Simon Rocker

Labour MPs under fire as they meet Hamas

By Simon Rocker, November 11, 2010

Labour Friends of Israel has condemned a meeting held by two of the party's MPs, one a frontbench spokesman, with representatives of Hamas.

Andy Slaughter, who was recently appointed by leader Ed Miliband to his shadow team on justice, and Jeremy Corbyn met Palestinian Legislative Council members Muhammad Totah and Ahmad Atoun in Jerusalem at the weekend.

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US Jews call for kindness

By Simon Rocker, November 11, 2010

A leading American Jewish organisation has launched a campaign to get Jews to speak more kindly to each other, alarmed by the fractious tone that has crept into community debate.

More than 150 rabbis and community leaders have signed up to the Statement of Civility issued by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which wants to encourage a "respectful and healthy debate" without acrimony.

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The light and the dark

By Simon Rocker, November 10, 2010

Every few years, there is a renewed campaign to change our clocks in winter.
Instead of putting back the clocks in autumn, as we did just the other week, we should allow an extra hour of morning darkness in order to enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the evening. For one thing, it would reduce traffic accidents after school, say the proponents.

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Praise for prizewinning Israeli medical organisation

By Simon Rocker, November 6, 2010

A leading Israeli medical organisation has won a prize for environmental protection from the International Public Relations Association.

Representatives of Maccabi Healthcare Services received their Golden World Award in London on Friday for a campaign to collect medicines beyond their expiry date.

Since the launch of the initiative 18 months ago, around 240,000 packages containing seven million pills have been collected from Maccabi community clinics around Israel.

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European Jewry vibrant and growing, says report

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

When I searched "European Jewry" recently in our electronic archive, the results came accompanied with words like "Holocaust" or "annihilation". It is as if the Jewish communities of the continent could only be defined in reference to the catastrophic past.

So it is refreshing to see a report which is unashamedly upbeat: European Jewry is "confident, vibrant and growing", according to the The 2010 Survey of New Jewish Initiatives.

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Dastardly Dick's dig

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

The Board of Deputies' 250th anniversary bash with Tony Blair has sold so well, it's being moved to a larger venue.

Expect further snarls from Indie columnist Richard Ingrams, who recently had a go at Blair and the Board, calling it a "body of self-appointed worthies who make it their business to defend the interests of their country against its critics". (By "their country", he means "Israel".)

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Tour teens' Reform voucher aid

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

Every teenager who has had a bar- or batmitzvah in a Reform synagogue is to be given a £100 voucher towards the cost of an Israel summer tour.

Recipients will be able to redeem their voucher if they opt to go on tour with RSY-Netzer. The new scheme has been sponsored in memory of Tilda Warshaw, a prominent Emunah member who died last year.

RSY worker Alma Smith said: "A bar or batmitzvah is an important step along a young person's Jewish journey and we are delighted that we can be a part of such a special occasion."

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Reform revises cash plan

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

The Reform movement has had to revise hopes of recording a small surplus this year - and is instead forecasting a deficit of £32,600.

Reform spends around £3,150,000 and had budgeted at the year's start for a profit of £28,600. Treasurer Hugh Lask told Reform council members at Sunday's quarterly meeting in London: "The forecast reflects the tough conditions in which we find ourselves."

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Hackney councillors to support local Limmud

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

Two strictly Orthodox Hackney councillors are due to speak at the mini-Limmud in the borough on Sunday.

Liberal Democrat Ian Sharer and Conservative Simche Steinberger will be part of a panel discussion on how their Jewish values led them into politics.

Also joining them are two other local Jewish councillors, Linda Kelly and Barry Buitekant of Labour.

Mr Sharer said: "I have never done this before. But I am pleased to be invited and happy to go along to speak about my role as a councillor.

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Reform leader Bayfield to retire early

By Simon Rocker, November 1, 2010

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, is to step down six months earlier than expected at the beginning of January.

The leader of the movement since 1995, he had been due to retire at the end of June shortly before his 65th birthday, with executive director Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand becoming chief executive - and the first female rabbi to be professional head of a British synagogue body.

But Rabbi Bayfield told members of the Reform council yesterday that the handover had gone so smoothly that he felt able to leave earlier.

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Lord Sacks tackles tax dodgers

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has criticised people who try to avoid paying tax in the current economic climate.

Addressing the annual dinner of the Jewish Assocation of Business Ethics in London on Tuesday night, he said: "I think individuals have to say 'if I belong in this society, I have to share in the fate of this society'.

"Where everyone else is suffering, it is morally wrong to say 'I am going to take myself out of it'. Even if you can justify it, the fact is we're all in this together."

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JNF settles £700,000 Sherling dispute

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

JNF UK has reached a last-minute deal with a former board member it had sued in the High Court for nearly £700,000.

The charity claimed that Irish businessman Maurice - usually known as Charlie - Sherling owed the money, to cover legal fees the JNF had incurred in its previous conflict with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL).

But lawyers for the JNF and Mr Sherling managed to thrash out an agreement shortly before Mr Justice Mann took the bench at the start of a scheduled five-day hearing on Tuesday.

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Why the star of David is rising across Africa

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

Timbuktu: the name is so steeped in mystique that many people think it is an imaginary rather than a real place. Historically, the city in the republic of Mali has been a centre of Islamic civilisation in Africa. It is also home to an emerging Jewish community.

According to local lore, some of the Jewish traders who crossed the Sahara centuries ago settled there but their descendants were forcibly converted to Islam. Now a new generation wants to return to their roots and openly identify as Jews. They have taken the Hebrew name Zakhor, "remember".

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The Long Distance Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, October 27, 2010

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, of the New North London Synagogue, is in the first week of a three-week sponsored walk from Frankfurt to Finchley, accompanied by his dog Mitzpah.

You can read about the journey on the blog as they go along on Rabbi Wittenberg's blog Carrying the Flame.

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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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