Simon Rocker

Fears over closure of Bevis Marks

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Members of Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks in East London, have protested over plans which they fear could be a prelude to its closure as an active place of worship.

Around 70 congregants and supporters attended a meeting on Tuesday to voice concern over Sephardi leaders’ reported plan to remove its rabbi.

A letter from the Mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, denying any move to close the 300-year old synagogue, failed to reassure them.

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Who is a Jew? The debate rages

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Angry parents whose children are ineligible for Orthodox schools have spoken out, reigniting the debate over who is a Jew.

David Gryn, son of the late Reform leader, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, described the exclusion of children of Progressive converts from schools as an “evil”.

Another parent, who wished to be known as Karen, said that she was the daughter of a Reform convert and had attended JFS herself, but her son has been denied the chance. She said that such children were being treated “like someone with an infectious disease that no-one wants to go near”.

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JFS ruling leaves schools in 'chaos'

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

The Court of Appeal’s ruling that it is unlawful to admit children on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status “has thrown our admissions policy into chaos”, according to Jonathan Arkush, senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies.

He told a meeting for Jewish schools on Wednesday night that there will be a “flood of admissions appeals”.

With the court order on how the judgment will apply not due out until today, schools have been left in the dark over when they will have to introduce new rules and how those places already allocated for this September will be affected.

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Welcome to the ultimate blended Jewish family

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2009

Shaking our shakers and jingling our bells, we try to keep up with the rhythm of our session leader. Sitting in a candle-lit circle, we are learning how to be “drummers of Zion” with Akiva the Believer, the soulful percussionist whose musical companions have ranged from the singing rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, to Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary.

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Puff at your peril

By Simon Rocker, July 7, 2009

Out and about yesterday, I was surprised to see a couple of men in kippot standing outside a kosher restaurant having a cigarette. Smoking Jews are an increasingly uncommon sight these days and rabbis have debated whether tobacco should be proscribed.

Some have indeed banned smoking on the grounds that Judaism forbids practices that are known to endanger health. But I am more sympathetic to those who feel there are quite enough prohibitions already and some vices should be left to individual choice.

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Ecclestone: I was an idiot over Hitler

By Simon Rocker, July 6, 2009

Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One motor racing, has apologised to the JC for remarks in which he was seen to praise Hitler’s leadership.

They came during an interview with the Times on Saturday in which he criticised MPS for their lack of leadership and referred to the Nazi leader’s ability to “get things done”.

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No future

By Simon Rocker, July 3, 2009

"The plague of intermarriage and assimilation is sapping us of our people in a way as deadly as gas chambers."

Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, the former chief minister of Sydney's Central Synagogue pulls no punches in his polemic, Diaspora is Jewry's Graveyard. He takes diaspora leaders to task for failing to act in the face of a "national spiritual holocaust" and preaching that the Jewish future lies in Israel. You can read an extract in our Judaism section .

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Hayek bid to replant JNF in our hearts

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

When Samuel Hayek became chairman of JNF UK, British Jewry’s third biggest fundraising charity, nearly 18 months ago, few people knew what to make of the Israeli-born businessman.

Beyond donations of “a few thousand” to charities here and there, he had no track record in the higher echelons of communal philanthropy.

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Interview: David Ariel

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

Oxford University is probably the last place you would go to hear about old wives’ tales or, in that splendid Yiddish word for them, bubbemeises. But among the eight million volumes that make up the Bodleian Library’s vast reserves of knowledge sits a copy of the very first bubbemeise.

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JFS: What happened?

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

In 2007, an 11-year-old boy was refused a place at JFS because his mother was a non-Orthodox convert and, therefore, not Jewish according to the Chief Rabbi’s Office.

Schools are permitted to give preference to children on the basis of religion, but not of ethnic origin.

When the boy’s father went to the High Court last year, the judge said that JFS had made its decision on religious grounds.

But the Court of Appeal ruled that deciding entry on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status involved ethnicity and so was unlawful.

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JFS: What's next?

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

JFS: IN DEPTH

The Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks this week called for community-wide support to challenge a court judgment which he said has effectively branded Judaism as “racist”.

Writing in today’s JC, he said: “We must join together” to contest last week’s Court of Appeal ruling that, under race relations law, Jewish schools cannot award places on the basis of whether the child’s mother is Jewish.

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What the judges said about JFS

By Simon Rocker, June 26, 2009

Here are extracts from the Court of Appeal decision in which Lord Justice Sedley, Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Rimer set out the reasons for finding JFS’s admissions policy unlawful.

“M is the child of a father, E, who is Jewish by birth and of a mother who is Jewish by conversion. He would like to be admitted as a pupil to JFS (formerly the Jews' Free School) in the London Borough of Brent. The school is oversubscribed and is therefore entitled to select pupils according to its admissions policy, provided the policy is lawful.

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School chairman denies crisis claim

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

The chairman of the governors of Simon Marks Jewish Primary School in Stoke Newington, north London, has denied claims of a crisis and of the impending dismissal of three staff. These allegations were made in an anonymous letter purportedly from a parent which was sent to the JC and others this week.

But Simon Marks chairman Peter Kessler insisted: “The school is not in crisis. It is undergoing a process of gradual change for the better.

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Young ParliaMentors make interfaith gains

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

The Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, has saluted a “tremendously innovative” scheme to promote contacts between young Jews, Muslims and Christians.

She hosted a House of Lords reception for the second group of graduates of the Three Faiths Forum’s “ParliaMentors” programme, in which teams of students from the three religions undertake projects under the tutelage of an MP.

“The worse the global situation, the more important it is that individuals don’t retreat into nihilism and believe they can’t do anything,” Baroness Hayman said.

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Women hit out at shul inequality

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

Download the report

Jewish women in Britain are frustrated at being denied equality in running Orthodox synagogues and concerned that community institutions are failing to keep pace with changes in family make-up, according to a new report.

It highlights a “reality gap” between Jewish leaders’ assumptions and modern Jewish living as well as “inconsistent and anachronistic” attitudes over women’s participation in synagogues.

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Jewish trusts top UK charities list

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

More than a fifth of the 100 top-spending family trusts in Britain are of Jewish origin, according to a new study published this week.

The research, Family Foundation Philanthropy 2009, compares the philanthropic scene in four countries — the UK, the US, Italy and Germany — and is sponsored by the Pears Foundation, which itself appears at number 41 on the UK list with grants of £4.4 million in 2007.

Its author, Cathy Pharoah, of London’s Cass Business School, notes that Jewish trusts have “particularly helped to shape the UK family foundation world”.

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George Galloway rapped by Ofcom for radio show

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

George Galloway, the Respect MP, breached guidelines on impartiality when he encouraged listeners to demonstrate against Israel on his Talksport radio show, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has found.

It said his programme had moved away “from legitimate debate and started to campaign on a major matter of controversy” by calling on people to join protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

At one point, Mr Galloway, who presents a twice-weekly evening phone-in at the station on topical issues, said: “Stand up, stand up against the great crime that took place in Gaza today.”

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A big headache for Jewish schools

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

The Court of Appeal’s ruling today that the entry policy of JFS – and by extension, many other Jewish schools – is in breach of the Race Relations Act will come as little surprise to those who attended the three-day hearing.
But that makes it no less historic: what the court has said is that the traditional rules for deciding who is a Jew – matrilineal descent –cannot be used for deciding who can enter a Jewish school.

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Picture special: an unorthodox view of Stamford Hill

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

The strictly Orthodox community of London’s Stamford Hill generally prefers to guard its privacy. But now a unique window into this thriving society has been opened by a gifted photographer — and the internet.

Over the past few months, hundreds of David Braun’s pictures have appeared on the photo-sharing website Flickr. He has been able to gain unique access to the community because he lives there, the scion of a Satmar Chasidic family and one of eight siblings.

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Jewish school entry policies are unlawful, court rules

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

Many Jewish schools in the UK will be forced to tear up their entry rules after the admissions policy of the largest school, JFS, was today ruled racially discriminatory.

In a landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal said that it was illegal for Jewish schools to admit pupils on the basis of whether their mother was Jewish or not.

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