Simon Rocker



Treif Flu

By Simon Rocker, April 30, 2009

It's not only Israel's deputy health minister who wants swine flu renamed because of religious sensitivities. Representatives of Britain's pig famers also want the appellation dropped because they fear it may damage pork sales.

Among the Orthodox press here, Hamodia refers to it as "swine flu" but it's "Mexican flu" in the Jewish Tribune.

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Dear Gordon, here’s £4m to spend on students

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2009

Naim Dangoor, the nonagenarian Iraqi-born philanthropist, has offered a donation of £4 million to British universities — in the hope that the government matches the gift.

Dr Dangoor, who gave £1million four years ago to fund a thousand £1,000 scholarships at UK universities, put his idea in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week.

He explained that he had heard on radio and television that young people were being told that “because of the credit crunch, they can’t obtain new jobs and they can’t go to university. I want to make life easier for them”.

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Who said Hallel today?

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2009

When the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, brought out his new edition of the Singer's Siddur, the main prayer book for Orthodox congregations in the UK, two years ago, it was the first to include a section for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

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Faith that heals the suffering heart

By Simon Rocker, April 23, 2009

The Blessing of a Broken Heart
By Sherri Mandell
The Toby Press, £9.99

A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book
Edited by Aliza Lavie, Spiegel and Grau
Distributed Kuperard, £24.99

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Let them eat bagels

By Simon Rocker, April 17, 2009

It certainly is not in the Bible and the rabbis may not have had it in mind, but a new ritual has grown up around Pesach. Just as on the nights of the Seder, so on the last night young children again stay up late -  this time to welcome back their father ,with armfuls of bread from the kosher bakeries that re-open after the festival has gone out.

PS I'm told the morning after Pesach, the Brent Cross branch of Tesco's had run out of Bran Flakes and All-Bran.

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BBC upholds bias charge against Bowen

By Simon Rocker, April 16, 2009

The BBC has partially upheld complaints of inaccuracy and bias against its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in an online article about the Six-Day War. Another complaint over a radio broadcast about an Israeli settlement made by Mr Bowen in January 2008 was also partially upheld.

In respect of the article published on the BBC website in June 2007, the BBC found that the author “should have done more to explain that there were alternative views on the subject which had some weight”.

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Five in battle for board VP places

By Simon Rocker, April 16, 2009

With a record four candidates competing to become president of the Board of Deputies next month, a second race is under way for the three vice-presidential posts.

Five people have confirmed their candidacy, or said they are considering standing, for the number two positions when deputies go to the polls on May 17.

One of the three current vice-presidents, Paul Edlin, who represents Glasgow’s Garnethill Synagogue and chairs the board’s community issues division, will be campaigning for a second three-year term.

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France honours wartime resistance fighter, 92

By Simon Rocker, April 14, 2009

An Orthodox woman living in Manchester has been awarded one of France’s highest honours for her wartime activities on behalf of the French resistance.

Rose Warfman, 92, a retired nurse and social worker, has become an officer of the Legion of Honour, having previously been made a knight of the order 50 years ago.

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Sun's out after 28-year wait

By Simon Rocker, April 14, 2009

It threatened to be the dampest of squibs. The gloomy weather forecast had suggested that few British Jews would be able to join in one of Judaism’s rarest rituals — birchat hachamah, the blessing over the sun, which is recited just once every 28 years.

As they contemplated the damp dawn on the eve of Pesach last Wednesday, sun-spotters must have felt like cricketers on the first day of the season, who expect to spend it watching the rain from the pavilion yet hope for a break in the clouds.

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The kids who chose to eat matzah

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2009

Here's a nice Pesach tale from Rabbi Mark Winer, of West London Synagogue, who told it in a sermon given to the recent World Union of Progressive Judaism conference in Israel:

"One of my favourite stories of our Progressive Jewish impact on the world around us comes from Michael Farbman. During the three years that he was our Progressive rabbi in Sha'arei Shalom in St Petersburg, Michael and Olga sent their son Samuel to a regular state-supported school.

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Let it rock

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2009

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris writes about his unusual specialism on Guardian CiF:
"Inside every seven stone nebbish of a diaspora Jew, there is a mighty rock god waiting to be liberated by heavy metal music."
Well, you could never play air clarinet with klezmer...

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US turning down new members

By Simon Rocker, April 7, 2009

The United Synagogue has been accused of rejecting membership applications for affiliated shuls on geographical grounds.

Ruislip Synagogue in Middlesex and Romford Synagogue in Essex say they have had applications vetoed because the US has begun enforcing a regulation that members are supposed to live within a mile-and-a-quarter of their local synagogue.

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Man battles claims body over Berlin flat

By Simon Rocker, April 7, 2009

The son of a German-Jewish doctor who lived in the UK is fighting the Claims Conference, the Holocaust restitution agency, over a property he says belongs to his family.

Heinrich Ruhemann, 80, from Darmstadt, Germany, says the apartment block in East Berlin was bought by his father, Ernst, in 1935.

But the German government has refused to recognise his claim and he has been ordered to transfer the building, worth around £900,000, to the conference under restitution laws.

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The Sun has got his kipah on

By Simon Rocker, April 6, 2009

Come Wednesday morning, and parks across the world will be full of Jews performing an unusual ritual: the blessing over the Sun, which is said only once every 28 years. A number of ceremonies are being planned here to celebrate the mitzvah but the weather forecast is looking distinctly unfriendly. In 1953, when the outlook was soggy, the American Airforce offered parachute training to a squadron of rabbis so they could recite the berachah as they dropped through the sky above the rain clouds.

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Somewhere over the Atlantic...

By Simon Rocker, April 3, 2009

From this week's Forward:

"When about 100 Jews gather in Brooklyn on April 5 for a pre-Passover Seder, they will pay homage to their enslaved ancestors not with the traditional sinus-clearing horseradish, but by spanking each other with wands of chocolate licorice...

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Recession splits the Clubhouse

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

A pioneering Orthodox organisation that helps young people and families in trouble is to be broken up into separate charities as a consequence of the economic climate.

Harris Rosenberg, until recently head of grants and commissioning at the Northwest Clubhouse in London, said that rather continuing as an umbrella body, “a better way to protect our services to those in need of support in our community was to split it”.

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Lieberman’s policies spark Seder riposte

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

Concerns over the results of Israel’s recent elections have prompted the distribution of over 2,000 copies of special readings for Seder night to Progressive Zionists.

Noa Marom, emissary for the Liberal youth movement, LJY-Netzer, said that the insert for the Haggadah was triggered in particular by the “questionable platform” of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party led by new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

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So what is really bugging European Jews?

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

Around 18 months ago, I was sitting at a charity dinner next to an Israeli visitor who had come to London especially for the occasion. We had barely swapped names when he asked me whether I had recently encountered any antisemitism. I almost felt that I was letting him down when I said I hadn’t. From what he had been reading of the anxieties of diaspora Jewry, he seemed to think that fear of abuse or attack would be weighing constantly on our minds.

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Ethnic communities vow to ease interfaith tensions

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

A new interfaith group has been launched to try to prevent foreign conflicts causing tensions between religious communities in London.

Called United London Stands, it has emerged out of contacts between the London Jewish Forum and the City Circle, an independent group of young British Muslims.

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Shechitah protection

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

The Chief Rabbis of France and the UK met in London on Monday to discuss the protection of shechitah in the wake of proposed changes to European law.

Sir Jonathan Sacks, after his meeting with his French counterpart, Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, said: “Shechitah has long been accepted as a fundamental right for Europe’s Jewish citizens.

“The acceptance of religious practices by minority cultures in society is one of the pillars upon which Europe preserves its liberal and democratic character.”

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