Simon Rocker

Stirring recognition

By Simon Rocker, December 11, 2008

An unusual presentation was made to Pro-Zion, the Progressive Zionist movement, in recognition of its work — a mounted soup ladle.

The utensil had been used in soup kitchens supported by the Israel Religious Action Centre. During a UK visit, IRAC executive director Anat Hoffman presented the ladle to Charlie Gluckman, co-chair of Pro Zion, which has raised money for the centre.

“I promised to raise a further $10,000 for the project,” Mr Gluckman said. “I couldn’t say no.”

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Divisive Lerman leaves JPR

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

Antony Lerman, the controversial executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), is to leave at the end of the year to concentrate on writing and other personal projects.

Mr Lerman’s views on Israel — he was recently a signatory to an Independent Jewish Voices’ advert opposing Israeli occupation of the West Bank — and his willingness to challenge bodies such as the Community Security Trust over the extent of antisemitism, incensed critics. His return to JPR prompted the resignation of several board members.

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Three are honoured by New Israel Fund

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

Three Israelis who strive to make their country live up to its founding ideals were honoured for their achievements on Tuesday.

Around 280 guests acclaimed the recipients of this year’s New Israel Fund’s Human Rights Awards at a central London dinner sponsored by the Pears Foundation.

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Speak at the grave: with reservations

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

The United Synagogue this week finally cleared the way for lay people to give eulogies at funerals.

The organisation had come under increasing pressure to change a long-standing policy whereby only members of the clergy could address mourners at the cemetery.

From now on, a member of the deceased’s family will be able to give the hesped (eulogy) at the discretion of the officiating rabbi.

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Aid group for schools

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

A new group has been set up to represent the interests of state-aided strictly Orthodox schools.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of Manchester, who has helped set up the National Association of Orthodox Schools, a coalition of a dozen schools in London and Manchester, said: “We want to ensure the position of strictly Orthodox schools is coherently put, rather than left to chance.”

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Why a priest hunts for lost Shoah victims

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

A large, stone menorah stands at Babi Yar, outside Ukrainian capital of Kiev, in memory of the 33,000 Jews who were among the 100,000 people murdered there by the Nazis during the Second World War. But for most of the 1.5 million Jews who were shot by the Einsatzgruppen, the Germans’ mobile killing squads, in Ukraine, no memorial marks the scene of their death. They lie beneath mounds in the forests, in farmers’ fields, even in gardens.

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Become an entrepreneur by studying the Torah

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

Moses has been hailed as many things: leader, liberator, lawgiver and, above all, teacher. But he was also “the most successful entrepreneur of all time”, according to a new book.

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Polack’s history lesson

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

Actor David Swift and Jewish Care chairman Stephen Zimmerman were among the 150 guests at the London launch of a history of Polack’s, the Jewish boarding house at Clifton College, Bristol, which closed in 2005.

Dynasty was written by Derek Winterbottom, a tutor of the house, and focuses in particular on four members of the Polack family who were housemasters for 89 of the 127 years of its existence.

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Should that be Baruch Obama?

By Simon Rocker, December 1, 2008

There has been a lot of web-chatter about the origins of US President-Elect Barack Obama’s first name(the name, too, of his Kenyan father). The favoured explanation among online etymologists  is that it comes from the Arabic-derived Swahili word, baraka, meaning “blessing”, akin to berachah in Hebrew. More far-fetched is that it is somehow related to Barak, meaning lightning in Hebrew, the name of the Canaanite-smiting commander who delivered the goods for the prophetess Deborah in the Book of Judges.

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‘Israel is wrong to snub UN summit’

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2008

Israel is wrong to have withdrawn from next spring's ‘Durban II' conference in Geneva, believes one of the leaders of the Anglo-Jewish group preparing for the event.

Rosalind Preston, joint chairman of the Jewish Human Rights Coalition (JHRC) UK, said: "We think on the whole it's a mistake. Once you've withdrawn, you can't fight."

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A £100,000 row — over 4m of land

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2008

A dispute between two Sephardi families over a patch of land in North-West London ended up in the Court of Appeal this week.

Freddy Ezekiel and his son Mark are seeking to reverse a judgment made against them earlier this year over a site in Hendon which they agreed to buy from brothers David and Haim Kohali for £300,000 nine years ago.

But the judges were clearly exercised by cost of the one-day appeal, along with a previous eight-day trial. "It's not sensible litigation," said Lord Justice Mummery during Tuesday's hearing.

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Windmill’s fortunes set to turn

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2008

It is one of the Jerusalem's most famous landmarks and a symbol of British Jewry's long-standing links with the Land of Israel.

The windmill built at the instigation of Sir Moses Montefiore in 1857 to provide cheaper bread for poor Jews actually worked only for a short time.

But now its sails may turn again as part of a renovation of the neighbourhood planned to celebrate 150 years of British Jewish investment in Israel's capital city the year after next.

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The cartoon Torah that’s getting teens animated

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2008

Over the past decade, the internet has been pushing open the gates of Jewish learning to wider audiences. Online ask-the-rabbis field questions from around the world, teachers give shiurum via computer using voice-over technology and if you miss shul on Shabbat, you can still catch the rabbi's sermon the next day on a podcast. But a recently launched venture is taking virtual Torah to a new plane.

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Multi-faith trips to Auschwitz

By Simon Rocker, November 21, 2008

A pall of fog had settled over the birch forests of south-west Poland as the distinguished party from Britain headed towards its destination. Headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, it comprised 14 other representatives of the UK's main religious communities: Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Bahais and Zoroastrians.

Together in a show of interfaith solidarity, they were making, in the words of the Archbishop, a "pilgrimage not to a holy place, but to a place of utter profanity".

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What’s the link between Obama and Kabbalah?

By Simon Rocker, November 20, 2008

 Well, it is highly tenuous but here goes. The national finance chair of President-Elect Obama's campaign was Penny Pritzker, of the Chicago philanthropic family associated among other things with Hyatt hotels. Penny's first cousin is Thomas Pritzker and it is was Tom's wife Margot, a Jewish studies enthusiast - she has an MA in the subject - who secured family sponsorship for a new translation of the Zohar, the central text of medieval Kabbalah.

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A treasury of sacred cloth

By Simon Rocker, November 20, 2008

When you think of prize Judaica, what probably comes to mind are antique books or the silver bells and breastplates that adorn a Sefer Torah. But a new Jewish Museum exhibition that has just opened in London features another type of religious artistry - the mantles in which the Torah is dressed.

Some of the "sacred textiles" that have been in the possession of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation for three centuries have gone on display at the historic Bevis Marks Synagogue in the East End.

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Commons queries over Hebrew A-level

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

An MP has raised questions in parliament after an Israeli-born pupil from a Jewish school was denied a university place this year because the university would not recognise her modern Hebrew A-level.

Westminster University said it could not accept her A-level A-grade in Ivrit. The unidentified student was told: "Even if you have lived in the UK since the age of three, Hebrew is the language you will have used most of or a lot of the time at home, as it is your mother's first language."

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JNF seeks cash from donor who ‘underwrote its legal fees’

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

The JNF is trying to recover money from a donor who it says agreed to meet the legal costs of its past dispute with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael.

Newly-published accounts reveal that the charity spent £886,000 on legal expenses in 2007 plus £289,000  in the year before - while receiving donations worth £344,000 towards the lawyers' bill.

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Mixed choir hits sour note with rabbis

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

The days of the last mixed choir at an Orthodox synagogue in Britain look to be numbered.

Leaders of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (Princes Road) believe that their historic choir is impeding the search to find a new rabbi.

Laurence Goldman, the congregation's senior warden, said: "We're in a situation where a mixed choir is not really acceptable to Orthodox rabbis looking for a job. One rabbi said he wouldn't be prepared to come for an interview unless we agreed not to have a mixed choir.

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Downturn ‘will fuel antisemitism’

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

British Jewish leaders are warning that the worsening economy could lead to a rise in antisemitism and increased support for the British National Party.

Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies and chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, said this week: "We're already seeing and hearing things about who is responsible for the economic downturn and we know from history that when there are economic problems, there has always been an increase in antisemitism."

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