Simon Rocker

Cambridge mulls rival mikveh plans

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009

A public showdown is looming over plans to open Cambridge’s first mikveh.

An open meeting has been called by the Cambridge Community Mikveh Charity (CCMC) for Sunday week, in the presence of a dayan from the London Beth Din, which held a hearing into the mikveh controversy six months ago.

David Gilinsky, a trustee of the CCMC, took his fellow-trustees to the Beth Din, complaining of “procrastination” over the project. He and his wife Ofra have offered land they own in Milton Road as a location for the ritual bath.

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Smile Hitler. The Nazis invade trainspotters’ day out

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009

Organisers of a Second World War re-enactment event have apologised after some participants breached its dress code and sported swastikas.

Men in German military uniforms were seen displaying the Nazi emblems at the East Lancashire Light Railway’s annual “wartime weekend” in Bury.

But Andy Coward, the railway’s general manager, said that such insignia were off-limits and people would have been asked to remove them if they had been spotted.

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Amos Elon, Israel’s critical voice, is silent

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009

One of Israel’s most distinguished authors and journalists, Amos Elon, a longstanding critic of the country’s occupation of the West Bank, died in Italy on Monday aged 82.

Vienna-born, Elon moved to Palestine when he was seven, in 1933. He grew up in Tel Aviv and served three years in the Hagana, before going on to begin his life-long love affair with history, reading history and law first at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and then at Cambridge.

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Boycott warning at UCU congress

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009

Academics heading for their annual congress this week were warned by their leaders that any call for a boycott of Israel would be declared null and void.

Half a dozen motions of varying degrees of hostility towards Israel were tabled for debate on today (Wednesday afternoon) on the first day of the congress of the University and College Union in Bournemouth.

But the union’s executive warned that two of them could bring legal repercussions by targeting Israeli institutions.

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Britain's Got Talmud

By Simon Rocker, May 26, 2009

If you want a rabbinic take on the Susan Boyle phenomenon, try this from Yitzchok Addlestein writing on the Cross Currents blog:

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The Pope Revisited

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI may have made no faux pas during his visit to the Middle East but you might have got the impression that he had a rather cool reception in Israel. There were various gripes – eg “Survivors angered by Pope's ‘lukewarm’ Yad Vashem speech”.

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Spain on a mission to promote Jews’ legacy

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

Does Spain’s love of olive oil have anything to do with the great Jewish civilisation that once flourished in the country? It is a question that intrigues Diego de Ojeda, director general of Casa Sefarad Israel, the official Spanish agency for ties with Israel and the Jewish people.

“I wonder to what extent the fact we fry in olive oil is a product of kosher rules, in having not to fry in butter,” he said.

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Tributes for exiting Board of Deputies leader Henry Grunwald

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears led tributes to the retiring leader of the Board of Deputies, Henry Grunwald, at its annual president’s dinner in London last week.

Mrs Blears said that whatever Mr Grunwald’s professional accomplishments at the bar, “I believe your achievements as president exceed all of them.

“Over the past six years we have come to know and respect your tireless advocacy, your courageous work to build stronger ties with other faiths and your unequivocal championing of tolerance, respect and decency.”

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Board of Deputies: 'Time to link up with Sikhs and Buddhists'

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

Jews in Britain should expand interfaith contacts beyond Christians and Muslims to include members of other religions, according to a new report.

While 71 per cent of interfaith events involving Jews included Christians, and 52 per cent Muslims, only 10 per cent involved Hindus and nine per cent Sikhs.

“There is considerable scope to expand the contacts with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is and other religions in interfaith activities,” writes Dr Keith Kahn-Harris in Communities in Conversation.

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Peace activist Wineman snatches Board presidency in close-run poll

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

A former chairman of British Friends of Peace Now has been elected president of the Board of Deputies for the next three years.

Vivian Wineman, 59, the Board’s senior vice-president, emerged victorious from a record four candidates to succeed Henry Grunwald, who retires at the end of month after a maximum six years in office.

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New think-tank for Institute for Jewish Policy Research

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research has announced a change of direction with a key new appointment.

David Graham, who has worked on demographic surveys for the Board of Deputies, will be the new director of social and demographic research. He will be supported by a new advisory board, chaired by Professor Steve Miller, an expert on research into Jewish communities.

The changes mark a return to a more local agenda for the think-tank, which, under its former executive director Tony Lerman, who stepped down last year, had shifted its focus from domestic social research to Europe.

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London Jewish Cultural centre bans Kabbalah event

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

The London Jewish Cultural Centre has cancelled a booking by the controversial Kabbalah Centre for an event due to have taken place there next month.

Fliers advertised a session on “love and relationships” taught by Eitan Yardeni, spiritual mentor of the centre’s most famous supporter Madonna, and his wife Sarah.

But on Wednesday, LJCC chief executive Trudy Gold said: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the space is no longer available and the hirer has been notified.”

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Bombing civilians

By Simon Rocker, May 19, 2009

In any modern war zone, whether it's Afghanistan, Gaza or Sri Lanka, armies confront  the problem: how far to go to minimise casualties to civilians when pursuing fighters in their midst.

There's a thoughtful essay on the subject from Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer in the New York Review of Books, who take issue with arguments that the safety of soldiers takes precedence over civilians on the enemy side.

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Wineman is new Deputies' president

By Simon Rocker, May 18, 2009

Vivian Wineman, a commercial lawyer, was elected president of the Board of Deputies on Sunday. He will hold the position for the next three years.

In the most hotly-contested election since the Board’s creation in 1760, with a record four candidates, he succeeds barrister Henry Grunwald, who steps down at the end of the month.

Mr Wineman, 59. a member of Hampstead Garden Suburb United Synagogue and the Board’s current senior vice-president, beat the former president of the United Synagogue, Peter Sheldon , by 131 votes to 64 in the third round of the ballot.

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Council of Christians and Jews launches forum

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

The Council of Christians and Jews has launched a forum for supporters to underwrite programmes to counter antisemitism among youth.

It is chaired by Bishop of Manchester the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, who welcomed guests to the first “Chairman’s Circle” at Lambeth Palace.

“If there is to be a real and successful attempt to turn back the tide of antisemitism in this country,” he said, “it will only happen if we engage those young people who are in such danger of forgetting past history.”

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JCoSS worries Orthodox rabbis

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

United Synagogue rabbis have voiced concern at the impact of the Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS), the first cross-communal Jewish secondary school, which is due to open in Barnet next year.

They made their anxieties plain at a session with US lay leaders during the annual US rabbinical conference in Hemel Hempstead.

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Blears praises shuls for interfaith work

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

More than three-quarters of mainstream synagogues do some kind of interfaith work, according to a survey to be published next week by the Board of Deputies.

The results “show what some may think of as a surprising degree of engagement in interfaith activity by the broad swathe of our community,” said Board chief executive Jon Benjamin. “But this confirms what many of us already know — that the Jewish community is keen to play its part in wider society and to share its experience of successfully integrating into British society.”

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Lieberman welcome to visit, say Deputies

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would be welcome at the Board of Deputies, the four contenders for its presidency agreed this week.

The electoral success of his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party in February provoked disquiet among UK Jews, with several prominent rabbis condemning his attitude towards Arabs.

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Jews thought of Jesus first, says Bible scholar

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

The idea of a Messiah who is killed and then resurrected is a Jewish one that pre-dates Christianity, according to a Hebrew University scholar.

Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible, believes the evidence lies in the “Gabriel Revelation”, an inscription on a stone found at the Dead Sea, which dates back to the beginning of the first century CE or the end of the century before.

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JFS entry case is appealed

By Simon Rocker, May 14, 2009

An Appeal Court case opened this week into whether the entry policy of Britain’s largest Orthodox school breaches anti-discrimination laws.

It has been brought on behalf of “M”, a boy who was refused a place by JFS in London for September 2007 because his mother was converted by a non-Orthodox rabbi and therefore considered not Jewish by the school’s religious authority, the Chief Rabbi.

Lawyers for the boy maintain that to decide entry on the basis of whether a child’s mother is Jewish or not is racially discriminatory.

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