Simon Rocker

Boot camp aids Yomtov preparation

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

A group of young Jews who ran alternative Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in 2009 have gone one better this year by launching a pre-festival programme.

Grassroots Jews are staging a series of events under the title Ellul Boot Camp, a reference to the traditional month of preparation before the Ten Days of Repentance.

It kicks off on Sunday with Warrior Art Play Day - a creative exploration of the High Holy Day themes - at the London Moishe House in Willesden.

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West London announces Rabbi Winer's departure date

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

The search has begun for a new spiritual leader for the Reform movement's flagship congregation, the West London Synagogue, after this week's announcement of the impending retirement of Rabbi Mark Winer.

Earlier this year, congregants were informed that Rabbi Winer, 67, would be stepping down, but without a date being given.

But West London chairman Jonathan Lass ended speculation in a letter informing members that Rabbi Winer would retire next month on Succot.

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Read all about it on the BBC

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

The Diary declares war on anyone who has a bad word to say about Grandma's House, the BBC's new Jewish family sitcom.

How could we do other than proclaim its genius after Monday night's episode which featured copious shots of a character reading the JC?

I cannot reveal the cunning wiles that got us round the Beeb's normally impassable product placement defences and would be the envy of market departments everywhere.

Meanwhile, the show, which is co-written by Simon Amstell and Dan Swimer, is likely to add to the stock of Yiddishisms that have entered everyday language.

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Happy birthdays

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

Shimon Peres could be seen toe-tapping his way through the International at a musical tribute for his 87th birthday in a Tel Aviv theatre on Monday. He was the only audience member able to sing the words of the socialist anthem, played as a nod to his youthful radicalism.

The Israeli president's party was certainly less raucous than Stacey Solomon's 21st birthday bash, reported by the Sun this week. "She was drinking loads and swearing like a trooper," said a guest. "People were getting totally wasted."

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Blossoming Benayouns

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun had to dash to Stamford Bridge from the bedside of wife Mirit to to make last Saturday's 5.30 kick-off, following the birth of their third child, a son, earlier in the day.

This has left kosher supporters speculating: if the brit takes place on time tomorrow, will the Israeli international be able still to get up north to play later in the away game at Wigan? Or could we be about to witness the country's first on-field circumcision? Surely Roman Abramovich could help rustle up a minyan.

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A coat fit for priests

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

Trendy British fashion house All Saints are retailing this double-breasted coat for men for the autumn season.

It's 75 per cent wool, fully lined, and costs £250.

So what's it doing here rather than on the fashion pages?

Well, this stylish new item happens to be known as a "Cohen Coat".

Why would anyone call a coat Cohen? I wish I could say, but I'm still awaiting the answer from All Saints.

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The rabbi who had his brit when he was 20

By Simon Rocker, August 19, 2010

One of the phenomena of post-War Judaism is the ba'al teshuvah movement. Thousands of young Jews from secular or moderately traditional homes have opted for Orthodoxy and a more devout religious lifestyle. But few can have made quite such a leap as Rabbi Jonny Hughes.

He is on the staff of Midrash Shmuel, a yeshivah in Israel popular with English-speaking students. He has just published his first book on one of the luminaries of the Torah world, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. But if you had suggested a decade ago where he would be today, he probably would have laughed in disbelief.

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JNF chaos as chief departs

By Simon Rocker, August 12, 2010

JNF UK has parted company with its new chief executive after just a few months in office, the second head to go in two years.

Elliot Conway, who joined after a lengthy search by the charity for a chief executive following the acrimonious departure of his predecessor, left on Wednesday.

The JC has also learned that a senior employee, Hilary Cane, who runs JNF's multi-million pound charity voucher scheme, has been suspended.

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Deputies at mosque exhibition

By Simon Rocker, August 12, 2010

A Board of Deputies delegation toured an exhibition on Islam's relations with other faiths at the Islamic Cultural Centre at the Regents Park Mosque in London.

Shahid Munir, director of research for Exhibition Islam, reported "a lot of enthusiasm from the Jewish community" for the display.

A particular highlight, he said, was a rare showing "of Torah scrolls which were written across the Islamic world where sofers [scribes] wrote in many exquisite styles".

Rabbis were also taken around the exhibition by Mehri Niknam, founder of interfaith charity the Joseph Foundation.

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Row over Jacob and Sons church paintings

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2010

An MP is lobbying the Church of England to prevent the sale of historic paintings linked to the emancipation of Jews in Britain.

For more than 250 years, pictures of Jacob and his Twelve Sons, by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, have hung at Auckland Castle, the official residence of the Bishop of Durham.

But Helen Goodman, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, is worried about their long-term future.

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Uncircumcised Eastenders

By Simon Rocker, July 29, 2010

I thought my colleagues were kidding when they revealed the new Jewish plotline in EastEnders.

But, alas, they were not. Teens Jodie Gold and Darren Miller were about to consummate their relationship when – in probably the most ridiculous British soap scene ever – she ran screaming out of the room at the sight of his unclothed body.

On Monday we found out why, when Jodie confided that Darren’s generative organ (not the term she used) was “just not Jewish enough”.

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Amnesty calls for further Gaza probe

By Simon Rocker, July 29, 2010

Amnesty International has called for further action to ensure that the perpetrators of alleged war crimes in last year's Gaza conflict are brought to book.

In February, the United Nations set a five-month deadline for Israel and the Palestinians to mount "credible" investigations into the conflict which expired on Monday.

In an official statement, Amnesty said this week: "A year and a half after the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel ended, the victims have yet to obtain justice, truth or full reparations; the perpetrators on both sides have yet to be held to account."

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JFS ruling creates barmitzvah confusion

By Simon Rocker, July 29, 2010

A number of Orthodox Jewish schools are stopping organising bar or batmitzvah ceremonies for pupils because they cannot tell if they are halachically Jewish, according to the head of the United Synagogue's Rabbinic Council.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet explained that the change was being made as a result of last year's court ruling on Jewish school admissions.

Speaking last weekend at an event in north London, he said that a meeting had recently taken place for young people who act as wardens in midweek services that take place at various schools.

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An Offer Too Good to be true?

By Simon Rocker, July 28, 2010

The Conservatives’ “free-schools” scheme was one of the flagship policies in their election manifesto. Parents’ groups, charities and other groups would be able to open their own schools with state funding free of local council bureaucracy.
It was music to the ears of many in the Jewish community – particularly to those clamouring for more Jewish primary schools to alleviate the current shortage of places.
But the plan has come with a catch. Those who want to open free faith schools will only be able to reserve 50 per cent of places to members of their own faith.

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Limmud Fest's mystical quest

By Simon Rocker, July 28, 2010

There is a mystical theme to this year's Limmud Fest, which takes place in Sussex at the end of next month: Pardes, meaning "orchard", a richly symbolic idea in Jewish tradition.

"The orchard is a mystical place for coming close to God, for finding connections and delving into multi-levels of meaning," explains artist Jacqueline Nicholls, who has jointly overseen the event's programme.

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How to read up on Kabbalah

By Simon Rocker, July 27, 2010

Jay Michaelson, one of the best writers on modern Jewish spirituality, offers a useful guide to contemporary books on Kabbalah here.

Meanwhile, Limmud Fest next month has a couple of kabbalastically-inspired teachers from Israel on the guest list: Rabbi David Aaron of Isralight and Reb Ruth Gan Kagan of Nava Tehila.

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Methodists: Zionism is legitimate

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

The head of the Methodist Church has held out an olive branch to the Jewish community after its controversial vote on Israel, saying it does not seek to rule Zionism as illegitimate.

The Reverend Alison Tomlin was replying to a sharply-worded letter from Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of the Deputies, who condemned the Church's recently passed policy as "unqualified Israel bashing".

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UK Jews more tied to Israel than American Jews

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Jews in the UK feel more attached to Israel than those in the United States, according to one of the leading academic experts on diaspora Jewry.

"UK Jewry is far more connected to Israel than American Jewry," said Professor Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

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Lineker's kosher craving

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Returning from presenting World Cup coverage in South Africa, television pundit Gary Lineker was straight back to work this week filminga new advert for Walkers crisps.

He was spotted along with pop star Lionel Richie in Vivian Avenue, Hendon.

Perhaps they were shooting for one of the new exotic World Cup crisp flavours including Yorkshire Pudding and Dutch Edam.

If Mr Lineker is longing for some South African cuisine as inspiration, he could always pop into the Kosher Delicatessen in Brent Street where they now stock beef boerewors.

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My Big Fat Jewish Birthday

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Yet another Jewish family has had their five minutes of fame. This time it is the Colemans from Chigwell, the stars of BBC documentary, My Child's Big Fat Birthday Party, which aired on Monday.

The narrator informed us that 13-year-old Guy's barmitzvah celebrations are "a culmination of 18 months of almost military planning by his parents" and will include a caricaturist, magician, break dancer and singer.

Rabbi Larry Becker's sentiment that he is "very uncomfortable with the large modern extravaganza" is soon forgotten by Guy, who enters his party arm-in-arm with two sparkly dancers.

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