Simon Rocker



School entry conundrum

By Simon Rocker, October 26, 2010

Hardly a week goes by without us receiving an inquiry about Jewish school admissions.

It’s almost a year and a half since the courts forced Jewish schools to introduce new entry rules based on religious practice – and parents are still grappling with the consequences.

This week a letter came in from some anonymous “concerned parents” wondering if it was illegal for schools to use synagogue membership as one of their entry criteria.

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Ofcom rejects complaint againt Channel Four investigation into Islamic group

By Simon Rocker, October 25, 2010

The television watchdog Ofcom has rejected complaints against an investigation into an Islamic group broadcast by Channel Four’s Dispatches earlier this year.

The programme, presented by journalist Andrew Gilligan, looked at the Islamic Forum for Europe which it described as a “fundamentalist” group that had “secretly infiltrated” the Labour party and was “exerting influence” over Tower Hamlets Council in East London.

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Chief Rabbi is YouTube hit

By Simon Rocker, October 25, 2010

A video of the Chief Rabbi singing Oseh Shalom has just received its millionth Youtube visitor.

The song, set in a new version by Shabbaton choir director Stephen Levey, was recorded by leading producer Trevor Horn and featured three chazzans as well as children from the Moriah Jewish Day School.

“I’m delighted it has touched so many people,” said Lord Sacks. “It’s a piece of music that has lifted people’s spirits.”

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Lord Sacks criticised by progressive rabbi

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

A leading Progressive rabbi has launched a scathing attack on Lord Sacks and the British chief rabbinate.

Rabbi Dow Marmur said that although the outside world may regard Lord Sacks as representing British Jewry, his authority in the community was “dwindling”.

“When it is an incontrovertible fact…that Rabbi Sacks’ standing is declining, there are reasons to ignore him as much as possible,” Rabbi Marmur wrote in the new issue of Manna, the Progressive quarterly.

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A lion in the ladies' den

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Much in the media about Howard Jacobson following his Man Booker Prize success last week.

Apparently his mother thought The Finkler Question too Jewish to win: she was also upset not to see the closing words of his acceptance speech on TV when coverage switched instead to some surfacing Chilean miners.

The novelist was meanwhile picking a bone with Philip Roth, telling the Guardian that the American Roth "thinks English Jews have no balls. He's wrong about that - not least because he doesn't understand England or English Jews. He thought this is a hotbed of antisemitism."

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Not so easily impressed

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Independent editor Simon Kelner, who launches spin-off title i next week, must still be on a mission to prove himself. When appointed Indy chief in 1998, he rang his mother. Instead of the mazeltovs, she asked about his predecessor Rosie Boycott. "She's gone off to edit the Express," he said. "Now that's a job," she replied.

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Booba in the dug out

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson appeared, according to the Guardian’s Barney Ronay this week, in the “surprise role of managerial Jewish grandmother”. So can we expect to see him dispensing cups of chicken soup at half-time, pinching Wayne Rooney’s cheeks and saying “Don’t worry, bubbeleh”?

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I spy - Israel gets spooked

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

It's hard to find much optimism about the Middle East peace talks but at least it provides some entertaining hokum for the BBC's spy drama Spooks.

This week's episode featured some clandestine parleying between Israelis and Palestinians in London and an outlandish plot to bump off the American president who was flying in to join them.

Actor Paul Freeman wrestled manfully with his lines in Ivrit as chief Israeli negotiator, the super-semitically named Levi Cohen. But I don't think he will be picked to run a Spiro Ark ulpan.

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The Atheist at the Shul door

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

A delightful nugget from Rabbi William Wolff - regional rabbi in North-East Germany - from his column in the latest issue of Manna magazine:

"Forget Golders Green or Stamford Hill and do not even think of Mea Shearim if you want to meet unbending 28-carat frummkeit. Go instead in search of a bunch of atheists.

"Those who take that faith seriously admit of no compromise. Invited to a shool or church wedding? Forget it. They'll come for the drinks afterwards. Go to a funeral taken by a priest or rabbi? They will, only to stand a decent distance away from the back of the crowd.

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Board and JLC improving ties

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have agreed to set up a joint liaison committee to improve co-operation.

It will comprise three members each from the Board and JLC. The Board's representatives will be chosen from its executive and elected by deputies.

The Board's international division has also instigated a new "rapid response" group to co-ordinate reaction to events in Israel and a working group on European antisemitism. The Israel group will be chaired by Danny Handler, the European antisemitism group by David Safir.

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Jewish school choice narrows in Herts

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

Jewish parents in Hertfordshire could find it harder to get their children into a Jewish primary school next autumn owing to a change in national admission procedures.

From now on, they can apply for places only through their local council - and Hertfordshire permits only three choices, including schools outside the borough. Some councils allow six.

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Pro-Israel historian barred from Irish Middle East debate

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is to lodge a formal protest against Queen's University, Belfast after the withdrawal of an invitation to be a speaker at a Middle East debate on Monday night.

The staunchly pro-Israel JC columnist and historian, who is a guest professor at Ariel College on Israel's West Bank, had been invited to join the panel at a discussion on "Conflict in the Middle East" as part of the Belfast Festival.

But last Friday festival director Graeme Farrow told Professor Alderman that the invitation had been a "mistake" as he had not consulted the other panellists about it.

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Alderman 'disinvited' from Belfast Israel debate

By Simon Rocker, October 18, 2010

The historian Geoffrey Alderman says he has been “disinvited” from a panel debate on the Middle East at the Belfast Festival due to take place tonight.

The festival’s director Graeme Farrow asked him to join Professors Avi Shlaim of St Anthony’s College, Oxford and Beverley Milton Edwards, of Queens University, Belfast, as speakers at the event.

Professor Shlaim is a noted critic of Israeli policy, while Professor Edwards is the author of a recent study of Hamas.

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Defender of the Faith

By Simon Rocker, October 15, 2010

You may be happy to hear that the Jewish Tribune, whose future a few weeks ago seemed parlous, is still around - and still biting.

Here is its veteran columnist Ben Yitzchok, in the latest issue, taking a potshot at the Chief Rabbi over his Rosh Hashanah broadcast:

"During the debate Lord Sacks was asked by one of the critics whether he could be certain of Hashem's existence," he wrote.

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Jews back Muslim marriage visa challenge

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

A Muslim couple's legal challenge to the rules on marriage visas is being supported by the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

The Court of Appeal will hear a claim next week that it is unfair to stop foreign spouses from outside the European Union coming to Britain if they are under 21.

In November 2008, the last government raised the minimum age for marriage visas from 18 to 21, as a way to deter forced marriages.

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JLC in shift to boost Jewish legitimacy

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

The Jewish Leadership Council is to change its structure in order to give it greater legitimacy within the Jewish community.

Members appointed in a personal capacity, such as Lord Woolf and Sir Victor Blank, will no longer have a vote at the council but serve instead in an advisory capacity, as vice-presidents.

Instead, voting rights are to be restricted to leaders of the 16 Jewish organisations currently represented on the council.

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Friday night not valid for school admissions

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

A Reform rabbi has challenged the entry rules used by some Orthodox schools because they take into account synagogue attendance only on Saturday mornings and not Friday nights.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, of London's North-Western Reform Synagogue, said that the entry policy used by JFS was "galling".

But the school said that its entry criteria had been devised simply for administrative ease and not for any religious reasons.

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Barmitzvahs still on at school

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

King Solomon High School in Redbridge says it will continue to let pupils celebrate their bar and batmitzvahs in school.

Last week JFS in north London announced it was ending bnei mitzvah ceremonies at the request of local congregations which felt that they might discourage youngsters from having them in synagogue.

But King Solomon head Spencer Lewis said this week: "We have always offered our students the opportunity to celebrate their barmitzvah at the school. We believe it is important that we do this and almost all the families who take this up are not members of

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Human rights award for Israeli duo

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

You do not often see guests dancing at an Anglo-Jewish charity dinner.

But many were on their feet at the New Israel Fund's annual Human Rights awards on Sunday to celebrate this year's winners: Israeli singers Noa and Mira.

The duo, Achinoam Nini who is Jewish and Mira Awad who is Arab, represented Israel in the 2009 Eurovision song contest. They had been due to perform in London earlier this year at the Zionist Federation's Israel Independence concert but Ms Arad withdrew amid political controversy.

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Grade stands by the BBC

By Simon Rocker, October 14, 2010

The BBC may have spent more than a quarter of a million pounds resisting solicitor Steven Sugar's Freedom of Information campaign to force it to release the 2004 Balen report on its Middle East coverage.

But the corporation's stance is defended by its former chairman Michael Grade. The document had no place in the public domain, he said to a Board of Deputies lunch on Tuesday.

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