Simon Rocker



Faith schools back in court

By Simon Rocker, February 15, 2011

There is a new High Court looming next month involving a faith school…but at least this time it is not Jewish.

The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a highly-regarded Catholic comprehensive in west London, has been at the centre of a long-running dispute over admissions.

The oversubscribed school gave priority for admission to the children of Catholics who were active in the church, using a religious points system (as has now been adopted by Jewish schools).

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Lawyer who challenged BBC dies at 60

By Simon Rocker, February 14, 2011

A campaign to force the BBC to release an internal report on its Middle East coverage is to continue despite the death of the man who launched it.

London solicitor Steven Sugar, who died of cancer aged 60 last month, first challenged the corporation to release the Balen report under the Freedom of Information Act six years ago.

Mr Sugar had fought several rounds in court, seeking the publication of the document.

But a Supreme Court hearing, which was due to begin last week, has now been postponed till November.

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The Neuberger “threat”

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2011

The imminent return of Baroness Neuberger to the rabbinate is continuing to cause a stir in the Orthodox world.
In the newly redesigned Jewish Tribune, enjoying a fresh lease of life after talk of its demise a few months ago, columnist Alex Strom sees a threat in her public profile.
“It would be disastrous if someone representing a movement that rejects Yiddishkeit and has brought about a spiritual churban [catastrophe] to Jewry became Jewry’s spokesman simply by default,” he declares.

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Square rabbi shaping up in Israel’s cause

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Belsize Square Synagogue's new minister is a committed Zionist who believes it important to speak up for Israel.

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler, who arrived from California last month, has lost no time in advancing that cause by meeting local MP Glenda Jackson.

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Party for the 100-year-old Liberal synagogue

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Britain's oldest Liberal synagogue celebrated its centenary with a musical Shabbat service featuring participants from every decade of its existence.

Around 900 worshippers gathered at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, on Saturday - almost 100 years to the day that its founders met for the first time in a converted chapel on February 4, 1911.

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Rise in fortunes for Christian-Jewish ties

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Council of Christians and Jews' chief executive David Gifford is encouraged by a five per cent growth in membership over the past two years.

"We have been pushing local branches to look at increasing their members," he said. "People are being more pro-active than they have been in the past."

CCJ recently held a national meeting for branch representatives for the first time in four years at which plans were discussed for its 70th anniversary in 2012.

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Tower Hamlets council backs Israel boycott

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

The East London council of Tower Hamlets has voted to "do everything in its power" to support a boycott of "the pariah state" of Israel.

Councillors also called for a review of the borough's £15 million contract with multinational Veolia for waste collection because of the company's work in Israel.

But a council spokesman said that any decision to cut ties with Veolia would rest with Mayor Lutfur Rahman or his cabinet.

The original motion, proposed by Respect councillors Harun Miah and Fozol Miah, had urged the council to "terminate" all contracts with Veolia.

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Boris Johnson keeps faith with social links

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Around 300 people from London's religious communities explored ways of co-operating on social projects at a conference hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson on Tuesday.

The event was organised by Jewish philanthropist Maurice Ostro, vice-chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews and chief executive of the Fayre Share Foundation, in conjunction with the Faiths Forum for London.

Alex Goldberg, co-chairman of the forum, said its purpose was to "get faith leaders, business and local government together to look at ways we can collaborate in a time of economic downturn".

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Lithuania attacked over Holocaust

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

The organisers of a conference this week on Lithuanian-Jewish relations have hit back at claims that critics of the Lithuanian government were not invited because it was jointly sponsored by the country's Foreign Ministry.

Francois Guesnet, who teaches modern Jewish history at University College London, said: "To suggest that critics of the Lithuanian government were excluded is not correct. Participants were chosen for their expertise, not on whether they were critical or not of the government."

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The aliens reach Jerusalem

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Never mind if the Israelis and Palestinians cannot make peace because the matter is about to be taken out of their hands. A UFO (see bright light above) has been spotted over the Temple Mount - to the excitement of Michael Cohen of allnewsweb, the "world's only intergalactic daily news service". Veteran Scottish guru Benjamin Creme thinks the visitation sign of the impending arrival of the Messiah, or the Maitreya as he calls him (who he once believed to be living incognito in Brick Lane).

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No whisky galore

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood has a reputation for music and the singing at its centenary service last Shabbat by all accounts lived up to the occasion. But there are some things the Liberals still have to learn from the Orthodox. At the sumptuous kiddush afterwards, one guest reached for a shot glass of amber liquid which he thought was a whisky - only, to his horror, to down a tot of apple juice.

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Rabbi blue gets a call

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Why would Sir Patrick Stewart be wanting to have a word with Rabbi Lionel Blue?
His agent approached us for Rabbi Blue's contact details this week. Could the actor, who has traversed galaxies as Star Trek's Captain Picard, played mutant Professor X in The X-Men and soliloquised over invisible daggers on the Shakespearean stage, be thinking of making a biopic of Thought for the Day's most famous contributor?

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Chicken soup for Samantha

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Samantha Spiro, fresh from winning the Best Female Comedy Breakthrough Award for her portrayal of the dopey aunt in the sitcom Grandma's House, is heading for a more serious role this summer.

She will star as the Jewish matriarch Sarah Kahn in the Royal Court's long-awaited revival of Sir Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup With Barley. The play, set amid the turbulent politics of the 1930s, was last staged by the Royal Court 50 years ago.

Spiro appeared in its sequel Roots as the non-Jewish Beattie a decade ago but she returns to Wesker, several awards and two daughters later.

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Banksy's swap with Borat

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

It must be the deal of the year. Sacha Baron Cohen has acquired a Banksy painting, said to be worth £100,000, to hang in his LA flat in return for giving the secretive street artist one of the moustaches used in the filming of Borat.

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The Baroness and the Chief Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2011

I wrote last week that the appointment of Baroness Neuberger as senior rabbi of West London Synagogue would give the Progressive movement "a louder voice on the national stage" and that she "may even give the Chief Rabbi a run for his money".

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Lithuania accused over Holocaust event

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2011

Controversy has broken out over a conference, jointly sponsored by the Lithuanian government, on the country's wartime record which is due to take place in London next week.

A petition expressing concern at the Lithuanian government's attitude to the Holocaust has been signed by among others Lord Janner, Denis McShane MP and Rabbi Barry Marcus, who organises Holocaust education trips.

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Interview: Baroness Neuberger

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

Some may have been surprised at Baroness Neuberger's return to the pulpit after 22 years.

But the new senior rabbi of West London Synagogue - whose selection was ratified after a ballot of its 1,600 members this week - revealed that the move has been in her mind for "a long time".

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Wineman's olive branch in Israel row

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman has offered to meet signatories of a petition calling on the Board to declare support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More than 1,000 people signed an online letter after Deputies last month rejected a resolution in support of two states which had been proposed by its executive.

The petition was organised by Hannah Weisfeld, who is planning the launch of a new Israel campaign group inspired by the American J Street.

Ms Weisfeld said the signatories included many "professional and lay leaders of our community".

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Herzl's priest recognised after 80 years

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

For 80 years the body of the Reverend William Henry Hechler lay in an unmarked grave at the edge of New Southgate Cemetery in north London.

But on Monday the Anglican priest, a supporter of Theodor Herzl's quest to found a Jewish state, finally received due recognition.

Israeli and Christian representatives witnessed the unveiling of a tombstone to mark a "lover of God… and His Ancient People" and "a tireless adversary against antisemitism".

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Celebrity crackers

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

The humble matzah has found its way into the kitchen of at least one celebrity chef. Jamie Oliver has included it as an ingredient in a smoked haddock chowder in his latest cookbook.

But this is not a dish you would want to serve up at Pesach. Jamie's kosher cracker keeps some distinctly unkosher company: tiger prawns.

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