Simon Rocker

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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The Lubavitch rabbi and the ‘Kill children' controversy

By Simon Rocker, June 22, 2009

Rabbi Manis Friedman is a veteran Lubavitch lecturer whose students at one time included Bob Dylan in Minnesota.

But now he has become the centre of controversy over remarks he made to an American Jewish magazine saying that the “only way to fight a moral war” is to “kill men, women and children”.

He was one of the rabbis invited by Moment’s Ask the rabbi column to respond to the question, “How should Jews treat their Arab neighbours?”
Here is most of his published response:

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Hands off our rabbis, Israel

By Simon Rocker, June 19, 2009

English rabbis are apparently highly prized among Jerusalem's strictly Orthodox community.

But the Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok is none too impressed at rumours that representatives from Israel are "fishing around" London in the hope of recruiting rabbinic talent.

Let them grow their own rather than deprive London's strictly Orthodox community of "another one of their treasured rabbonim", he advises in this week's edition.

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Light relief in fight on Shabbat sensors

By Simon Rocker, June 18, 2009

An Orthodox couple have made a claim for religious discrimination over sensor-operated lights outside their flat which they say stops them leaving it on Shabbat.

Gordon Coleman, the former chief executive of the Federation of Synagogues, and his wife Dena, the headteacher of Yavneh College in Hertfordshire, are suing the Embassy Court Residential Management Company in Bournemouth County Court.

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Vivian Wineman will head the JLC

By Simon Rocker, June 18, 2009

The Jewish Leadership Council has ended speculation over its top job by confirming that new Board of Deputies’ president Vivian Wineman has taken over as its chair.

Since its inception six years ago, the council has been led by its founding chairman Henry Grunwald, who retired from the presidency of the Board last month after a maximum six consecutive years in office.

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Fur-fetched

By Simon Rocker, June 17, 2009

A proposal in Israel to ban imports of fur could have unfortunate consequences for the Chasidic community: it could put a stop to streimels, the ornamental hats worn on Shabbat and festivals (and once described by the late Peter Cook as “furry frisbees”).
Synthetic alternatives are available, apparently.

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Anger management, rabbinical style

By Simon Rocker, June 15, 2009

Rabbis don’t often talk openly about the problems that they have with congregants.

But in an article for the latest edition of Common Ground , the magazine of the Council of Christians and Jews, Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer reveals how he coped with “a small but vociferous” element at his previous community (Northwood).

“It seemed to be that whatever I did, I could not please them and their unfair criticism and machinations put a tremendous strain upon me and my family,” he writes.

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The barmitzvah party behind bars

By Simon Rocker, June 12, 2009

Five prison officials, including a rabbinical chaplain, have been disciplined after the following incident reported by The Times Online:
“When the fraudster Tuvia Stern arrived back in New York, he found prison authorities surprisingly accommodating.
“The former fugitive, jailed for three and a half years in March for fraud, was allowed to throw two parties for his family behind bars, even hiring his own kosher caterers and a prominent Jewish singer.

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Spain honours men who fought fascists

By Simon Rocker, June 11, 2009

Three men in their nineties were among the last British veterans of the Spanish civil war honoured by the Spanish Embassy in London on Tuesday.
Sam Lesser, Lou Kenton and Joseph Kahn were part of a group of seven UK and Irish volunteers of the International Brigade awarded Spanish citizenship 70 years after the end of the conflict.

“It was exciting, enjoyable and a huge honour to have my Spanish passport bestowed on me,” said Mr Kahn, 93, of Maida Vale, north west London.

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