Simon Rocker

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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MP seeks change in the law to boost restitution of looted art

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

A fresh move has been made to change the law so that art looted by the Nazis which has been found in British museums can be returned to the heirs of the original owners.

There had been hopes that legislation long promised by the government would be included in a heritage protection bill, but the bill was omitted from the Queen’s Speech last December.

Now Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, is moving a private member’s bill, which will have its second reading this month.

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UK rabbis banned from Gaza over security fears

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

Two prominent British Liberal rabbis have been denied entry to Gaza after the Israeli authorities said it was too dangerous for them to visit.

Rabbi David Goldberg, emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood, and Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, had originally obtained Israeli clearance.

But when they arrived at the Erez crossing point into Gaza on the Sunday before last, Rabbi Goldberg said an Israeli officer told them: “Sorry, you can’t go, we’ve had security information that it would be dangerous.”

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Kabbalist takes on ghost

By Simon Rocker, April 2, 2009

A top kabbalist has been asked to help a United Synagogue rabbi whose home is reportedly being visited by the ghost of a past minister.

Website reports on the haunting referred to an unnamed London rabbi, who the JC now understands to be Rabbi Yitzchok Sufrin, the part-time minister of Enfield and Winchmore Hill Synagogue in Middlesex.

The haunted rabbi initially turned to Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Raskin, a Lubavitch dayan in London, who contacted the Jerusalem office of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE).

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The unacceptable face of modesty

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2009

On Sunday a man in Jerusalem was jailed for beating up a woman on behalf of a "modesty patrol", a group of strictly Orthodox vigilantes who thought she was unsuitable to live in the neighbourhood. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz speaks out against "this barbaric attack" in his blog.

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Here comes the sun

By Simon Rocker, March 30, 2009

One of Judaism's rarest rituals is performed next week, early in the morning on the eve of Pesach - the blessing on the sun. If you want to know more about it, you can read Rabbi David Hulbert's article in the current edition of the JC. The blessing is said only once every 28 years. Why 28?
Here's Rabbi Hulbert's explanation:
The source is to be found in the first tractate of the Talmud, Berachot (59b):

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The scourge of the flying sweets

By Simon Rocker, March 27, 2009

We wrote not so long ago about the perils of throwing sweets in synagogue on simchahs. The central Lubavitch synagogue has now introduced strict rules governing the launch of such missiles after a warden nearly lost an eye from a piece of candy thrown at an aufruf last week.

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