Simon Rocker

Jewish schools can teach Zionism, says government

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

The Department of Education has rejected objections from an Islamic campaign group to the teaching of Zionism in state-aided Jewish schools.

Ghulam Abbas, of the department's community cohesion unit, replied to the group, Engage: "We have no evidence to suggest the schools you highlight in your letter are teaching inappropriately or indoctrinating pupils."

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Top dayan answers conversion questions

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

The London Beth Din's most senior judge has openly addressed one of the most sensitive areas of its work - conversion - in a public lecture.

Dayan Menachem Gelley spoke for nearly two hours, answering questions for half the time, as the concluding speaker in a series on conversion at the London School of Jewish Studies.

Explaining the Beth Din's policy, he said that every convert had to mirror the Israelites' original acceptance of the 613 commandments at the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

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Preview of Polish Jewish museum

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

Warsaw's Museum of Polish Jewish history is not due to open until 2012, but a London audience enjoyed a sneak preview.

Kathy Jones of museum designers Event Communications led a virtual tour, using artist's images of the building, which is now under construction.

Her presentation formed part of an international conference on Jewish links with Warsaw at the Institute of Jewish Studies, attached to University College London's department of Hebrew and Jewish studies.

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Reform launches review of its Israel policy

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

The Reform movement has set up a working party to review its policy on Israel.

It would help give a "distinctive voice" on Israel in "challenging, difficult and possibly epoch-making times," movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield told its annual meeting at the Sternberg Centre in London on Sunday.

The working party will be chaired by Reform vice-chair Jenny Pizer, who said Reform engagement with Israel was "greater than ever".

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Interview: Michael Meacher

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

While some of his fellow MPs were busy racking up expenses, Michael Meacher was preoccupied with astronomical figures of a different kind, such as the rate of expansion of the universe, or its temperature moments after the Big Bang.

The veteran left-winger, who entered the Commons 40 years ago last month, has written a book, whose title, boldly alluding to Darwin, proclaims its intellectual ambition. The product of 15 years' work on and off, it asks the question: is there a purpose to the universe or are we all here by chance?

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Reform's early kick off

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

The English soccer team may be cloven-hooved, but at least Reform leaders showed nimble feet. With the movement's annual meeting scheduled for Sunday afternoon, right in the middle of England's World Cup game against Germany, they hastily brought forward the meeting, slashed the agenda and gave strict orders to end well before the start of the match.

After the English performance, many of those who dashed home to watch must have wondered whether it was worth the effort. But movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield can draw some consolation: at least a West Ham player scored.

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Bad call for shul visitors

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

Bar- and bat-mitzvahs may bring lots of people to shul but visitors still appear to struggle with Shabbat etiquette.

Security staff at one United Synagogue confiscated a staggering 45 mobile phones and two cameras at the door on a recent Saturday morning.

In another instance, the warden of a synagogue was asked by a visitor if his shul had Wi-Fi. But the biscuit must be taken by the man who managed to smuggle his mobile in to the service and was caught texting for a takeaway.

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Champion envoy

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

After her car was set upon by protesters during a visit to Manchester University, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador, Talya Lador-Fresher, may be glad her tour of duty is coming to an end here. But she can content herself with a job well done: Israel’s Foreign Ministry has just voted her its employee of the year for 2009.

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Game on at Chanucah

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

Here's how to while away those midwinter nights later in the year: a new board game for those who devour doughnuts and latkes rather than mince pies.

Maccabees pits Judah and his band of brothers against the evil Seleucids as they try to gather enough oil to relight the menorah.

The Chanucah game is being previewed next Tuesday at the "Christmas in July" exhibition in London's Camden Centre.

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Vanessa’s shrinking feeling

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

Vanessa Feltz hopes finally to have beaten those unwanted pounds. The radio hostess revealed this week that, after various failed diets, she has already shed 16lb from more than 16 stone, thanks to her new gastric band. The device that she believes can convert her into a “model of abstinence” was fitted by a Dr Focquet of Zottegem in Belgium.

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Niche service

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

When my colleague Nick Herman asked Amazon to deliver an order to the JC, the online company gave him the following tracking number: YID54857.

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Government rebuffs Islamic group

By Simon Rocker, June 29, 2010

The Department of Education has rejected objections from an Islamic campaign group to the teaching of Zionism in state-aided Jewish schools.

Ghulam Abbas, of the department’s community cohesion unit, replied to the group, Engage: “We have no evidence to suggest the schools you highlight in your letter are teaching inappropriately or indoctrinating pupils.”

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David Cameron's Bubbemeises

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2010

There's a special family connection between the Prime Minister and bubbemeises - old wives' tales.

David Cameron's 16th-century Jewish ancestor Elijah Levita was the author of the Bovo Bukh, a Yiddish version of the romances that were popular in Europe at the time. Bovo refers to the knightly hero of the story, the good Sir Bevis.

The Bovo Bukh later became known as the Bove-Mayse, the Tale of Sir Bevis - and hence bubbemeise (which is thus not derived, as often believed, from bubba).

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Religious code for doctors

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

Doctors should be sensitive to the religious needs of terminally ill patients and their families, according to new guidelines issued by the General Medical Council, the regulatory body for the medical profession.

The guidelines, which take effect on Thursday, say patients may want to discuss what happens to their body after death, in accordance with their beliefs and values. "You must treat the patient's body with dignity and respect," they state. "You should make sure, wherever possible, that the body is handled in line with their personal religious or other beliefs."

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Court stops solicitor publishing report on BBC Middle East bias

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

Steven Sugar, the London solicitor battling to force the BBC to release a report into its Middle East coverage, says his latest legal defeat does not spell the end of his campaign.

On Wednesday, the Appeal Court rejected his latest call for the 2004 Balen Report to be made available.

Mr Sugar, who first applied to the Information Commissioner early in 2005 and has since fought several court actions, described the decision as "very disappointing. It's a very unbalanced judgment".

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Parent disputes Moriah admissions policy

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

A family has complained that their son has been denied a place at the Moriah Jewish Day School nursery in Pinner, Harrow in September because the school miscalculated the distance from their home.

The boy's father, who did not wish to be named, said that other children who lived further away from the school had been placed higher than their son in the queue for 26 places.

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Stacey, the embassy pin-up

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

Stacey Solomon has a fan at the Israeli Embassy: press attache Amir Ofek has been sporting photos of the Dagenham diva as a screensaver on his computer.

The X Factor finalist is due to sing at the Zionist Federation's late Israel Independence Day concert in London on Sunday - delayed because the volcanic ash crowd prevented the travel of Israeli guests in April, notably headline act Achinoam Nini, aka Noa.

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Keegan and the evil eye

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

Was TV soccer pundit skipper Kevin Keegan wearing a chamsa(a hand-shaped amulet to foil the evil eye) during the England v Algeria game? Our resident charm squad is pursuing inquiries with a so far coy ITV.

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Play it again, Shlomo

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

South Hampstead’s African-born Rabbi Shlomo Levin apparently offered to blow a vuvuzela for a shofar at Rosh Hashanah if South Africa or England won the World Cup. What greater motivation could England want?

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And yes, pigs will fry...

By Simon Rocker, June 24, 2010

Irayne Paikin certainly knows how to make a sausage sizzle but I'm afraid I can't recommend you her prize-winning bangers.

Not only do they fail to carry the imprimatur of the London Beth Din - but some are made from pork.

Although Irene, 44, grew up in a kosher household in north London, she fled the city with her husband to Todenham Manor Farm in the Cotswolds, where they rear cattle and pigs and run a butchery.

Being Jewish remains "a real part of my identity", she says. "Every Friday night we have Shabbat on the farm, and we get fresh challah delivered."

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