Simon Rocker

Mr Brown's maccabees

By Simon Rocker, December 10, 2009

Who will light the candles at Downing Street’s Chanucah do next Wednesday (at No 10 rather than the Foreign Office). I hear it may be the five Council of Christian and Jews’ presidents: Lord Sacks, Rabbis Abraham Levy, Tony Bayfield and Danny Rich along with a Masorti stand-in for Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg. Leaving one more kindler. Could David Miliband don his kippah to spread light in dark places?

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Who let Stacey in to sing?

By Simon Rocker, December 10, 2009

Many of you will have watched our video of Stacey Solomon’s triumphant return to her alma mater, King Solomon High School in Essex. How the pupils hollered when the X-Factor finalist treated them to a mini-concert.

But what was the Dagenham diva doing singing at a United Synagogue school at all? What about kol ishah, the rabbinical ban on lads hearing a woman’s voice? I didn’t see the boys’ ears covered to protect them from the sweet siren’s song.

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Meet the comic chef making a meal out of being an Israeli

By Simon Rocker, December 9, 2009

The first episode of a comedy series about an ex-Israeli army cook who comes to make it in London is due to launch online today.

But before the eponymous Pini can fulfil his dream of becoming a famous chef like Gordon Ramsay, he has to negotiate the vagaries of English language and culture.

“It’s about an Israeli who speaks English but thinks in Hebrew,” says his Israeli creator Tomer Barzide, 26, who came to

London a year ago to complete his film studies.

“He acts as if everyone is his friend and understands him — and that creates the awkward situations.”

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Kill the blasphemers - a Chanucah song

By Simon Rocker, December 8, 2009

Maor Tzur is a seemingly jolly tune that we’ll all be belting out on Friday. But the words are not quite so jolly, even in the most familiar first verse.
In a dvar Torah at the weekend, David Jacobs, director of synagogue partnerships at the Movement for Reform Judaism, drew attention to the Hebrew l’et tachin matbe’ach, mitzar hamnabe’ach, which the 1925 edition of the Singer’s Prayer Book translated as “when thou shalt have prepared a slaughter of the blaspheming foe”.

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The benefits of global warming

By Simon Rocker, December 7, 2009

Whatever the world's leaders decide at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, here's one positive spin-off from the attempt to save the planet: it has brought together British rabbis from different denomations to formulate a Jewish response. A paper on the eco-challenge has apparently jointly been drawn up by Rabbi Natan Levy, head of the (Orthodox) London School of Jewish Studies' social responsibility unit, Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand, executive director of the Movement for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of the New London (Masorti) Synagogue.

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Liberal Judaism backs campaign against sexual discrimination

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

Liberal Judaism is backing a campaign to restrict the exemptions sought by some religious groups from anti-discrimination laws.

It is giving support to the Cutting Edge Consortium, a coalition of gay rights and progressive organisations, lobbying over the Equalities Bill currently before Parliament.

The bill is meant to consolidate existing laws against discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and disability.

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Turkish and Israeli envoys rebuild ties

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

Israel and Turkey’s ambassadors to the UK put aside the friction between their two countries over the past year by sharing a joint platform in London on Monday.

Israeli envoy Ron Prosor gave his Turkish counterpart Yigit Alpogan a friendly pat on the back after a well-attended meeting in Westminster jointly hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Turkey.

Mr Prosor said the event was “testimony to the significance of the relationship between Israel and Turkey and the magnitude of the shared interests and values we hold together”.

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Chabad to clear debt 'by early next year'

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

The Lubavitch Foundation hopes by early next year to have finally cleared the debts which have led auditors to query the viability of the organisation.

In the last available accounts, for the year ending December 2007 — which were filed only this summer — auditors wrote of “material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the charity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

The organisation still owed the Inland Revenue more than £462,000, according to the papers, and is believed still to be in negotiations with the tax authorities.

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Faith school should teach all religions, says Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

A lobby group headed by a senior Reform rabbi has called for religious education to be added to the national curriculum — which would require faith schools to teach religions other than their own.

The Accord Coalition, chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Romain, wants to ensure that children at religious schools learn at least something about other faiths.

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Outed: the mobile messiah

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

While we’ve been preoccupied with the credit crunch, Afghanistan and Stacey Solomon’s progress, we’ve missed the real news. The Messiah has arrived and been spotted driving around Prestwich.

(Ok, he can’t spell; there should be an ‘h’ in Moshiach.)

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Pipped to the bedpost

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Amos Oz and Philip Roth were in contention for this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award, given by the Literary Review to mock erotic fumblings in print. The two giants ultimately lost out to their literary junior, New York-born Jonathan Littell, for a scene in his Holocaust novel, The Kindly Ones.

Littell, son of spy novelist Robert Littell, doesn’t define himself as Jewish, according to Ha’aretz, and he’s not kindly towards Israel, which he thinks does “atrocious” things to the Palestinians.

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Hands-on advice

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

Staff at the government’s Equalities Office have been issued with a lengthy memo on how to avoid bullying, harassment and discrimination at work.

Among potentially harassing conduct, say the mandarins, is refusing to shake someone’s hand.

I wonder what the United Synagogue is going to advise Orthodox rabbis.

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A starry knight

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

You would need a museum to house all the awards garnered by Sir Sigmund Sternberg for his interfaith diplomacy. And yesterday he was due one more. Already one of few Jewish papal knights (wife Hazel is also a dame), he is being upgraded with a star added to the knighthood — a “rare” accolade, according to an expert on Vatican honours.

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Paying out for Palwin's

By Simon Rocker, December 3, 2009

Supplies of Palwin have been in short supply this year, still one can only gasp at the lengths some people will go to lay hands on the vintage kiddush tipple. A bottle of No 4 fetched £85 at an auction at London’s Belsize Square Synagogue on Sunday. Its proud owner is reserving it for Pesach.

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British Reform leader hits out over arrest at the Wall

By Simon Rocker, November 30, 2009

There's been a lot on the net about the recent arrest of a woman for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall. Here are the views of Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield:

"It should have been the climax of our holiday. In fact, it was the only big let down. I was in Israel this summer with my daughter, son-in-law and two older grandchildren. We had a brilliant walk through the Old City and came to the Wall.

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Neusner reverts to Reform

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, the prolific scholar of Judaism, explains why he has gone back to the Reform of his youth in an article for The Forward.

"After a half-century of apostasy, I affirm Reform Judaism as the American Judaism both of my personal choice and of our communal necessity. Indeed, I have come to believe that if Reform Judaism did not exist today, American Jews would have to invent it," he writes.

In 1995, incidentally, he wrote an article in the JC supportive of the Chief Rabbi's criticism of the Masorti movement.

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Attorney-General's Jewish connections

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

Baroness Scotland, the Attorney-General, revealed some unexpected Jewish connections last week.

Born in Dominica as the 10th of 12 siblings, she grew up in Walthamstow in north-east London — next door to Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation or, in her words, “Boundary Rd shul”.

“You see before you the Shabbes goy,” she told guests at the British Friends of the Hebrew University’s annual legal dinner at the Middle Temple.

To cheers and laughter, she added: “I bet I went to synagogue more than most of you.”

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Women back protest over Congo atrocities

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

A Progressive rabbi was among the participants in a high-profile event to call for an end to the atrocities in the one of the world’s worst conflict zones, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk of Westminster Synagogue joined a multi-faith rally last Thursday at London’s Albert Hall to highlight the rape and torture of women and girls in the eastern part of the country, in particular.

The event marked 100 years since the Great Congo Demonstration, held at the same venue, to protest against murder and slavery at that time.

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Ex-Bevis Marks rabbi resumes usury fight

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

The former rabbi of Bevis Marks is continuing to support a campaign against high interest rates, despite his involvement having indirectly cost him his job.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha resigned from the City of London synagogue last month after months of tension with the leaders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

He had been disciplined following his participation in an interfaith rally in July, organised by the charity London Citizens, which set off from Bevis Marks to the nearby headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

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Academic regrets Israel lobby quotes

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

Israeli political scientist David Newman has admitted he made a mistake in taking part in last week’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Britain’s pro-Israel lobby.

The British-born academic, who lectures at Ben-Gurion University, suggested that organisations such as Bicom had too narrow an agenda on Israel.

But in an article for the Jerusalem Post this week, Dr Newman revealed that his appearance had prompted “some of the most fiery invective I have ever received, nearly all of it from the UK”.

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