The Diary

Suspicious tefillin

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

The recent incident on board an American jet when the crew mistook a passenger laying tefillin for a suicide bomber is not the first time the little black boxes have caused suspicion.

The Jewish Military Museum in Hendon has a letter written from the trenches of First World War by Lt Marcus Segal of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

He recalls being asked to investigate two German prisoners who were believed to be carrying secret signalling equipment — only to find the mystery items to be two pairs of tefillin carried into battle by their Jewish owners.

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Unmasked – a Haiti hero

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

You may recall this photo in last week’s issue of an unidentified rescuer in Haiti.

We can now put a name to him. He is Marc Eisenmann of Florida, according to his mother Vivien, an ex-Londoner now living in New York. His relatives include his great-uncle, the book collector Jack Lunzer.

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Ben Elton's rabbi book

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Could Ben Elton, alternative comedian, author, playwright and scriptwriter, have a secret life as a scholar of Anglo-Jewish rabbinical history?

A new book on Britain’s Chief Rabbis has just been published by Manchester University Press, written by Benjamin J Elton. It promises a new interpretation of “the most important event” in Anglo-Jewish religious history in the 20th century: the Jacobs Affair.

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Coens tell the tooth

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

If you’ve seen the Coen brothers’ dark and very Jewish comedy A Serious Man, you’ll recall the scene about “the goy’s teeth”. A rabbi recounts to the hapless hero a story about a dentist’s amazing discovery of a message in Hebrew inscribed on the back of one of his patient’s teeth. It reads: “Help Me.” Or is supposed to read.

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Bercow’s barmitzvah gift

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Should he tire of being Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow would be a shoo-in for president of the Board of Deputies, judging by his reception at a lunch the other day.

Admiring deputies lapped up their guest of honour, greeted as an “Edgware lad made good” of whom the community was immensely proud.

Declaring pride in his Jewish heritage, Mr Speaker drew applause when he mentioned his late father teaching him “to stand up for what I am… and not to seek to hide it”.

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Mr None, the would-be MP

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

A one-time warden of Bevis Marks Synagogue is standing as a protest candidate in the election, having changed his name to None of the Above.

The person formerly known as Adam Osen became so disillusioned with politicians that he decided to have a go at becoming one himself. “There are only six independent MPs in Parliament and that’s terribly sad,” he said. Now the accountant turned decorator, 50, hopes to unseat Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory occupant of Chingford and Woodford Green.

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A caning for Mr Cameron

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Tory plans to stop students with third-class degrees becoming teachers received a withering response from ex-head of JFS, Jo Wagerman. She wrote to The Times to say she had a “third-class degree from night school” yet had become head of “one of the best comprehensives in the country”.

“If Mr Cameron had his way,” she remarked, “I should never have been allowed to teach. I am proud enough to say that would have been not only a great loss for me, but also for all the pupils I taught so happily for more than 40 years.”

It would take a brave politician to disagree.

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Guardian's capital offence

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

The Elstree-based Happy Puzzle Company was bemused after the Guardian took a crack at one of its board games, called Thought Exchange, for giving Israel’s capital as Jerusalem. That’s a matter of diplomatic dispute, the paper carped.

A Happy Puzzle spokesman said that “thousands and thousands” of the game had been sold but just one caller had raised the issue. As for Jerusalem’s capital status, he explained: “We went by the Times Atlas. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.”

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A welcome for Mr Hoon

By Candice Krieger, January 21, 2010

Former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon does not spend all his time plotting to pull the rug from under Gordon Brown.

He is due to speak next month in a panel discussion on racism organised by Yad Vashem UK.

A spokesman for the charity described the ex-minister’s appearance as “a great coup”.

Not Mr Hoon’s favourite choice of word, I would think.

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What's with fishballs?

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

An alien beaming down here for the weekend would get the idea from the JC and chatter in shul that Anglo-Judaism was largely about “Maccabi football, fishballs and antisemitism”, Borehamwood’s Rabbi Naftali Brawer said in a sermon last Shabbat.

The good rabbi is out of touch. Fishballs have long been gefiltered from our pages and a passing Martian is more likely to believe our chosen food is sushi.

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