jewish renewal, who is coming to the conference along with another expat, Robbie Gringras, founder of the Besht Tellers drama group.For Makom's programme at the conference, see Robbie's Makom blog.