Simon Rocker

Tony and two Jonathans

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Today presenter Evan Davis got into a tangle presenting an item on last week's JPR report on Israel-diaspora relations.

He introduced Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield not once but twice as "Rabbi Jonathan Bayfield".

"My mother would be very upset," the Reform leader responded.

Davis explained that they had "Rabbi Jonathan Sacks" on so often that the name just tripped off the tongue.

Which did nothing to console Rabbi Bayfield, who retorted: "I don't think it's improved the situation."

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Double trouble

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Lord Levy must be having a poor grass-court season.

A fortnight ago he found the Shabbat sermon of Rabbi Julian Shindler – standing in for Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet at Mill Hill – was not to his liking.

Rabbi Shindler kicked off by discussing how "all men have sexual fantasies".

For Lord Levy it was all too much - amid much tut-tutting, he upped and left.

The former Labour Party fundraiser followed it up last Shabbat by abandoning a lunch at Woodside Park Synagogue.

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Ordain women, rabbi urges the Archbishop

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

One of the UK's leading Progressive rabbis has intervened in the Church of England's debate over women bishops, urging the Archbishop of Canterbury: "For goodness sake, ordain them".

Rabbi Alexandra Wright, senior rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue (LJS), St John's Wood, for the past six years, made her appeal in an open letter to Dr Rowan Williams.

The Church of England Synod - its governing lay council - reaffirmed its support this week for ordaining women bishops, although without a timetable. Traditionalists have threatened to leave the Church if the plan goes ahead.

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Beth Din stalls organ donation drive

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

The founder of a campaign to encourage Orthodox Jews to carry organ donor cards has voiced frustration at the time taken by the Chief Rabbi to issue new guidelines on the subject.

Lord Sacks's office said its views on organ donation would be available before Rosh Hashanah.

But Robert Berman, who runs the Halachic Organ Donor Society (Hods), said he had been led to believe that the policy was due out last August.

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Conflict of interest is not an issue here

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

Most British Jews feel no conflict between their ties to Israel and their British citizenship.

Two thirds, 66 per cent, said they had experienced no conflict of loyalty, while 28 per cent did (though only seven per cent felt this strongly).

However, 63 per cent felt that they were held responsible for Israel's actions by non-Jews.

Those living in densely-populated Jewish areas in London felt more comfortable than those living in other parts of the country, including the north of England and Scotland.

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Israel attitudes survey: There is much that divides us

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

Against the broad swathe of general support for Israel, British Jews diverge often sharply over specific policies.

Those who call themselves Zionist "are not always firm supporters of Israeli government policy", the report says. "It is clear…that one cannot assume that all of those labelling themselves Zionist are hawkish."

Whereas 50 per cent of Jews currently believe that Israeli control of the West Bank is vital for its security, 40 per cent do not.

While 55 per cent agree that Israel is an "occupying power" in the West Bank, 36 per cent dissent from that view.

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Israel attitudes survey: Most are happy to be Zionists

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

British Jews display a "great attachment" to Israel, with a mere five per cent believing it irrelevant to their Jewish identity, according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) report published this week.

The strong place that Israel retains in Anglo-Jewish hearts is evident from the fact that 29 per cent say it is central to their identity; 53 per cent, that it is "important but not central"; and 13 per cent that it plays "a small part".

An overwhelming majority, 95 per cent, have visited Israel at least once, compared to 78 per cent who has done so in 1995.

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UK Jewish bond with Israel is strong as ever

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

The vast majority of British Jews remain committed to the state of Israel while divided over its policies on peace and security, according to what is claimed to be the most definitive survey on the subject.

Ninety per cent regard Israel as the "ancestral homeland" of the Jewish people, 87 per cent believe Jews have a "special responsibility" to ensure its survival, and 72 per cent consider themselves Zionists.

But differences become apparent on more detailed political questions: 52 per cent think the Israeli government should negotiate with Hamas, compared with 39 per cent against.

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It's a rich man's world

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

Super-rich Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly lost $36 billion during the credit crunch, has bounced back with his latest grand scheme, a hotel and casino complex in Singapore.

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Why this bagel is barred

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

If you were a cow, you'd have every reason to bless Tzedek, the international development aid charity. It's cut its carbon footprint by 15 per cent with a series of environmentally-friendly measures – one of which is to insist on vegetarian catering at its events.

Director Dan Berelowitz has risked accusations of sacrilege by declaring "Smoked salmon bagels are off the menu." Supporters will have to make do with grilled halloumi, instead.

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Never the twain...

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

Two demos took place outside the Israeli Embassy in London this week, both of them Jewish. Hundreds of charedim rallied on Tuesday against the disturbance of ancient graves in Israel.

The previous day Liberal women held a vigil in support of Anat Hoffman, arrested for praying at the Western Wall. Pity the poor police had the two events clashed.

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Tomb Raider Torah

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie says she wants her six children to have knowledge of all faiths so they can make their own choice when they grow up. The heroine of Tomb Raider revealed that she even has a Torah in the house.

Jolie, by the way, is daughter of actor Jon Voight, who although non-Jewish, is a prominent supporter of Lubavitch.

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Low blow at the high table

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

University teacher Eve Garrard was taken aback when at an academic dinner she heard a fellow diner remark, "Bloody Jews!" Confronted, he tried to justify the comment, claiming Israel was "the same as the Nazis". But we want to know: who is the culprit?

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A kosher taste of paradise

By Simon Rocker, July 14, 2010

It was a cruel blow to the sweet-toothed when Bounty bars were declared non-kosher some years ago. Well, happily, they are not only back on the approved list but they are now actually certified by the London Beth Din, according to the latest edition of the United Synagogue's Kosher Nosh Guide.

Manufacturers Mars did a deal last year with the Beth Dint to bring some of its best-known products formally under the kosher net. Now chocaholics can reap the dividends.

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Gaza protesters' sentences cut

By Simon Rocker, July 13, 2010

The Court of Appeal has reduced the prison sentences of a number of people who pleaded guilty to violent disorder in protests against Israel’s incursion into Gaza outside the Israeli embassy in London.

The judges cut the prison terms in some instances from two years to 18 months, and from 18 months to 10 in others: in one instance, they quashed a 12-month jail sentence and replaced it with a community order, citing an “inexcusable” delay in bringing the man to court.

Eight appeals for reduced sentences were accepted, two were dismissed.

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Jewish schools will be undersubscribed

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2010

Jewish education has undergone a dramatic shift in London, with a surplus rather than a shortage of places for Jewish pupils at secondary level this year.

Both Yavneh College in Hertfordshire and JFS in north London were still making offers for a handful of remaining places this month, whereas at the same time last year they remained oversubscribed and facing a large number of appeals from disappointed parents.

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Analysis: Christian group reveals total bias

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2010

The Methodist Church's report, "Justice for Palestine and Israel", was bound to raise strong Jewish reaction on any number of grounds.

It blames Israel almost wholly for the impasse in the Middle East peace process with only a glancing reference to Hamas and no mention of its pledge to destroy the state. It offers a history of the conflict derived from sources largely critical of Israel. It says that some Methodists even support a "total boycott" of Israel until "the occupation ends".

But just as troubling is its call to review the validity of Zionism.

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Church of England reviews stake in Israeli rail

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2010

The Church of England is reviewing its investment in a company building Jerusalem's light railway amid concern that the tramline "will help to cement Israel's hold on occupied east Jerusalem".

But the Church has stopped short of endorsing a campaign urged by Palestinian churches to boycott "everything produced" by Israel's West
Bank occupation.

The boycott call was made in a document known as 'Kairos Palestine', issued by Palestinian Christians last December. It denounces "Israeli occupation of Palestinian land" as "a sin against God and humanity".

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Hillel benefactor hailed for 50-year support

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2010

Supporters of Hillel turned out in force to mark the retirement of one of its best-known benefactors, Fred Worms, after 50 years' service to the student organisation and to B'nai B'rith.

At a supper - fittingly held at the London Jewish Student Centre, opened in 2008 - Lord Sacks praised "one of the outstanding characters of Anglo-Jewry".

The occasion marked the first visit back to London by Mr Worms, who turns 90 this year, and his wife Della since they made aliyah in 2009.

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Volunteering 'helps you live longer'

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2010

They say giving is better than receiving - and it may help you towards a longer life.

Professor Felicia Huppert, the founder of Cambridge University's Well-being Institute, told a London audience that volunteering can bring benefits.

Research showed that older couples who had received support were 20 per cent more likely to be alive five years later than couples who had received no support, once other factors had been taken into account. But couples who had given support were 30 per cent more likely to be alive.

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