Simon Rocker

Miliband's maidel

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

If Gordon Brown were to stand down, leaving the leadership door open for David Miliband, then there could only be one candidate to head his publicity campaign.

It has to be our own Bryony Gordon, who in a recent column confessed her smittenness with the smooth-talking Foreign Secretary, calling him her "political porn star".

I have it on good word that both Mr Miliband's wife and sister-in-law loved the column and want more of the same.

Go for it, gal.

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Take a bow, Binnie the boxer

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Not so long ago, I heard of a female Jewish academic in the UK who practised an unusual sport, boxing, of which, sadly, she was too shy to speak in public.

But no such inhibitions from New York psychotherapist Binnie Klein, who not only took to the ring in her mid-fifties but has also written a book about it, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind.

According to her publicist, the experience yielded insights into her Jewish roots that would not have come "if she hadn't been drawn toward a pair of boxing gloves during a physical therapy session".

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The man who denied Heston

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Does anyone know the man in the white hat who struck a rare blow for kashrut on TV?

Put anyone Jewish on a food show and you'll usually see them scoffing shrimp, eel, lobster, pig's ear, pig's foot, pig's unmentionable or other piece of Shulchan Aruch-defying creature.

But when this market stallholder was invited, in this week's Heston's Feasts on Channel 4, to sample Heston Blumenthal's jazzed-up spam dish, he replied: "I am not allowed to eat that, I'm Jewish."

Is he a genuine, abstemious member of the tribe - or was he just having us on?

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No brief for Zionism

By Simon Rocker, May 4, 2010

The Jewish Tribune, the self-styled "voice of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy", carried this editor's footnote to a letter last week:

"Being the 'Voice of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy' does not mean we are obligated to accept anything the state of Israel does uncritically. We are frequently at odds with its treatment of the Charedi community and hold no brief for Zionism in any of its incarnations."

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'No service' at oldest shul for Board 250th

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Delicate negotations are continuing over the Board of Deputies' 250th anniversary in order to find a way to mark it to satisfy both Orthodox and non-Orthodox requirements.

Originally, the celebrations had been expected to begin with a commemorative service, on Sunday June 20, at Bevis Marks, the country's oldest synagogue, where the Board was founded in 1760.

Instead, in order to sidestep religious differences, the opening event will not be a service, but a special plenary session of the Board addressed by the lay leaders of different movements.

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'Zionist myth' book on prize shortlist

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

A controversial book which argues that the idea of a Jewish people descended from the ancient Israelites is a Zionist myth, has been shortlisted for British Jewry's main literary award.

The Invention of the Jewish People by Tel Aviv University Professor Shlomo Sand is one of four books up for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize.

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Who votes for whom in the Jewish community?

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Members of central Orthodox synagogues are far more likely to vote Conservative than those in Reform synagogues, according to research on the political attitudes of British Jews collected early this year.

Almost half - 48 per cent - who belonged to bodies such as the United Synagogue said they supported the Tories, with 22 per cent pro-Labour; in contrast, 34 per cent of Reform members preferred Labour, with 28 per cent in favour of the Conservatives.

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Jewish couple's bid for Paralympic horseriding

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

If Britain wins an equestrian medal at the next Olympics, the country may well have cause to thank Emma and Mike Phillips. The couple, together with leading showjumper Ben Maher, co-own champion steed Robin Hood.

But their aspirations go beyond Olympic glory: they are trying to mobilise support to ensure that Israel is represented in horse-riding at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In just six years, the couple have established a world class horse-breeding and Olympic-standard training centre at Quainton Stud, a few miles outside Aylesbury.

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Lubavitch library to be transformed

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

The place is overrun with books, scatterered in wobbly towers across tables and too numerous for the stacks that are meant to contain them. For years, a cramped room in Lubavitch HQ in Stamford Hill has been home to the country's largest Jewish lending library.

Threading my way through the narrowest of passages, I am assured by Faigie Rabin - who for many years has guided borrowers to their sought-after volume: "It's nothing like it was two months ago."

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Chief Rabbi to give lecture on conversion

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and Dayan Menachem Gelley, senior dayan of the London Beth Din, are to take part in a lecture series next month on one of the controversial contemporary topics - conversion.

They are among speakers who feature in a seven-part course on "understanding conversion" beginning next Wednesday night at the London School of Jewish Studies in Hendon.

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Bowing out of the Brits

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Let me extend good wishes for a long and healthy retirement to Alex Minn, secretary of the Initiation Society - the quaintly-named body that regulates circumcision - who is finally stepping down after 55 years in the role.

Reckoning himself the "longest serving Jewish civil servant", he turns 90 in September. "The time has come to make way for a younger man," he said.

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Barmitzvah Boy on DVD

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Maureen Lipman has long bewailed the BBC's failure to release her late husband Jack Rosenthal's plays on DVD.

At last, good news: independent distributors Acorn Media have taken on the challenge and are planning to bring out a box set of his TV classics such as The Barmitzvah Boy and The Evacuees early next year.

Acorn's Peter Smart said: "We monitor all the requests we get and Jack Rosenthal comes up time and time again."

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Acclaim for Israeli chef

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

Israeli cuisine has gained international recognition after Food & Wine magazine listed Tel Aviv's Yonatan Roshfeld at the top of its most promising chefs for 2010.

His first restaurant, Herbert Samuel, has a neo-Middle eastern flavour, while Spain meets Israel at the second, Tapas Ahad Ha'am. They are named after the first High Commissioner of Palestine and the champion of cultural Zionism.

A rather loftier choice of name than The Fat Duck or El Bulli.

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Shellfish singles

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

What is redder than a lobster?

Answer: a rabbi's face when he spots one on the menu of a Jewish organisation.

A reader from the North of England was exercised about an email shot he received from American JDate for a singles weekend in California next month.

Along with the promise of "incredible beach", "gorgeous accommodation", Martinis and women - apparently more numerous than men - there is, of course, the food: sushi, steaks and lobster.

Put the lid on the pot and give them a class in Leviticus, I say.

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Threatened prof wins out

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010

London-born academic David Newman, of Ben Gurion University, came in for some stick last autumn after appearing in a Channel 4 programme about the Israel lobby.

One Anglo governor of the university, Michael Gross, was so apoplectic that he emailed Professor Newman to say: "I will use whatever influence I have at BGU to have you thrown out… I hope you perish."

Lest the message was lost, he followed up with: "The sooner you are removed from BGU and the face of the earth, the better."

How much influence does the fulminating Mr Gross wield, you may wonder.

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The Mice and the Rabbi in the Cupboard

By Simon Rocker, April 28, 2010

I came across a reference on a blog to people keeping Reb Shayale in their cupboards to ward off mice.
I confess to not having the foggiest idea of what this meant, so I googled it up.
And for those similarly perplexed, here is the answer courtesy of the
Shtetlinks
website.

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Sex abuse in the yeshivah world

By Simon Rocker, April 26, 2010

While the Vatican continues to reel from revelations of priestly child abuse, closer to home a number of court cases have exposed alleged paedophilia in the strictly Orthodox world.
In a much commented-on blogpost, the Orthodox scholar Marc Shapiro has offered insight into why its incidence was previously covered up.
This is what Professor Shapiro writes (on the Seforim blog, see footnote 8 to the entry for April 15):

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The late, late Yom Ha'atzmaut

By Simon Rocker, April 23, 2010

For some, two days Yomtov is one day too many. But could the Israeli Embassy here be going even further by extending Yom Ha'atzamut to a fourth day?

Israel officially celebrated its independence on Tuesday - but the London embassy's annual knees-up for its friends was taking place today.

We await Rav Prosor's explanation.

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Rabbis call for action on Congo

By Simon Rocker, April 23, 2010

More than 50 rabbis including Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield and Liberal chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich have called on political leaders to make it an “absolute priority” for the next parliament to act to save war-ravaged Congo.

In a letter published in today’s Guardian, they say that the loss of life had reached nearly five and half million people by 2007 – with 45,000 still dying every month.

“What these shocking figures cannot convey is the scale of ongoing rape, torture and humiliation,” they write.

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ASA urged to reverse ban on Western Wall adverts

By Simon Rocker, April 22, 2010

The Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) is being urged to appeal against a ban on a holiday advert which described Judaism's holiest monument, the Western Wall, as part of Israel - after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complainant's claim that it was actually in the Occupied Territories.

The Board of Deputies said it was strongly pressing IGTO to contest last week's decision by the ASA.

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