Simon Rocker

Isle of Man's lucky captive

By Simon Rocker, May 13, 2010

An Unusual exhibition is running on the Isle of Man, featuring the art of refugees from Nazi Germany who were interned by the British there during the Second World War. Just one of the 36 exhibitors is alive today, Ernst Eisenmayer, who will turn 90 in September.

Interned when he was 19, he left for Italy in 1975, but an account of his experiences was read at the opening of the exhibition, which marks the 70th anniversary of the internment camps.

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Amnesty steps up action against Israel

By Simon Rocker, May 13, 2010

Amnesty International’s UK branch is continuing to highlight Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with an exhibition planned in London for next month directed against its security barrier.

“Against the Wall” features art and graffiti on the wall in the West Bank “which cuts through Palestinian communities with devastating effect”, according to the publicity.

The event follows a meeting last night on Israeli policy in East Jerusalem entitled “Capital Murder: Inside the Israeli authorities’ regime of discrimination and control in Occupied East Jerusalem”.

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Lady Jakobovits has died

By Simon Rocker, May 7, 2010

Lady Jakobovits, 81, the widow of the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, died in hospital on Friday.

Her family had earlier asked people to recite prayers on her behalf as she lay in intensive care in the Royal Free Hospital in North West London. An estimated 2800 mourners gathered outside her home in Hendon on Sunday afternoon to pay their respects as the cortege set off for Jerusalem, where she was due to be buried on Monday.
The family will be sitting shiva until Friday at 51 Shirehall Park NW4, from 9am until evening services at 9.30 pm.

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"Someone is going to get killed"

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

A disturbing portrait of religious intolerance in Israel from the blog of Rabbi Natan Slifkin, the famous "Zoo Rabbi":

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School may get 40% non-Jewish entry

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

King Solomon High School in Essex is facing an increase in non-Jewish students this autumn in line with the predicted impact of more Jewish school places available elsewhere.

As many as 40 per cent of first year entrants to the state-aided comprehensive could be non-Jewish, according to rumours circulating at a Jewish education conference last week.

Spencer Lewis, King Solomon's head teacher, declined to release figures this week, but suggested that the composition of the intake would be exceptional this year.

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Chief Rabbi backs a reversal of JFS ruling

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, will back a unilateral move by Orthodox groups to reverse the JFS court ruling if it proves impossible to achieve broader communal agreement.

However, his office stressed in a statement that he still believed the Board of Deputies to be the "most appropriate body" to pursue a change in the law.

Jewish schools were forced to introduce new entry rules last year after the Supreme Court upheld an Appeal Court decision that schools could no longer choose pupils on the basis of whether their mother - or father - was Jewish.

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Analysis: A Call from the other side of the Street

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

The launch of J Call, bolstered by the support of the charismatic Bernard Henri Levy, will increase speculation about the prospects for a similar organisation here.

Rumours have been circulating for months of moves to set up a British equivalent to J Street, the alternative Israel lobby that changed the political landscape of American Jewry two years ago.

There was a swell of interest in the appearance of Daniel Levy, from
J Street's advisory council, at last year's Limmud conference, where he spoke on "pro-Israel advocacy in the era of urgent de-occupation".

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UJIA hosts conference on education

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

UJIA's first conference on research in Jewish education proved so popular that organisers had to find an alternative venue.

"I thought it would be a small seminar for 20 people," said UJIA research and evaluation director Helena Miller. "In the end, we had 100." The event was due to be held at UJIA's Kentish Town headquarters but had to be moved to Avenue House in East Finchley.

Believed to be the first conference devoted to the subject in the community, it drew educators from secular to strictly Orthodox.

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Tikkun Obama

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

Once tikkun olam was an obscure mystical idea known only to Kabbalists, now it's the official culture of American Jewry.

In a White House proclamation announcing Jewish Heritage Month this month, Barack Obama saluted Jewish Americans who "today… carry on their culture's tradition of tikkun olam - 'to repair the world' - through good deeds and service". 

He signed it "in the year" 2010 rather than the usual formula, "in the year of our Lord".

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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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