Simon Rocker

Do our schools make us better Jews?

By Simon Rocker, April 22, 2010

Whatever the pros and cons of school league tables, they have probably done wonders for Jewish day schools. The proven academic track record of Jewish schools year in, year out, must be one reason why parents have been turning to them in ever-increasing numbers to the point that six out of every 10 Jewish children in the UK currently attend one.

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Lib Dem Lords deputy leader causes Board walkout

By Simon Rocker, April 19, 2010

Lord Wallace, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader in the Lords, has defended Baroness Tonge’s “over-emotional approach” to Palestinian rights in a wide-ranging address to the Board of Deputies on Sunday.

He explained that she has not been expelled from the party because “we do sadly find the current Likud Party very intolerant of all criticism”.

His remarks prompted a number of Deputies to walk out in protest.

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Lubavitch aids stranded air passengers

By Simon Rocker, April 16, 2010

Hendon’s Chabad House is expecting more than 100 guests at tonight’s Shabbat meal - most of them passengers grounded because of the volcanic dust cloud preventing flights taking off from London.

“We’ve had a lot of people calling up wanting a place to eat, a place to sleep,” said Chabad’s Rabbi Dovid Katz. “We have a massive pot of chicken soup ready.”

Having recently run a Seder for 300 people, mostly Israelis, in Golders Green, Rabbi Katz said: “It makes me feel like Pesach is happening again!”

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Cameron leaves out Israel

By Simon Rocker, April 16, 2010

The Movement for the Reform Judaism has invited the leaders of the three main parties to state their case on the movement's website.

First off is David Cameron and, interestingly, he makes no mention of Israel.

Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg's messages will appear over the next few days.

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ASA responds to protests over Western Wall ad ban

By Simon Rocker, April 16, 2010

The Advertising Standards Authority has responded to protests over its decision to ban an advertisement from the Israel Government Tourist Office in the UK which showed a picture of the Western Wall.

It posted a message on its web site to say that it had received “lots of feedback” to uphold an objection to the ad from a single anonymous complainant.

“We do appreciate that some people strongly disagree with our decision,” the ASA said.

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Orthodox delight as sex education plan binned

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

A strictly Orthodox schools spokesman has welcomed the shelving of new proposals on sex education.

The government was forced to drop them because there was insufficient time to get the measures through Parliament before the general election.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, convener of the National Association of Orthodox Schools, said: "I'm delighted they have been thrown out. It would have been impossible for strictly Orthodox schools to have complied with them. It was a collision course and it would not have been responsible to go down such a route."

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Amnesty slammed for Israel 'apartheid' event

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Amnesty International has defended its decision to hold a meeting on Israel's policy in east Jerusalem under the title of "Capital Murder", featuring the author of a book on Israeli "apartheid".

Journalist Ben White, who published Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide, last year, is due to speak alongside an East Jerusalem activist at the headquarters of the organisation's UK's branch in London next month.

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Mohel training body may close due to lack of cash

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

The organisation responsible for regulating Orthodox circumcision in the UK is facing closure because of lack of funds.

Representatives of the Initiation Society, which was founded in 1745, have been called to a meeting in London on Sunday to discuss its plight.

Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, who represents the United Synagogue on the society's general committee, said that one of the options would be to wind it up. "All I can say that it is essential to retain the society as there must be a body in the community to train mohelim and regulate their practice," he said.

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Ad watchdog bars Western Wall photo

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Britain's advertising watchdog has provoked a furious reaction after ruling that Israel cannot use a photograph of Judaism's holiest shrine, the Western Wall, in a travel advert.

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against a press ad produced by the Israel Government Tourist Office because it suggested that the Wall, the only relic of the Second Temple, was part of Israel.

Rabbi Barry Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio in the Chief Rabbi's cabinet, denounced the decision as "ludicrous, shocking and offensive".

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Interfaith cricket scheme praised in Leeds

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

An interfaith cricket scheme launched by Leeds Jewish Representative Council has been showcased nationally as a model of bridge-building between communities.

It is the recipient of a £12,000 "Faith in Action" grant from the government-sponsored Community Development Foundation. The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester has received a similar sum for a variety of interfaith ventures.

The Leeds scheme is one of 19 featured in Faith Matters, a new booklet from the CDF highlighting local success stories.

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Enter Lenny da Finchley

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Forget the Da Vinci Code. The Last Supper, the famous painting at the heart of Dan Brown's mystery bestseller, has an even greater secret to disclose: its creator, Leonardo Da Vinci, would have been able to make up a minyan.

That's at least according to a new booklet, Leonardo Da Vinci's Musical Gifts and Jewish Connections, by Italian musicologist Giovanni Maria Pala and his wife Loredana Mazzarella.

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Who knows tree?

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Inspired by David Baddiel's faith-change film The Infidel, Muslim journalist Sarfraz Mansour wrote engagingly in The Guardian of a month spent mixing in the Jewish community.

After a Purim knees-up at Rabbi Schochet's and a kosher cook-in with Denise Phillips, his adventures among the chosen ended at a JCC-sponsored "alternative Cedar".

Oh, those treacherous spell-checkers!

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Oxford job for BBC man

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

If Mark Damazer had followed in his father's footsteps, he would have been making kosher sausages in a deli in Willesden.

But after a sparkling BBC career - the last six as controller of Radio Four - he is leaving to become the new head of St Peter's College, Oxford.

He succeeds Professor Bernard Silverman, now the Home Office's chief scientific adviser (and an ordained priest, in case you ask).

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Roland to the hotel came

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Roland Loefler, once the JC's Swedish correspondent, has found new fame: as one of the faces of an ad campaign for a luxury UK hotel chain.

This portrait of him, specially painted by Rachel Constable, appeared in an ad for the Radisson Edwardian Hotels in The Times this week.

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A Vanishing Rabbi Reconsiders

By Simon Rocker, April 14, 2010

I recently pointed out the seemingly unusually high incidence of vacant United Synagogue pulpits. Well, one of the departing rabbis, Natan Levy, has reconsidered his planned exit and decided to remain with his community, Shenley for another year (after which he intends to make aliyah with his family - which is good for Israel but a loss for British Jewry).

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Questions quiz genius Alex Guttenplan didn't want

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

The Daily Mail dubbed him a "pin-up Einstein", the Guardian reviewer hailed him the "Lionel Messi of factual information".

Alex Guttenplan, a 19-year-old natural sciences student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge is the latest star to emerge from University Challenge.

In the final, screened earlier this week, he captained his college to a 315-110 point victory over St John's Oxford - a margin of victory for which "overwhelming" would be an understatement. Alex emerged victorious in an astonishing show of general knowledge, both arts and sciences.

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Picasso the wizo-lover

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

On first glance, this doodle of a menorah may seem of little significance but its creator was none other than Pablo Picasso.

In early 1958, he received a letter written on behalf of Wizo and he drew the menorah on the envelope to show his intention to help the organisation, according to Linda Morris, curator at Tate Liverpool - whose new exhibition, Picasso: Peace and Freedom, opens next month.

The artist gave not only money to Wizo but a painting to be sold at its Cannes conference in 1964.

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Come dine with me

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

Asked by a newspaper to name her "dream dinner party" guests, actress Felicity Kendal came up with a suitably eclectic band: Byron, Ghandi, Marlene Dietrich and Eddie Izzard were among her chosen, along with Israel's only female premier, Golda Meir.

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Smack me, it's a kiddush cup

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

Distant ritual memories returned to radical and highly secular poet Michael Rosen on a visit to London's revamped Jewish Museum. Reviewing it for the New Statesman, he was moved by the silver Judaica to write: "When my father died, among his things were two engraved silver cups. I had put them to one side, meaning to ask someone where, how and when they were used. And there they are! I smack my head, in the same way he used to smack his head: kiddush cups!

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Come drink with me

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

No, your eyes did not deceive you. Channel 4 has confirmed that, indeed, it was a bottle of Palwin's that appeared in the latest episode of its popular home cooking contest, Come Dine With Me.

Quite how our favourite tipple – I stretch the point – ended up on the table of host Dave, a Weston-super-Mare artist cum rickshaw pilot, is anyone's guess. No doubt it complimented his main course of jacket potato and home-made beans. Perhaps he can spare a glass for Michael Rosen (see below).

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