Simon Rocker

Stamp sale raises £500k for charities

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

A renowned international philatelist who died in London last year has left his entire stamp collection to two Israeli charities.

Sotheby’s is to auction the collection, worth around £500,000, bequeathed by David Barton to the Weizmann Institute and Shaare Zedek Medical Centre.

Mr Barton, who died aged 67 in March, was a scientist at Westminster University and a member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood. He left his entire estate, of which the stamp collection is the centrepiece, to the two charities. The auction is on March 6.

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The demon trap getting historians all fired up

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

If you are looking for a novel half-term activity, then it would be hard to beat the ancient art of demon-trapping. On Tuesday and Thursday next week, the British Museum in London, in association with the Jewish Museum, is running family workshops where you can make an incantation bowl like the ones used by our Babylonian ancestors to keep unwanted spirits at bay.

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“Human dignity affronted in Gaza”

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, briefly alluded to recent events in Gaza in his presidential address to the Church of England Synod today. This is what he had to say:

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Church of England should teach the Old Testament

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Here's one reason why some Christians perhaps struggle to understand Jewish identification with Israel. It's a short passage (para 81) from a report on interfaith relations and Christian mission due to be discussed at the Church of England Synod on Thursday. I should add the context is nothing to do with Jews and Israel but it is revealing, nonetheless:

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UK Jews are viewed through Israel’s image

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Writing on Jewish-Christian relations in the most recent edition of the Anglican newspaper, Church Times, Reform movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield touches on a sensitive issue.
A newsreader's use of the phrase "Jewish state" reminds him that "Jews are defined significantly today by the image of the Israeli. Even if we wanted to, and most of us do not, we cannot escape that".
The full version of his article is only available online to subscribers. But here's another section:

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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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