Simon Rocker

Church rethink on Old Testament art

By Simon Rocker, December 2, 2010

The Church of England this week agreed to reconsider the future of a set of historic paintings linked to Jewish emancipation in the UK after concerted opposition to their sale.

The portraits of Jacob and his 12 sons by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran - now believed to be worth £15 million - have hung since 1756 in Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, the official residence of the Bishop of Durham.

But local campaigners have earned the pictures a partial reprieve after plans by the Church to put them up for auction came to light last month.

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Reform chief to leave for social action job

By Simon Rocker, December 2, 2010

The Reform movement’s leadership succession plans have been derailed by the decision of Rabbi Shoshaha Boyd Gelfand, the designated chief executive, to leave for a new job outside the organisation.

Rabbi Boyd Gelfand, the current executive director, was due to take over the professional reins of the organisation from Rabbi Tony Bayfield, who retires as head of movement at the end of the year.

But she has instead chosen to become the new director of JHub, the centre for Jewish social action enterprise and innovation.

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Archbishop tackles Big Society at shul

By Simon Rocker, December 2, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams proved a top draw when delivering his first address at a synagogue since taking office.

Hampstead Synagogue's hall was packed to hear the Archbishop deliver the annual Sir Isaiah Berlin lecture, inaugurated in memory of the Oxford philosopher who died in 1997.

Guests at the lecture - "Faith and Enlightment; Friend or Foe?" - included former Conservative leader Michael Howard, who asked Dr Williams for his view of the Tories' Big Society idea.

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The Jews of San Nicandro

By Simon Rocker, December 2, 2010

John A Davis
Yale University Press, £20

I was talking recently to Professor Tudor Parfitt of London School’s Oriental and African Studies when he he mentioned a story which I had never heard before: about a band of Catholic villagers from San Nicandro in a remote region of south east Italy who took up Judaism in the 1930s and eventually settled in Israel. By chance, just a couple of days later, a new book on the subject appeared at the office.

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Why Bibi was in the soup

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

Tony Blair revealed one reason why he admires Israel at the Board of Deputies dinner on Tuesday. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, he was dining with Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

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A peaceful piece of fashion

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

After the Cohen coat a few months ago, here comes the Shalom top.

According to designers Matches Fashion: "Our team give each piece girls' names each season and this piece was named Shalom."

And before you rush to point out that Shalom is usually a boy's name, there's a model called Shalom Harlow.

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Mazeltov, your maj

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

When Board of Deputies leaders popped in to see the Queen at Windsor Castle leader, they asked chief exec Jon Benjamin to get a large card in Hebrew to wish her mazeltov on grandson William's engagement.

But the card he bought was in Yiddish rather than Hebrew and so thought unsuitable to present. Perhaps they should have sent it to her machetunim, the Middletons.

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Maureen sees green

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

The big names turned up for Mitzvah Day's main event at a Nature Reserve in King's Cross including Lord Sacks, Rabbi Tony Bayfield and Sir Trevor Chinn all wearing matching Mitzvah Day bright green t-shirts. A flustered Maureen Lipman arrived late as the rain started. Lord Sacks greeted her with: "Ah Maureen, you look rather fetching."

"Fetching?" she replied in shock. "Don't you mean kvetching?"

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Theatrical family troubles

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

For the first time since Mike Leigh's 2005 play Two Thousand Years, the National Theatre is putting a Jewish family centre stage.

Ryan Craig's new play The Holy Rosenbergs, which opens next March, is set in Edgware and will star Henry Goodman as the patriarch of a Jewish family who attempts to save both his ailing catering business and his cherished standing in the Jewish community. As his eldest son fights for Israel in Gaza, his daughter investigates war crimes in the conflict, while his youngest son goes off the rails and refuses to join David's business.

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School texts say 'God curses Jews'

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2010

Education Secretary Michael Gove is exploring how to regulate weekend religious schools as evidence emerged this week that antisemitic material is being taught in Saudi-linked classes in the UK.

Children are being asked to list the "reprehensible qualities" of Jews in a network of more than 40 supplementary schools, according to an edition of BBC1's Panorama broadcast on Monday.

They learn that Jews are "cursed by God" and look like "monkeys and pigs" from textbooks published by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Education.

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Leaders trade blows over Mick Davis Israel criticism

By Simon Rocker, November 25, 2010

A group of prominent British Jews rallied behind UJIA chairman Mick Davis as arguments over his outspoken criticism of Israel reverberated across the community this week.

An open letter signed by 22 men and women, including nine current or past members of the Jewish Leadership Council, backed "public and honest discussion" over Israel and voiced support for Mr Davis for encouraging debate.

The signatories included former UJIA leaders Sir Trevor Chinn and David Cohen, donor Sir Harry Solomon, Bicom chairman Poju Zabludowicz and new peer, JLC vice-president Stanley Fink.

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Limmud reaches the parts….

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

You don't normally expect to find members of the Charedi community at a Limmud event. But Ian Sharer, a strictly Orthodox councillor in Hackney, visited the local Limmud day in the borough for the first time to speak about his work.
What he saw impressed him – in particular a packed session on the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud.
He says he'd happily go again.

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Sorry girls, I've just got wed

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

We can't bring you a royal wedding but here's a touch of glamour from the nuptial celebrations of promoter Jonathan Shalit and wife Katrina. Here is the happy groom with three of the guests at the party following the West London Synagogue ceremony: singer Jamelia, actress Kelly Brook and broadcaster Myleene Klass.

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Norwood's blue moment

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

A great time was had by all 1,300 guests at the Norwood dinner on Monday – one of Anglo-Jewry's largest fundraising parties. But one number sung by Simon Webbe, former heartthrob of boyband Blue, was not the most obvious choice for a Jewish family charity: Sex on Fire by the Kings of Leon.

The lyrics allude to various amorous feats performed while driving a car. Still, the audience had no problem clapping and singing along, although Mr Webbe did look momentarily uncomfortable, not surprisingly since he was standing right next to the Chief Rabbi's table.

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Heiming up the bard

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

Surprise hit of the Jewish Film Festival was Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish. A hundred Charedim turned up at London's Tricycle theatre, many familiar with cast members who had flown from New York for the screening. "I'm pretty sure that the Tricycle had never seen anything like it," said JFF director Judy Ironside, "and neither had we".

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Covering letter

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

Guardian columnist Deborah Orr, battling against cancer, wrote that she might wear a hijab in the event of hair loss. Whereupon she received a "kind letter" from the League of Jewish Women with "a fetching green scarf", she said, "so that I can dress up and pretend to be a Jewish woman rather than a Muslim woman if needs must".

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Mick goes unrecognised

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

Man of the moment Mick Davis had this anecdote on the vagaries of Jewish leadership. The UJIA chairman went to a dinner party a few days after speaking in defence of Israel at the Trafalgar Square solidarity rally during its Gaza operation last year.

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Report: public money goes to 'anti-Israel' journal

By Simon Rocker, November 18, 2010

More than £767,000 of public money from the Arts Council has gone to the London Review of Books – a publication “virulently hostile” to Israel and Zionism, according to a new report by the media monitoring body, Just Journalism.

The literary journal received its grants from the council – which is funded by the Government and the National Lottery - over a 30-year period, JJ says.

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The most important debate we'll ever have

By Simon Rocker, November 18, 2010

For as long as anyone cares to remember, the lay leaders of British Jewry's major organisations have observed an unwritten code: to avoid public criticism of Israel.

On rare instances, the Board of Deputies might have raised its voice, such as over the Sabra-Shatila massacre of 1982. But by and large, if they had qualms about Israeli policy, community leaders have preferred to convey them privately to Israel behind closed doors.

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Shock over senior UK Jewish leader's Bibi criticism

By Simon Rocker, November 18, 2010

One of British Jewry's most senior leaders this week shattered a longstanding taboo by publicly criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the peace process, voicing moral reservations about some of Israel's policies, and calling for criticism of Israel to be voiced freely throughout thecommunity.

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