Simon Rocker

Chicken soup for Samantha

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Samantha Spiro, fresh from winning the Best Female Comedy Breakthrough Award for her portrayal of the dopey aunt in the sitcom Grandma's House, is heading for a more serious role this summer.

She will star as the Jewish matriarch Sarah Kahn in the Royal Court's long-awaited revival of Sir Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup With Barley. The play, set amid the turbulent politics of the 1930s, was last staged by the Royal Court 50 years ago.

Spiro appeared in its sequel Roots as the non-Jewish Beattie a decade ago but she returns to Wesker, several awards and two daughters later.

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Banksy's swap with Borat

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

It must be the deal of the year. Sacha Baron Cohen has acquired a Banksy painting, said to be worth £100,000, to hang in his LA flat in return for giving the secretive street artist one of the moustaches used in the filming of Borat.

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The Baroness and the Chief Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2011

I wrote last week that the appointment of Baroness Neuberger as senior rabbi of West London Synagogue would give the Progressive movement "a louder voice on the national stage" and that she "may even give the Chief Rabbi a run for his money".

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Lithuania accused over Holocaust event

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2011

Controversy has broken out over a conference, jointly sponsored by the Lithuanian government, on the country's wartime record which is due to take place in London next week.

A petition expressing concern at the Lithuanian government's attitude to the Holocaust has been signed by among others Lord Janner, Denis McShane MP and Rabbi Barry Marcus, who organises Holocaust education trips.

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Interview: Baroness Neuberger

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

Some may have been surprised at Baroness Neuberger's return to the pulpit after 22 years.

But the new senior rabbi of West London Synagogue - whose selection was ratified after a ballot of its 1,600 members this week - revealed that the move has been in her mind for "a long time".

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Wineman's olive branch in Israel row

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman has offered to meet signatories of a petition calling on the Board to declare support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More than 1,000 people signed an online letter after Deputies last month rejected a resolution in support of two states which had been proposed by its executive.

The petition was organised by Hannah Weisfeld, who is planning the launch of a new Israel campaign group inspired by the American J Street.

Ms Weisfeld said the signatories included many "professional and lay leaders of our community".

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Herzl's priest recognised after 80 years

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

For 80 years the body of the Reverend William Henry Hechler lay in an unmarked grave at the edge of New Southgate Cemetery in north London.

But on Monday the Anglican priest, a supporter of Theodor Herzl's quest to found a Jewish state, finally received due recognition.

Israeli and Christian representatives witnessed the unveiling of a tombstone to mark a "lover of God… and His Ancient People" and "a tireless adversary against antisemitism".

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Celebrity crackers

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

The humble matzah has found its way into the kitchen of at least one celebrity chef. Jamie Oliver has included it as an ingredient in a smoked haddock chowder in his latest cookbook.

But this is not a dish you would want to serve up at Pesach. Jamie's kosher cracker keeps some distinctly unkosher company: tiger prawns.

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No smiles from Mr Mubarak

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

Former Sky News presenter Vivien Creegor recalls hosting an event to raise the profile of Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni and long thought his preferred successor to rule the Arab republic.

Ms Creegor has chaired international conferences and was introduced to Gamal through his mother Suzanne. Mubarak junior was scheduled to do a question and answer session with the foreign press in Cairo's main sports stadium.

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Singing the Jews

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

There will be some Jewish interest beyond Israel in this year's Eurovision song contest. After Britain's recent dismal showings in recent years, Brit-winning boyband Blue, whose line-up includes our very own Anthony Costa of Edgware, have been chosen to revive our national hopes.

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Rabbi confirmed in West London post

By Simon Rocker, February 1, 2011

Rabbi Julia Neuberger said she was thrilled to become the next senior rabbi of West London Synagogue after a ballot of members confirmed her appointment.

Baroness Neuberger, who will join part-time in March with the aim of becoming full-time in September, said: “This is the leading Reform synagogue in the UK and it’s a huge privilege to be asked to lead it.”

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Rabbi Julia

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2011

Unless there is some unforeseen rebellion among West London Synagogue members, Baroness Neuberger will shortly be confirmed as the oldest British Reform congregation’s new senior rabbi.
West Londoners who wanted to have a high-profile spiritual leader must be delighted to see the return to the pulpit one of the few rabbis whose face is well-known outside the community. She will certainly give the Progressive movement a louder voice on the national stage – she may even give the Chief Rabbi a run for his money.

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Lord Levy: JLC grabs too much power

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2011

The Jewish Leadership Council has been accused of trying to grab too much power by its former vice-president Lord Levy.

In an article in today's JC, he reveals that his recent resignation from the council was because of its failure to define "its role or purpose".

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Charedim voice school concerns

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

Charedi leaders have voiced concern about the government's plans to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18 in a meeting with Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

A delegation from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations discussed the potential impact on Charedi youth, who generally leave school by their mid-teens to go to yeshivah or seminary.

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Science laureates' Israel talks

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

Two Nobel laureates were among a delegation of leading British scientists who arrived in Israel this week for the first meeting of the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council.

Professors Sir John Walker and Sir Aaron Klug, who both won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, and Baroness Greenfield, are among the 12 British scientists taking part.

The nine Israelis also include two Nobel winners, Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute and Professor Aaron Ciechanover, of the Haifa Technion, who also won their prizes for chemistry.

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Give terminally-ill right to die, says rabbi

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

People with terminal illnesses should be helped to die if they do not want to go on living, according to the chief executive of Liberal Judaism.

Rabbi Danny Rich made the case when he gave evidence last week to the independent Commission on Assisted Dying, chaired by the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer.

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Missing Michael Winner

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

A sell-out crowd of 200 waited for the speaker at the London Jewish Cultural Centre on Tuesday. And waited. And waited.

But instead of a good night's raconteuring from Michael Winner about his life in "movies and other places", the audience had to settle for a refund. Because he failed to show.

Such a thing has not happened at the LJCC since the Archbishop of Canterbury got the wrong North End Road and turned up in Earls Court rather than Golders Green - although he made it, an hour late, eventually.

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This cartoonist's no joke

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

A caricature of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dressed as a Jewish settler appeared on the Guardian's "Palestine Papers" blog this week.

It was drawn by the Brazilian Carlos Latoff who, the Just Journalism website recalled, won second prize in the International Holocaust Cartoon Competition in 2006 - a cynical stunt staged by an Iranian newspaper and condemned by the United States as an attempt to "denigrate the horror that was the Holocaust".

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Review: Great Reform Lives

By Simon Rocker, January 27, 2011

Edited Jonathan Romain
The Movement for Reform Judaism, £9.99

This short collection of pen portraits of leading Reform figures was produced to mark the bicentenary of the first Progressive service in 1810. Sketched by various members of the British Reform rabbinate, they have been edited by Jonathan Romain, who gives a typically concise and lucid introduction to the principles of Reform.

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More on organ donations

By Simon Rocker, January 25, 2011

Controversy continues over the new guidelines on organ donation issued by the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din.
See, for example, this fresh attack on his policy from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Moshe Tendler.

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