Simon Rocker

Former US staff face gag order

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The United Synagogue has been challenged over the use of confidentiality agreements signed by staff who have lost their jobs.

Members of the organisation’s lay council were told at a meeting at the end of last week that nine redundancies had been made among a staff of around 100 in a cost-cutting budget.

But David Rose, council representative for South Hampstead Synagogue, quizzed US officers over confidentiality agreements that he said he had heard some departing staff had been asked to sign.

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Legal help for aliyah family

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The Israeli High Court has been asked to intervene on behalf of a black family from south London who have been waiting to go on aliyah for more than 18 months.

Israel’s Ministry of Interior has so far offered no explanation for delaying the emigration of Carl and Maleka Levy, and their five daughters.

The family, who converted under Reform auspices in the UK, had hoped to begin a new life in Ashkelon in August 2007.

Now the Israel Religious Action Centre has filed a petition on behalf of the Levys to the courts.

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Pope tells Holocaust denier to recant

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

Pope benedict XVI has responded to international pressure and ordered a maverick cleric to recant his Holocaust-denying views.

Jewish-Catholic relations were plunged into crisis last week by the Vatican’s rehabilitation of English-born Richard Williamson, along with three other bishops associated with an ultra-conservative breakaway sect.

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'Toxic atmosphere' at Oxford University

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

Jewish students at Oxford University have accused it of appearing to “appease” organisers of a sit-in at the university library last month in protest at Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The incident is also said to have disturbed some Jewish academics. One University Reader reportedly told a meeting that “within five years, Oxford will be a Jew-free zone”.

In an official reaction to the protest, the Senior Proctor of the university, Professor Donald Fraser, who oversees disciplinary matters, recommended “a relatively lenient course of action” against the demonstrators.

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Sicily: Flying tonight at Club Med

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

A small boy is climbing a ladder into the hot sun. Twenty feet up, he steps on to a narrow platform, from where he can see his parents, struggling with the zoom of their new digital camera in the amphitheatre below.

He draws a breath, grips the bar tightly, then he is away, slicing through the air like a pint-sized Tarzan. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you Joshua Rocker on the flying trapeze…

I had never expected to see my son in circus flight (and I certainly never would have tried it at his age — safety harness and net notwithstanding) but that was part of the fun at Club Med.

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Tribe takes on US chedarim

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The United Synagogue’s youth arm, Tribe, set up to provide social and cultural activities, is to take over cheder education from the US’s Agency for Jewish Education.

Despite the growth in Jewish day schools, around 1,500 children still remain in the US part-time system. Some US members have voiced concern at giving Tribe responsibility for chedarim.

At a US council meeting last Thursday, Stanmore Synagogue’s Paul Dresner said the move seemed strange because Tribe does not have “a professional educator”, whereas the AJE was “a professional education department”.

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Grape Juice, Anyone?

By Simon Rocker, February 2, 2009

Let's hope the recent advice from the government's chief medical officer that children should not drink alcohol until they are 15 is not taken too puritanically. One of my earliest happy memories is a piece of challah dipped in wine on Friday nights and there was always a tot of wine after our children's services on Shabbat. I never much liked grape juice and would have felt distinctly unliberated if my four cups at Pesach had been filled with it rather than the real thing.

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Holocaust Remembrance, Ahmadinejad-style

By Simon Rocker, January 30, 2009

The Islamic Republic News Agency reports that on Tuesday President Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a message to a conference in Tehran a conference entitled "Holocaust? A Sacred lie by [the] West".
The president said that examining the issue of Holocaust was equal to cutting the vein of the Zionist regime, according to the agency.

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Law of return under fire at Durban II

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

Jewish groups will face an uphill battle in their efforts to keep anti-Zionism off the agenda of the forthcoming United Nations anti-racism conference.

The latest draft of the resolutions, published this week, contains a proposed new reference to the “racially-based law of return” — the law which grants the right of any Jew to settle in the state of Israel.

Israel and Canada have already pulled out of “Durban II”, the follow-up in April in Geneva to the UN conference in South Africa eight years ago.

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Outrage as Pope lifts ban on Holocaust denier

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

Jewish leaders are calling on the Vatican to repair the damage caused by the rehabilitation of an ultra-conservative bishop who is a Holocaust denier.

Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligous Consultations, believed the controversy “worse than any of the crises we have had with the Catholic Church”, almost since the new era of dialogue began more than 40 years ago.

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David Abrahams: I reached out to Hamas

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

David Abrahams, the Newcastle property developer whose secret donations to the Labour Party caused a political scandal, is claiming to have met Hamas leaders in a personal Middle East peace mission.

In a letter sent to The Times for publication and shown to the JC, Mr Abrahams, a former treasurer of Labour Friends of Israel, wrote that he had “met elected Hamas leaders on several occasions” since they took office three years ago.

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Sounds of survivors go online

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

The British Library has put its complete collection of oral testimonies of Shoah survivors online.

Over 440 hours of interviews with 66 people recorded by the library’s sound archive can now be publicly accessed.

Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust covers refugees who escaped Nazi Germany pre-war, and those who survived in hiding or endured the camps.

Rob Perks, curator of oral history at the archive, said: “These oral testimonies personalise the enormity of the Holocaust in a very direct and human way, emphasising the variety and complexity of individual experience.

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A prayer mystery: who started Kaddish?

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

The mourners’ Kaddish is one of Judaism’s most familiar prayers. But where did the custom to recite it originate? It is a question that has intrigued one of the guests at next month’s Jewish Book Week, Leon Charney, author of The Mystery of the Kaddish. Charney, 67, is one of those men of many parts with a book-length CV. He studied Bible and Talmud at Yeshiva University, New York before financing himself through law school by singing in synagogue — he still has a fine chazan’s voice.

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US cuts budget and jobs as income falls

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

The United Synagogue is axing jobs and planning to cut spending by nearly £250,000 in the light of the economic downturn.

A spokesman for the Orthodox synagogue organisation said on Monday that a financial review had led “to a proposal that a small number of positions will be made redundant. However, as we are still within the consultation process, we cannot confirm the number of positions that may go.”

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Rachel in Gaza

By Simon Rocker, January 26, 2009

One of the more bizarre stories around the Gaza campaign is that the matriarch Rachel appeared to warn some Israeli soldiers not to enter a house because some Hamas fighters were waiting to ambush them within. Although some rabbis have rubbished the tale, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, is reported to support the supernatural sighting. See Orthodox website VozIzNeias

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Comparing Gaza to the Shoah disgusts a Catholic columnist

By Simon Rocker, January 23, 2009

Writing in the Catholic weekly, The Universe, the columnist James Kelly explains why "I'm apparently a member of a minority group... when I learn about what's happening in the Middle-East, I don't feel the need to rush out and burn the nearest Israeli flag.
"Despite the way it's presented as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I don't find myself making a placard in support of terrorist groups who have as their goals the destruction of Israel and all Jews."

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What the school league tables don’t tell you

By Simon Rocker, January 23, 2009

Our breakdown, in today's issue, of this year's school league tables confirms that Jewish schools are maintaining their high standards. Particularly worth noting is the high "value-added" rating of state-aided secondary schools: it means that pupils have done better in exams at 16 than could have been anticipated from their ability on entry at 11 (and no, not every pupil has a private tutor).

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Lobby to stop 'hate-fest' at Durban II

By Simon Rocker, January 22, 2009

Jewish campaigners this week lobbied internationally to stop a United Nations human rights conference being used as a platform to attack Israel.

Israel and Canada have already pulled out of April’s Geneva follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference, which turned into an anti-Zionist “hate-fest” according to critics.

But the Jewish Human Rights Coalition UK, co-founded by the Board of Deputies, was among Jewish non-governmental organisations that attended a five-day preliminary session in Geneva this week to debate a draft of the conference resolutions.

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Finkelsteins are first to show Who’s Who

By Simon Rocker, January 22, 2009

In what is believed to be a first, a father and all his children are included in the same edition of the bible of Britain’s movers and shakers, Who’s Who.

The inclusion this year of Prof Anthony Finkelstein, 49, head of computer science at University College London marks a unique family achievement.

He joins his father Ludwik, 79, emeritus professor of measurement and instrumentation at City University, London; brother Daniel, 46, associate editor of The Times and JC columnist; and sister Tamara, 41, director of the UK’s Border Agency integration programme.

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Schools top the tables for value

By Simon Rocker, January 22, 2009

Three Jewish secondary schools have been placed among England’s top five per cent of mainstream state schools, ranked according to academic progress made by pupils 11-16.

Hasmonean High School, JFS and Yesodey Hatorah in London produced outstanding “value-added” scores in the government school league tables for 2008.

These scores measure how far children perform above expectations, given their academic ability on arrival. According to The Times, the Hasmonean was among the top 50 value-added schools in the country this year.

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