Simon Rocker

Yom Kippur, the cool fast

By Simon Rocker, September 21, 2010

Is the whole world turning Jewish? Here's Peaches Geldof (right) sporting a kippah at a pre-Yom Kippur meal with of-the-faith boyfriend, film director Eli Roth, in a picture posted on Twitter. (Or else she was indulging in a little papal emulation).

Another celebrity faster was actress and Kabbalah student Demi Moore who joined Jewish husband Ashton Kutcher in a day of abstinence before they ended their fast in Applebees Grill Bar.

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Grainy day rabbis

By Simon Rocker, September 21, 2010

Come September and naturally the learned men of the London Beth Din are thinking about Jewish festivals: Pesach. Top dayan Menachem Gelley was out the other week behind the wheel of a combine harvester, gathering wheat for next spring's shemurah matzah.

The LBD certainly gets out and about in the cause of kashrut, from inspecting guar gum in Pakistan to keeping the kitchens safe from treif on Yeshiva University's annual Mediterranean cruise. The name of the boat was Costa Fortuna - no reflection, I'm told, on the supervision fees.

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The Cohen coat explained

By Simon Rocker, September 21, 2010

I can now tell you how the "Cohen Coat", recently featured here, got its name.

Makers All Saints called the garment after idiosyncratic American filmmakers, the Coen brothers. Fortunately, their style is better than their spelling: the cinematic duo go sans h.

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JNF names acting chief executive

By Simon Rocker, September 17, 2010

David Goodman, outgoing executive director of the Chief Rabbi's office, has been appointed acting chief executive of JNF UK.

The charity has also recruited Dan Sacker, once chairman of the Union of Jewish Students, from top PR firm Weber Shandwick, as director of communications.

The hiring of Mr Goodman, a former executive director of Kisharon Day School, follows last month's departure of Elliot Conway, who served as chief executive for six months.

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Hero or faker? Debate over Nazi-hunter Wiesenthal

By Simon Rocker, September 17, 2010

Fresh controversy has erupted over the reputation of the legendary Nazi-hunter, Simon

A new biography of him by Israeli historian Tom Segev was this week dismissed as a "whitewash" by Guy Walters, the British author who challenged Wiesenthal's credibility in his own book Hunting Evil last year.

Mr Walters recently branded Wiesenthal "one of the biggest conmen of the 20th century" for lying about his wartime experiences and exaggerating his role in tracking down war criminals.

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Ahmadinejad and the Cyrus Cylinder

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

The British Museum has lent Iran one of its most precious objects, the Cyrus Cylinder containing the decrees of the sixth century BCE Persian Emperor Cyrus.

The cuneiform charter celebrates the emperor’s decision to allow deported peoples to return to their homeland –which, of course, included the Jews, exiled by the Babylonians, who were able to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.

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School looks to match alumni donation

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

A former Hasmonean High pupil has shown his appreciation of his old school by offering a donation of up to £900,000.

But to get the full amount from the anonymous donor, the north London school will have to match it with a similar sum from other sources.

"For every £1 the school raises, the donor will give £1 up to £300,000 a year over the next three years," said Hasmonean's fundraising manager Dvora Kriss. "We are approaching other donors and we hope other alumni will follow suit."

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US reserve Israel burial spots

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

The United Synagogue has received the first reservations for its newly acquired burial plots in Israel.

US burial head Melvyn Hartog told the organisation's council on Monday that a £1,000 deposit had been made for two plots in the Eretz Hachayim cemetery near Bet Shemesh.The US has bought an initial 50 spaces in the cemetery, which is situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Additionally, arrangements can be made for US members to be buried in 14 other Israeli cemeteries.

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Rabbi warns: 'don't exaggerate antisemitism'

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

West London Synagogue senior rabbi Mark Winer warned against exaggerating the threat of antisemitism in the UK in his final Rosh Hashanah address to his congregation.

Although antisemitism was widespread, "we need to acknowledge that antisemitism does not really pose that much of a threat to Jews on a day-to-day basis," he said.

In general, he believed that "we Jews overestimate the threat of antisemitism as a part of our historically justified paranoia. But we run a serious risk of obsessive focus on it."

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Whoopi at the wedding

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

Suzy and Justin Kennedy enjoyed unexpected celebrity congratulations at their recent marriage.

American actress Whoopi Goldberg, who is starring in the West End musical Sister Act, had just returned to her London hotel, Claridge's, when she ran into the newlyweds on their way to the reception.

"She said she was sure she would not be the only Goldberg at the wedding," said Justin.

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Soros and J-Street

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

Contrary to popular belief, George Soros, who has just given $100 million to Human Rights Watch, has not funded the dovish Israel lobby group J-Street. The financier, who has voiced trenchant views on Israel in the past, feared that the new group might suffer through association with him.

Write me a cheque, George, and I'll happily bear the stigma.

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Blundering Berlusconi

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

Dipping the apple into the honey this year was Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was among Rosh Hashanah guests of Israeli Ambassador Gideon Meir in Rome. He assured his host of his strong friendship with Israel, especially after visits to Yad Vashem and Auschwitz.

Which didn't stop the elderly Lothario causing uproar a couple of days later when he attempted a "joke" about Hitler at a youth event: the Führer is discovered alive by supporters. "I will return," he tells them, "but on one condition... this time, I will be evil, right?"

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Spicing up the suburbs

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

Lots of excitement at one Orthodox synagogue in London at Rosh Hashanah where a man arrived for evening prayers to deliver a rather unseasonal greeting. Mounting the bimah, he begun to accuse a fellow worshipper of having an affair with his wife.

He was quickly ushered out by the rabbi, leaving others to dine out on the tale over the following days.

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Tamara Drewe visits Israel

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

After all the talk of boycott in the film world, kippot off to director Stephen Frears, whose new Britcom Tamara Drewe will open the Haifa International Film Festival next week. (Frears only discovered he was Jewish in his late 20s at his grandmother's 90th birthday party.)

Meanwhile, no honey cake for Sunday Times columnist India Knight, who tweeted this week that she has turned down spa trips to China and Israel.

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Ashmolean leaves Judaism out of world faiths show

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Britain's oldest museum, the Ashmolean in Oxford, has defended the exclusion of Judaism from a panel on world religions.

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a Jewish academic who lives in the city, had believed the display would be changed after he questioned the omission.

But the museum, which reopened last November after a major redevelopment, believes it would be "inappropriate" to alter the wording.

It added that a new "Jewish trail" linking items of Jewish interest in the museum was in the pipeline.

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New media for the Jewish new year

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

It's called 10Q - and it's a novel way of getting into the High Holy Day mood.

Standing for "Ten Questions", it is the initiative of a group of young Americans trying to adapt Jewish ideas for the digital generation.

All you have to do, explains Adam Clyne, from Manchester - who is helping to promote the project in the UK - is to register on a website before Rosh Hashanah.

Over the Ten Days of Repentance, you will be emailed a question each day. "Some will ask you about what you achieved over the past year, some about your hopes for the coming year," Mr Clyne explained.

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Jewish charities should fear new equality law

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

The new Equality Act, which comes into force next month, could expose Jewish charities to a higher risk of discrimination claims, the Jewish Leadership Council has warned.

A paper circulated by the JLC says that the new act could have "unexpected consequences" on community life.

Last year courts applied race relations law in order to prevent Jewish schools from choosing pupils on the basis of their parentage. The use of an established law to challenge Jewish school admissions had been unforeseen by communal authorities.

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Israeli at boycott conference: 'it's legitimate'

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Antony Lerman, the former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, has defended his decision to a speak at an event organised by Jews in favour of boycotting Israel.

He said his appearance at the Jews and Palestine conference held by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBig) in London on Saturday did not indicate support for their views.

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Avram Grant out for West Ham Stoke game

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Avram Grant is unlikely to be on the touchline on Yom Kippur when West Ham play at Stoke.

The manager's team is in trouble. After only three games at the start of the season, West Ham have no points.

Mr Grant, who was in Israel last week, was tight-lipped about his Yom Kippur plans, but it is thought he will not travel to Stoke.

The West Ham boss, although not religious, has always observed Yom Kippur in the past.

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Two 'free' primary schools in the pipeline

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Two new Jewish primaries are hoping to be among the first wave of "free schools" introduced by the coalition as part of its key electoral commitment to extend parental choice.

Both schools, a modern Orthodox primary in Mill Hill, north west London, and an "inclusive" primary in the north London borough of Haringey, plan to open as early as September 2011, alleviating the acute pressure on Jewish primary places in parts of the capital.

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