Simon Rocker



Don’t clap the barmitzvah boy

By Simon Rocker, November 3, 2009

Something happened in shul on Shabbat which I don’t recall before. When the barmitzvah boy finished his part, having leyned a sizeable chunk of sidrah and haftarah with aplomb, he was greeted with applause from among some of the congregation. Where has this new craze come from? Does anyone know? When rabbis finish their sermons, can we now expect the shammas to urge "Now, please show your appreciation in the customary way..."

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Equality watchdog: JFS admissions are racist

By Simon Rocker, October 30, 2009

Britain’s equality watchdog has weighed into the JFS court case, arguing that it should remain unlawful for Jewish schools to select children on the basis of whether their parents are Jewish.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission told the Supreme Court this week that it considered using parental descent to decide admissions as racial discrimination.

The commission “considers that all rules based on a person’s descent from a particular class of persons are properly considered to be racial rules,” it stated in a written submission to the court.

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School in radical Islam link

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

Haringey Council has suspended funding to an Islamic primary school whose backers have been linked to the radical group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT).

The Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation, which runs schools in Tottenham, north London, and in Slough, received £113,411 of government educational grants in 2007/8, according to a report from the Centre for Social Cohesion due out this week.

It named ISF trustees Farah Ahmed and Yusra Hamilton as members of HUT, a group which Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said he would ban.

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Chatham House man 'fired' because of pro-Israel book

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

The author of a new book sympathetic to Israel believes his views ultimately cost him his job at the UK’s most prestigious foreign-affairs think tank.

Robin Shepherd, whose new book, A State Beyond the Pale — Europe’s Problem with Israel explores hostility towards the Jewish state, says his pro-Israel position put him at odds with the leadership of London’s Chatham House.

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Top judges ask who is a Jew as JFS hits Supreme Court

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

Nine of the leading judges in England and Wales this week grappled with the fraught question of who is a Jew as the legal dispute over entry to JFS finally reached the highest secular court, the new Supreme Court.

A three-day hearing before a packed courtroom opened on Tuesday with far-reaching implications not only for other Jewish schools but potentially for those of some other faiths as well.

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Jenny Tonge lashed over fascist link

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

An anti-fascist group has demanded that Baroness Tonge withdraws from a pro-Palestinian conference in December which is also due to be addressed by a far-right Hungarian Euro-MP.

The ‘Nothing British About the BNP’ group challenged the Liberal Democrat peer over the planned participation of Kristina Morvai, leader of the nationalist Jobbik party in the European Parliament.

But Nasim Ahmed, researcher for the Palestinian Return Centre, denied that Mrs Morvai was “among invited guests” and said it deplored her “extremist” party.

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The best days...

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

When the history of the Jewish education in the UK comes to be written, scholars will be grateful for the Hasmo Legends series on the Melchett Mike website with its irreverent snapshots of Jewish school life beyond the official version (at least of Hasmonean Boys High School around the 1980s).
Here’s a flavour from a recent reminiscence by former teacher “Polly” Sue Schneider:

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Hats off to Lady Hayman

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

A haimishe start for the Chief Rabbi at the House of Lords. When the new Lord Sacks of Aldgate, who took his seat among his fellow peers for the first time on Tuesday, acknowledged the Lady Speaker with a ceremonial sweep of his hat, Baroness Hayman responded with a greeting yet to be formally recorded in the etiquette books: “Mazeltov”.

The Chief had just come from over the road at the Supreme Court, where he and Lady Sacks had sat in for half an hour or so on the JFS case on some rather grand chairs especially reserved for them.

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Refreshes the peyot

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

Allow me to introduce a beverage of indisputable uniqueness, the world’s first Cornish, organic, vegetarian and kosher-supervised beer.

Mashkeh Gold, brainchild of Emanuel Solinsky of Stamford Hill, has taken its place among Britain’s premier ales complete with Kedassia label.

Lest you wonder why anyone would want kosher, veggie beer, bear in mind that isinglass — from the non-kosher sturgeon — is used as a fining agent in the manufacture of some ales.

So now you know what the Adath Beth Din would settle down with to watch the footie — if they had a TV.

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Boy George back in shul

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

This month’s celebrity shul-goer award goes to former Culture Club chanteur Boy George. Not only was he in synagogue in St John’s Wood over Yom Kippur, but on Sunday he turned up unexpectedly at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue for a ’60s social evening with friends Philip Sallon and New York singer Coby Koehl.

The visiting George apparently enjoyed the retro fare: hot dogs and fish-paste sandwiches.

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Common goals

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

Cousins Assaf Gavron, an Israeli sci-fi award winner, and Jeremy Gavron, author of The Book of Israel, are not only both novelists. They both play for their respective national Writers’ football teams. Assaf skippers the Israeli XI, while Jeremy defends for England. When the two teams last met, Israel won 3-2.

The two will face up on a Jewish Book Week panel in spring. Let’s cut the lit-chat and have a penalty shoot-out.

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Bring Back Mr Balen

By Simon Rocker, October 26, 2009

In its coverage of the rioting on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the 10 o'clock News on BBC1 last night referred to the site being sacred both to Jews and Muslims. But while it referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque, it neglected to mention that this was also the Temple site.

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Madoff, Yiddishkeit and Money

By Simon Rocker, October 23, 2009

A powerful sermon from Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Baltimore on some of the financial scandals of the past year. You can read it here.

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UK and Israel launch joint science projects

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

The first beneficiaries of a scheme to promote academic ties between Britain and Israel, backed by the governments of the two countries, have been announced by the British Council.

Fifteen partnerships involving British and Israeli universities will share grants worth £365,000 in all, ranging from research into the causes of diseases such as Parkinson’s to the evolutionary history of the universe.

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JFS to plead case at Supreme Court

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

The legal battle over entry to JFS will reach a climax next week when a three-day hearing begins at the new Supreme Court in London on Tuesday.

As many as nine of the 11 judges at the new court — which supersedes the House of Lords — are listed to hear the case, compared with the usual five for most cases.

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Bevis Marks activists vow to keep fighting

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

Supporters of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha, who has left Bevis Marks Synagogue after nearly three months on suspension, remain determined to take Sephardi leaders to task for their handling of the affair.

A special meeting of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, which had been due yesterday to discuss a motion of no confidence in the mahamad (executive), has been postponed because of the postal strike.

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The BBC does JFS

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

There's a BBC radio documentary on Monday looking at the JFS entry case ahead of next week's Supreme Court hearing.

Here's the blurb:

"Being Jewish – Blood or Belief?
Monday, October 26th at 8pm on BBC Radio 4

One child’s battle to get a place at a Jewish state school ended in an explosive court judgment this summer, causing bewilderment and fury in parts of the Jewish community and provoking wider questions about faith schools and the right of the state to define religion.

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Goldstone: I believed it would be good for Israel

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

Q: Did you anticipate the strength of reaction to the report from Israel and the Jewish world?

A: I obviously expected criticism from all sides in consequence of the Report. I did not anticipate the depth of venom and ad hominem attacks and especially not from Israeli leaders, from whom I expected better. I expected that the substance of the allegations in the report would be the subject of their concern rather than [an attempt] to deflect attention from them by making unwarranted personal attacks on me.

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Goldstone: I was not a traitor to Israel

By Simon Rocker and Anshel Pfeffer, October 22, 2009

Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a controversial United Nations report highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, has defended his role in an interview with the JC.

The South African jurist said he was “a traditional Zionist” who found it hard to understand the suggestion that he had betrayed Israel by agreeing to lead the inquiry. “On the contrary, I believed that what I agreed to do would be in the interests of Israel and the region,” he said.

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Israel film venture has royal opening

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

Prince Edward was guest of honour at the London launch of a project to encourage teenage film-makers in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Rwanda.

Films Without Borders, the brainchild of TV producer Jill Samuels, will work in partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Foundation.

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