Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • How we turned Israel Apartheid Week into a celebration on London campuses

    Devora Khafi
    Feb 26, 2016

    It all started one night in Slice, a group of four strong-willed Zionists digging in to a pizza and discussing the fates of Jewish students across campuses the following week. The much anticipated Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) was around the corner and this strangling feeling of doom was growing inside of me. Sam Alfassy, Saul Yardley, Joseph Stoll and I just came back from a Stand With Us conference in Glasgow, and within seconds of this reunion, we decided something needed to be done to combat the lies and hatred IAW is known for.

    The pizza tray was pushed to the side and we cracked down on planning our own week: Israel Party Week. Charmingly coined by Saul, our aim was to focus on Israel’s positive qualities; the aspects of her that the general public rarely gets exposed to. We promoted peace, coexistence, and dialogue. We stood up for what the country stands for, and what it stands up to.

    On Sunday we gathered a big group of Jewish students to come to Hillel house so that a consensus was built up. Everyone was on board and we could not have been more proud.

  • Schools lottery

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 25, 2016

    Spare a thought for the parents waiting to know next week whether their child will have won a place at a Jewish secondary school this autumn. The chances are that many will have to wait a little longer until a satisfactory offer comes up as the places merry-go-round spins again.

    No one wants a repetition of last year when a number of Jewish children in north-west London – estimates are around 20 to 30 – were unable to find a place at one of the state-aided Jewish secondary schools in the area.
    But the fear remains that the squeeze on places will start to get worse when more children graduate from Jewish primary schools in two years.

    We are also going to have to wait to see if the sponsors of the proposed new Kedem high school put in their application to the government next week or postpone it at least another six months until after Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes) has finished its number-crunching and produced its assessment of future demand.

  • Are pop-up minyans the answer to prayers?

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 16, 2016

    A friend of mine who is shomeret Shabbat recently confided that she has stopped going to shul on Shabbat morning because she finds the service boring. I suspect there are other people who think the same way but continue to drag themselves out of the house from a sense of duty.

    The traditional liturgy has remained fixed, frozen, for hundreds of years. The music may change, but the words are the same. There is little room for improvisation. Two or three hours of antique Hebrew, even if interspersed with a sing-song and a few apercus from the rabbi, are for too many people a chore rather than a captivating spiritual experience.

    One response to shulphobia is simply to shrug it off. Organised worship, you can argue, is not the be-all and end-all of Judaism. Judaism is a 24/7 religion you can practise anytime, anywhere, whether making a berachah or dropping a coin into a charity box. In biblical times, Temple attendance was only seasonally required.

  • Schools, places and politics

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 4, 2016

    We have devoted a fair amount of space this week to the announcement of plans for a new state-aided Orthodox Jewish secondary school in Barnet.

    The Kedem High School proposal seems to fit perfectly with the government’s free school scheme.

    Free schools have enabled groups of parents, for example, to bypass local council bureaucracy and set up a school from scratch with state backing.

  • We cannot stand by and ignore prejudices

    Greg Clark
    Jan 27, 2016

    A few Sundays ago I was leafing through the newspapers, when I came across an interview with Marceline Loridan-Ivens, a survivor of Birkenau.

    The occasion of the interview was the English publication of her memoir, “But You Did Not Come Back.” Her memories are as harrowing as you’d expect, but it wasn’t her description of the camp which pulled me up short; at least, not only her memories are disturbing.

    The interview describes how Marceline was listening to the radio news recently, as it covered a demonstration in Paris. And that she heard voices shouting “Mort aux Juifs.” Death to Jews.

  • Ofsted and a question of stoning

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 21, 2016

    The government’s attempt to nip extremism in the bud is having an increasing knock-on effect on strictly Orthodox Jewish schools.

    Its “British values” agenda is intended to promote respect and tolerance for other cultures and faiths among children – in contrast to sectarian ideologies seen as a stepping-stone to militancy.

    But how school inspectors interpret “British values” has become a source of friction between Jewish schools on the religious right and the educational authorities. In particular, Charedi schools have been left bristling at inspection reports which seem to suggest they ought to be teaching their children about same-sex relationships.

  • Finally, a positive step for tackling mental health in schools

    Charlotte Oliver
    Jan 14, 2016

    Ten years ago, I was nearing the end of my time at a high-ranking all-girls’ school widely known for two things: its excellent academic results, and its high volume of pupils who suffered from eating disorders.

    The two traits were unavoidable; the former, proclaimed to us at every opportunity – a stern warning, should one of us dare be the sorry soul who let their standards slip. The latter, noticeable in the pallid faces of girls who skipped lunch, spending their free hour instead writing essays in the library or smoking Marlboro Lights down the road.

    Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely loved school. Loved the friends, loved the lessons – a poster girl for teacher’s pet supremo. But I look back at my time there and memories of teachers’ inaction when it came to tackling depression and self-harm slowly come to mind, smashing the nostalgia in its tracks.

  • Next year in Birmingham

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 31, 2015

    An Israeli acquaintance, taking an early morning dip in the Hilton pool at Limmud, remarked that the water was so pleasantly warm that it was like swimming in chicken soup.

    There was always a risk in Limmud moving from a campus to hotel venue. Some wondered whether it might just become like any other Jewish conference and lose some of the communitarian spirit that gave it its characteristic atmosphere.

    But after this year’s experience, I doubt whether Limmud will go back to sparse lecture halls and windswept walkways. The approving voices for the new location with its carpets and chandeliers outweighed those who hankered for the back-to-college environment of Limmuds gone by.

  • From Marxism to Limmud, neither are for me

    Rosa Doherty
    Dec 29, 2015

    I pulled a long black hair out of my watery scrambled eggs and sighed. Welcome to Limmud.

    For those who don’t know, Limmud is a 5-day festival dedicated to Jewish learning in all its variety.

    Held normally on a university campus although this year it is in a hotel, people spend their days running to and from sessions and sharing buffet style dinners together in large halls.

  • Life at Hotel Limmud

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 29, 2015

    By the end of the first day of Limmud, it felt like a simchah without a function. I’d run into a cousin, cousins of my wife and some old acquaintances I had not seen for 20 years or so.

    The compactness of the new hotel venue – where all sessions are being held in a single building – makes it more likely to bump into people you know. That, of course, may not make it an attraction for everyone. In the past, you could spend five days at conference on a more spread-eye campus and not set eyes on people you knew would be there.

    For those less mobile, the move to a new location has been a boon. I know of one nonagenarian with a walker who decided to attend this year because it would be easier to get around.