Simon Rocker

Human Rights Watch seeks to prove Middle East 'balance'

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

A top official from Human Rights Watch met Jewish representatives in London this week in an effort to persuade them that the organisation is not biased against Israel.

The New York-based human rights organisation — which condemned both Israel and Hamas over their conduct of last year’s Gaza war — has faced a barrage of criticism from Jewish groups over the year, with even its own founder, Robert Bernstein, recently accusing it of undue focus on Israel.

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Family 'heartbroken' as Israel refuses aliyah

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

A black Jewish family from South London who have been trying to make aliyah for more than two years have had their application rejected by Israel’s Interior Ministry.

Carl and Maleka Levy, who converted from Rastafarianism through the Reform movement six years ago, had planned to go out to Israel with their five daughters in August 2007.

But despite testimonials from British rabbis and intervention by Israeli lawyers on their behalf, they were notified last week that they would not be allowed to emigrate under the Law of Return.

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Baroness Neuberger: Allow gay marriage in synagogue

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Baroness Neuberger, president of Liberal Judaism, this week called for a change in the law to allow civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples to be held in synagogue.

The ceremonies, introduced by the government four years ago, cannot take place in a house of worship or use religious language as they are considered the equivalent to civil marriage.

In a Lords debate on the Equality Bill on Monday, Baroness Neuberger said that she had been told by couples that they and their parents would have been “overjoyed” if they had been able to have the ceremony in a synagogue.

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United Synagogue row over 'live near shul' rule

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

The United Synagogue has been warned that it could be left without a congregation in some parts of London because of a rule banning some shuls accepting members who live more than one and a quarter miles away.

Rabbi Stanley Coten, of Ruislip and District Affiliated Synagogue, has intervened in a row between the US and its 14 affiliated synagogues over the rule.

In a letter to the Chief Rabbi, the London Beth Din and leaders of the US rabbinical council, he said it was putting off potential members.

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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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The Messianic Jew, the Anti-Zionist Vicar and the Police

By Simon Rocker, January 26, 2010

Joseph Weissman, third-generation Messianic Jew, reveals how his exposés of Christian anti-Zionism on the blog Seismic Shock earned him a visit from the police. You can read more about his exploits on Harry’s Place.

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Castles, valleys and a golf Eden

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Five years after the Emperor Vespasian’s forces razed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the legion he once commanded in England moved to pacify the population of another small country: Wales. The military camp it set up in Caerleon on the River Usk may have been bad news for the locals, but it left some of the finest Roman remains in Europe, including the most fully excavated amphitheatre in Britain where you can still make out the pens where fighters were held before they entered the arena.

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US rabbis squabble over JFS

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Arguments among United Synagogue rabbis over the JFS court case escalated this week as senior ministers dug in their heels against concessions to the non-Orthodox.

Writing to US lay leaders, the rabbis said they were “troubled” by the position advocated in last week’s JC by the joint vice-chairmen of the US Rabbinical Council (RCUS), Rabbis Michael Harris and Naftali Brawer.

They had called for co-operation with non-Orthodox bodies over any move to change the law in order to reverse the recent Supreme Court judgment on Jewish school admissions.

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Board blasts PSC over 'hate' cartoons

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

The Board of Deputies has accused the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of including “antisemitic” cartoons in material produced for schools.

Two cartoons, with images of a crucified Jesus to depict Palestinian suffering at Israel’s hands, appear in the PSC’s online educational resources.

They were cited by the Board and the Community Security Trust in a submission to a government inquiry on preventing racism in schools.

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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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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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Row over conversion organisation EJF 'sex scandal'

By Simon Rocker, January 15, 2010

An extraordinary war of words has broken out over the scandal-racked conversion organisation Eternal Jewish Family, whose founder quit last month over sex allegations.

Rabbi Aba Dunner, the London-based executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, rounded on the EJF this week, telling the VosIzNeias news site that he would continue to try to stop the organisation’s “nefarious activities”.

But EJF hit back, accusing Rabbi Dunner of not refunding money that it had given to the CER.

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Synagogue links 'don't guarantee school place'

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

Jewish schools have been warned by the body which scrutinises the admissions policies of state schools that there could be problems in accepting pupils according to synagogue membership.

Elizabeth Passmore, the Schools Adjudicator, said that, because shuls charged fees for membership, schools could be breaking the government’s admissions code which banned offering places according to financial means.

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Angry US rabbis divided over JFS

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

The fallout from the JFS court case continued this week with a split emerging among United Synagogue rabbis.

A statement from the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue (RCUS) which last week attacked non-Orthodox movements over the case has been denounced as “misguided” and “aggressive” by the council’s own vice-chairmen.

Writing in today’s JC, Rabbis Michael Harris and Naftali Brawer have instead called for “all denonimations” to work together in order to reverse the Supreme Court’s judgment through a change in the law.

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So, what do you really think about Israel?

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

It is usually taken for granted that the great majority of British Jews are largely supportive of Israel, with a small minority who are not. But the levels of support or critical dissent — and what they relate to — have largely been a matter of guesswork. Now the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) hopes to give us a better picture through a new online survey of Anglo-Jewish attitudes towards Israel that was launched at the end of last week.

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