The Diary

Tikkun Obama

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Once tikkun olam was an obscure mystical idea known only to Kabbalists, now it's the official culture of American Jewry.

In a White House proclamation announcing Jewish Heritage Month this month, Barack Obama saluted Jewish Americans who "today… carry on their culture's tradition of tikkun olam - 'to repair the world' - through good deeds and service". 

He signed it "in the year" 2010 rather than the usual formula, "in the year of our Lord".


Miliband's maidel

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

If Gordon Brown were to stand down, leaving the leadership door open for David Miliband, then there could only be one candidate to head his publicity campaign.

It has to be our own Bryony Gordon, who in a recent column confessed her smittenness with the smooth-talking Foreign Secretary, calling him her "political porn star".

I have it on good word that both Mr Miliband's wife and sister-in-law loved the column and want more of the same.

Go for it, gal.


Take a bow, Binnie the boxer

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Not so long ago, I heard of a female Jewish academic in the UK who practised an unusual sport, boxing, of which, sadly, she was too shy to speak in public.

But no such inhibitions from New York psychotherapist Binnie Klein, who not only took to the ring in her mid-fifties but has also written a book about it, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind.

According to her publicist, the experience yielded insights into her Jewish roots that would not have come "if she hadn't been drawn toward a pair of boxing gloves during a physical therapy session".


The man who denied Heston

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Does anyone know the man in the white hat who struck a rare blow for kashrut on TV?

Put anyone Jewish on a food show and you'll usually see them scoffing shrimp, eel, lobster, pig's ear, pig's foot, pig's unmentionable or other piece of Shulchan Aruch-defying creature.

But when this market stallholder was invited, in this week's Heston's Feasts on Channel 4, to sample Heston Blumenthal's jazzed-up spam dish, he replied: "I am not allowed to eat that, I'm Jewish."

Is he a genuine, abstemious member of the tribe - or was he just having us on?


Bowing out of the Brits

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Let me extend good wishes for a long and healthy retirement to Alex Minn, secretary of the Initiation Society - the quaintly-named body that regulates circumcision - who is finally stepping down after 55 years in the role.

Reckoning himself the "longest serving Jewish civil servant", he turns 90 in September. "The time has come to make way for a younger man," he said.


Barmitzvah Boy on DVD

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Maureen Lipman has long bewailed the BBC's failure to release her late husband Jack Rosenthal's plays on DVD.

At last, good news: independent distributors Acorn Media have taken on the challenge and are planning to bring out a box set of his TV classics such as The Barmitzvah Boy and The Evacuees early next year.

Acorn's Peter Smart said: "We monitor all the requests we get and Jack Rosenthal comes up time and time again."


Acclaim for Israeli chef

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Israeli cuisine has gained international recognition after Food & Wine magazine listed Tel Aviv's Yonatan Roshfeld at the top of its most promising chefs for 2010.

His first restaurant, Herbert Samuel, has a neo-Middle eastern flavour, while Spain meets Israel at the second, Tapas Ahad Ha'am. They are named after the first High Commissioner of Palestine and the champion of cultural Zionism.

A rather loftier choice of name than The Fat Duck or El Bulli.


Shellfish singles

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

What is redder than a lobster?

Answer: a rabbi's face when he spots one on the menu of a Jewish organisation.

A reader from the North of England was exercised about an email shot he received from American JDate for a singles weekend in California next month.

Along with the promise of "incredible beach", "gorgeous accommodation", Martinis and women - apparently more numerous than men - there is, of course, the food: sushi, steaks and lobster.

Put the lid on the pot and give them a class in Leviticus, I say.


Threatened prof wins out

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

London-born academic David Newman, of Ben Gurion University, came in for some stick last autumn after appearing in a Channel 4 programme about the Israel lobby.

One Anglo governor of the university, Michael Gross, was so apoplectic that he emailed Professor Newman to say: "I will use whatever influence I have at BGU to have you thrown out… I hope you perish."

Lest the message was lost, he followed up with: "The sooner you are removed from BGU and the face of the earth, the better."

How much influence does the fulminating Mr Gross wield, you may wonder.


Bagel eater beats volcano

By Simon Rocker, April 22, 2010

Let's toast Manchester businessman Martin Abramson who made it to Israel for Yom Ha'atzmaut, despite the flight embargo caused by the volcanic ash cloud.

While thousands of Israeli and other passengers were grounded, he took to the dusty skies in a tiny single-engined Piper Saratoga, which bore him from Pannshanger Airfield in Hertfordshire to Madrid in time to catch an El Al flight.

His pilot was former JNF chief executive Simon Winters who said: "I love flying and was pleased to be able to assist in a friend's hour of need."

It took them five hours to reach Madrid.