Simon Rocker

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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Orthodox rabbi slated for attending Obama church service

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2009

A New York rabbi is under fire from his Orthodox colleagues for having taken part in a service at Washington's National Cathedral to commemorate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
According to the JTA, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein joined interfaith representatives in reciting a non-denominational prayer at the National Prayer Service, a traditional post-inauguration event today.

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If you liked Jacobson on Jesus…

By Simon Rocker, January 16, 2009

If you enjoyed Howard Jacobson's Channel Four outing on Sunday to reclaim the Jewish Jesus (see his JC article), then why not take a look at Modern Jews Engage the New Testament. Its author, Rabbi Michael Cook, went down well at the recent Limmud conference and his book was one of the best-sellers at the conference bookstore.

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Muslims condemn attacks on Jews

By Simon Rocker, January 15, 2009

A group of Muslim activists has issued an open letter condemning antisemitic attacks in response to the Gaza crisis.

Addressed to “fellow Muslims”, the group of 18, including imams, businessmen and scholars, wrote that they were “deeply saddened” to hear of assaults on British Jews.

“We unreservedly condemn attacks on innocent British citizens and the desecration of all places of worship.”

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Rabbis' letter shows agony over conflict

By Simon Rocker, January 15, 2009

A newspaper letter signed by leaders of the UK’s two Progressive movements and the leading Jewish interfaith activist, revealed growing unease within the community over Israel’s military campaign.

Published in the Observer, it voiced concern that Israel’s actions could “strengthen extremists” while civilian casualties threatened to “undermine international support for Israel”.

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Offensive billboards removed

By Simon Rocker, January 15, 2009

Billboards advertising a nasal spray to help with impotence which were removed from Edgware after protests that they were offensive are being taken down in the rest of the country.

Orthodox Jewish councillor Brian Gordon was among objectors to the posters headlined “Want Longer Lasting Sex?”

The Advertising Standards Authority is considering more than a hundred complaints about the adverts.

But the Australia-based Advanced Medical Institute said it had ordered billboards for its product to be taken down before the ASA decision.

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UK aid floods in for troops

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2009

Around 3,000 parcels containing thermal wear and chocolate have so far been delivered to Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza in a campaign launched by the Zionist Federation and backed by the JC.

The ZF raised £45,000 in a week to buy the goods which were delivered with messages of solidarity via volunteers in Israel.

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It’s hard to be a Jew, especially in a recession

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2009

The harsh winds of recession have started to make an impact on the Jewish community. Donors have cut back pledges, synagogue bodies are laying off staff and one institution has already gone to the wall. MST College, in North-West London, which specialised in teacher training for strictly Orthodox schools, closed at the end of last month.

MST may not be the only casualty. Despite the falling Jewish population, the number of Jewish charities has been increasing at more than five per cent annually in the UK in recent years.

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Why Limmud is now the festival of festivals

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2009

At the closing gala of the recent Limmud conference in Coventry, the historian Deborah Lipstadt recalled an earlier conversation with some young people who were struggling to think of any contemporary Jewish heroes. But instead of suggesting a few examples herself, she did something else. She asked members of the audience to stand if they had been part of the Limmud organising team; next she asked anyone who had presented one of the 900-plus conference sessions; and so on, through to visitors from abroad; or anyone who had supported a Limmud event .

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Prosor urges UK Jews to speak out

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2009

The Israeli ambassador, Ron Prosor, has urged British Jews to speak out for Israel in the media.

Addressing a large audience on the penultimate day of the Limmud
education conference in Warwick University, he said: “It is important for you to stand up, especially today, when the state of Israel is unified on this issue of Gaza and make your opinion known — to the broadsheets, to television, to radio.”

Britain was an international media centre, he observed, and the public in West European countries were generally less sympathetic to Israel than their governments.

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Revelations, crossovers… and dance

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2009

It is 1.15am and a dozen students are sitting in an upstairs bar at Warwick University. The chill weather had frosted the cars outside hours before.

But rather than bottles of Bud or vodka and cranberries, they are armed with a sheet of passages from Maimonides, about to begin the latest of late-night sessions at Limmud’s annual winter conference.

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Honour for hero who saved 52,000

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2009

A Suffolk boarding school held a special service on Tuesday to commemorate an outstanding former pupil who saved the lives of nearly 52,000 Jews during the Second World War.

Prince Constantin Karadja of Romania, who attended Framlingham College from 1906-1908, was a consul-general for his country in Berlin in the early years of the war and an official in the Romanian Foreign Ministry from 1941-44.

Despite opposition from within his own government, he issued papers to protect Jews of Romanian nationality abroad who would have otherwise fallen into the hands of the Nazis.

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