Leon Symons

Bahrain appoints first Jewish ambassador

By Leon Symons, August 15, 2008

The historic appointment of his country's first Jewish ambassador appears to have prompted the King of Bahrain to learn more about his Jewish subjects. So last week, he came to London to meet a few of them.

There are officially only 37 Jews in King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's island kingdom, one of whom, Houda Nonoo, has become the new ambassador to Washington. An even higher number - 45 - of Jewish Bahrainis are ex-pats who live in Britain.

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The cost of Friday dinner

By Leon Symons, August 15, 2008

The cost of making a Friday-night dinner is continuing to soar as the credit crunch bites.

Increased food, utility and fuel prices have led to sharply rising costs of essential dinner ingredients.

Food prices alone helped to lift inflation to a 16-year high last month, the steepest monthly climb for a decade, according to economists. And nowhere is this felt more than the Shabbat table.

Many kosher bakers have noticed customers scaling back what they buy, even when it comes to staple items such as challah.

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Communal leaders slam anti-Israel comments

By Leon Symons, August 15, 2008

Two Jewish community leaders have hit back at the head of a charity over anti-Israeli remarks he made in a charity magazine interview.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, and Jeremy Newmark, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, wrote to Third Sector warning that "the demonisation of Zionists, Zionism and Israel that is increasingly prevalent in parts of the third-sector/non-governmental organisation community can slip very easily into demonisation of Jews".

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Scots fight attempt to ban shechitah

By Leon Symons, August 8, 2008

A petition to ban shechitah - religious slaughter - in Scotland has been vigorously opposed by Scottish communal organisations.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) has sent an extensive rebuttal to the Scottish Parliament setting out in detail how effective shechitah is compared with the pre-stunning of animals.

It also deals with the potential effects of a ban on the Jewish community, even though shechitah is not currently carried out in Scotland, as well as scientific evidence on other methods of slaughter and the issue of suffering.

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Sacks, the TV star and the 'Kabbalah' meeting

By Leon Symons, August 8, 2008

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has unwittingly become part of an embarrassing wrangle involving the controversial Kabbalah Centre, its offshoot Spirituality For Kids (SFK) and Esther Rantzen.  Sir Jonathan met the Childline founder while filming his Rosh Hashanah broadcast for the BBC. The theme was families and family values.

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As Wrapit folds, newlyweds tie their hopes to the bank

By Leon Symons, August 8, 2008

The fears of many newlywed couples hardened into reality this week when online wedding gift company Wrapit went into administration and closed on Monday.

Many of its 2,000 clients were Jewish, some of whom were highlighted in last week's JC.

One, Manchester solicitor Marc Yaffe, has been one of the worst affected. He and his wife Natalie were married on June 29 and have not received any presents.

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Crunch time for charities

By Leon Symons, August 8, 2008

Jewish charities are suffering grave financial effects from the credit crunch sweeping the UK.

Charities in all areas - from single-issue organisations to those with larger remits - have seen donations fall as people find themselves with less disposable income while spending more on utility bills.

The cost of kosher food has also risen dramatically this year, meaning charities are having to spend far more on running costs.

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Academics dismiss view that Irish peace process is model for Mid-East

By Leon Symons, August 8, 2008

Two British academics have dismissed a growing political view that the settlement of Britain's conflict with the IRA could be a model for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Dr John Bew and Dr Martyn Frampton, historians from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, said that "the notion of talking to one's enemies - no matter how intransigent or unreasonable they may seem - has been fetishised by many from across the political spectrum".

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Anguish of parents as Law Lords reject plea for Giles

By Leon Symons, August 1, 2008

Five Law Lords this week dashed the hopes of a couple who have spent five years fighting for justice for their murdered son.

They allowed Hertfordshire Constabulary's appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling that it had breached the human rights of Giles Van Colle by failing to protect him from his killer. Mr Van Colle, then 25, was shot three times in the back in November, 2000 by Daniel Brougham, a former employee against whom he was due to give evidence in a theft trial.

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Newlyweds furious as gift firm falters

By Leon Symons, August 1, 2008

Scores of newlyweds have been left without wedding presents after an online wedding gift company suffered financial difficulties.

Some couples, who had kept their presents on hold until after their weddings while they waited to move into new homes, now face the prospect of staring at empty rooms.

Customers will know by the end of this week whether or not they will receive any wedding presents after Wrapit, started seven years ago by Jewish ex-fashion writer, Pepita Diamand, has held talks with potential new investors to try to stay in business.

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Campus hate figures soar

By Leon Symons, August 1, 2008

Antisemitic incidents in universities shot up by 88 per cent in the first half of this year, according to figures released this week by the Community Security Trust.

There were 49 incidents in the first six months of this year compared to 26 in the first half of 2007. However, only two involved assaults and both of those were off campus; the rest were incidents of verbal abuse or graffiti.

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Retrial for web hate publisher

By Leon Symons, August 1, 2008

A man who fled to America after being convicted of publishing racially inflammatory material on the internet will face a second trial in December.

Simon Sheppard, 51, from Selby, North Yorkshire, is being held in Santa Ana jail in California, together with his co-defendant Stephen Whittle, after the pair were detained at Los Angeles airport last month.

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BA worker gets ‘final warning’ over taking Shabbat as day off

By Leon Symons, August 1, 2008

An Orthodox Jewish employee of British Airways has been given a final warning about his conduct because he failed to turn up for work on a Saturday - more than 18 months ago.

An internal disciplinary hearing also found an allegation of neglect of duty proven against 47-year-old Daniel Rosenthal, who is Shabbat-observant, for the same reason. According to a letter he received seen by the JC, "if there is a repeat of such behaviour or any further unacceptable conduct", he could be fired.

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Visa law ‘will hit charedim’

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

A proposed visa law could place obstacles in the way of arranged marriages in the strictly Orthodox community.

MPs will vote on whether or not to raise the age for visas sought by people abroad wanting to marry here who are aged 18 to 21. The proposal is one of five put forward by the Home Office in an effort to halt forced marriages prevalent in other communities.

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Postcard with anti-Israel message withdrawn

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

When is a postcard not a postcard? When it is a political diatribe against Israel — and provides no space for a message.

The postcard in question features an anti-Israeli poem by Michael Rosen, the children’s laureate, on one side, and  four maps on the other side showing areas which it implies were Palestinian and are now part of Israel. There are also quotations attributed to David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, and a paragraph accusing Israel of carrying out “ethnic cleansing, terrorism and apartheid” with American money and connivance.

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Nazi jibe re-ignites traders’ feud

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

A feud that has simmered for years between two North London shopkeepers erupted last week when one called the other a Nazi and ended up being warned by police about his behaviour.

Nussan Gutstein admitted that he had made the remark about his neighbour Laurence Stoll, but said: "He is a horrible man who has persecuted me for years. I did call him a Nazi because he behaves like one. " Mr Stoll retorted: "This man asked someone passing my shop, ‘What's the Nazi doing now?' I asked him if he said that and he said yes, so I called the police."

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College links put pressure on boycotters

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

A groundbreaking scheme that strengthens links between universities and academics in Britain and Israel has been launched simultaneously in London and Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed an agreement on Sunday with Premier Ehud Olmert to start the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership. BIRAX, as it is known, will give grants primarily to junior academics, mainly in scientific research.

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Blears launches £7.5m interfaith partnership

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

A three-year £7.5 million interfaith project that will put Jewish communities throughout England into closer contact with other faith groups has been launched by Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears.

Framework for Partnership will bring faiths together at regional and local level to enhance services to their communities.

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Blooms wins bills dispute

By Leon Symons, July 25, 2008

Blooms kosher restaurant has been exonerated in a dispute over bills with Kelmans, the North London kosher butcher.

The case was heard by the London Beth Din in May. Now LBD registrar David Frei has written to Blooms that “allegations made against you... were proven to be unfounded”.

Blooms managing director Kitty Rudolf said: “I am very pleased this has been settled.”

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Boris praises Jewish Londoners

By Leon Symons, July 18, 2008

Boris Johnson helped the Board of Deputies to attract a big turnout for its president’s dinner at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel last week.

The London Mayor entertained the 400 guests at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in stitches with a string of amusing anecdotes and asides.

He later paid tribute to the audience for helping him through his speech. “I had a very busy day and I was shattered when I arrived in the room. I had nothing to say but they made it so easy for me to talk about what I want to do.

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