Simon Rocker

Hackney councillors to support local Limmud

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2010

Two strictly Orthodox Hackney councillors are due to speak at the mini-Limmud in the borough on Sunday.

Liberal Democrat Ian Sharer and Conservative Simche Steinberger will be part of a panel discussion on how their Jewish values led them into politics.

Also joining them are two other local Jewish councillors, Linda Kelly and Barry Buitekant of Labour.

Mr Sharer said: "I have never done this before. But I am pleased to be invited and happy to go along to speak about my role as a councillor.


Reform leader Bayfield to retire early

By Simon Rocker, November 1, 2010

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, is to step down six months earlier than expected at the beginning of January.

The leader of the movement since 1995, he had been due to retire at the end of June shortly before his 65th birthday, with executive director Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand becoming chief executive - and the first female rabbi to be professional head of a British synagogue body.

But Rabbi Bayfield told members of the Reform council yesterday that the handover had gone so smoothly that he felt able to leave earlier.


Lord Sacks tackles tax dodgers

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has criticised people who try to avoid paying tax in the current economic climate.

Addressing the annual dinner of the Jewish Assocation of Business Ethics in London on Tuesday night, he said: "I think individuals have to say 'if I belong in this society, I have to share in the fate of this society'.

"Where everyone else is suffering, it is morally wrong to say 'I am going to take myself out of it'. Even if you can justify it, the fact is we're all in this together."


JNF settles £700,000 Sherling dispute

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

JNF UK has reached a last-minute deal with a former board member it had sued in the High Court for nearly £700,000.

The charity claimed that Irish businessman Maurice - usually known as Charlie - Sherling owed the money, to cover legal fees the JNF had incurred in its previous conflict with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL).

But lawyers for the JNF and Mr Sherling managed to thrash out an agreement shortly before Mr Justice Mann took the bench at the start of a scheduled five-day hearing on Tuesday.


Why the star of David is rising across Africa

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2010

Timbuktu: the name is so steeped in mystique that many people think it is an imaginary rather than a real place. Historically, the city in the republic of Mali has been a centre of Islamic civilisation in Africa. It is also home to an emerging Jewish community.

According to local lore, some of the Jewish traders who crossed the Sahara centuries ago settled there but their descendants were forcibly converted to Islam. Now a new generation wants to return to their roots and openly identify as Jews. They have taken the Hebrew name Zakhor, "remember".


The Long Distance Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, October 27, 2010

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, of the New North London Synagogue, is in the first week of a three-week sponsored walk from Frankfurt to Finchley, accompanied by his dog Mitzpah.

You can read about the journey on the blog as they go along on Rabbi Wittenberg's blog Carrying the Flame.


School entry conundrum

By Simon Rocker, October 26, 2010

Hardly a week goes by without us receiving an inquiry about Jewish school admissions.

It’s almost a year and a half since the courts forced Jewish schools to introduce new entry rules based on religious practice – and parents are still grappling with the consequences.

This week a letter came in from some anonymous “concerned parents” wondering if it was illegal for schools to use synagogue membership as one of their entry criteria.


Ofcom rejects complaint againt Channel Four investigation into Islamic group

By Simon Rocker, October 25, 2010

The television watchdog Ofcom has rejected complaints against an investigation into an Islamic group broadcast by Channel Four’s Dispatches earlier this year.

The programme, presented by journalist Andrew Gilligan, looked at the Islamic Forum for Europe which it described as a “fundamentalist” group that had “secretly infiltrated” the Labour party and was “exerting influence” over Tower Hamlets Council in East London.


Chief Rabbi is YouTube hit

By Simon Rocker, October 25, 2010

A video of the Chief Rabbi singing Oseh Shalom has just received its millionth Youtube visitor.

The song, set in a new version by Shabbaton choir director Stephen Levey, was recorded by leading producer Trevor Horn and featured three chazzans as well as children from the Moriah Jewish Day School.

“I’m delighted it has touched so many people,” said Lord Sacks. “It’s a piece of music that has lifted people’s spirits.”


Lord Sacks criticised by progressive rabbi

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

A leading Progressive rabbi has launched a scathing attack on Lord Sacks and the British chief rabbinate.

Rabbi Dow Marmur said that although the outside world may regard Lord Sacks as representing British Jewry, his authority in the community was “dwindling”.

“When it is an incontrovertible fact…that Rabbi Sacks’ standing is declining, there are reasons to ignore him as much as possible,” Rabbi Marmur wrote in the new issue of Manna, the Progressive quarterly.


A lion in the ladies' den

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Much in the media about Howard Jacobson following his Man Booker Prize success last week.

Apparently his mother thought The Finkler Question too Jewish to win: she was also upset not to see the closing words of his acceptance speech on TV when coverage switched instead to some surfacing Chilean miners.

The novelist was meanwhile picking a bone with Philip Roth, telling the Guardian that the American Roth "thinks English Jews have no balls. He's wrong about that - not least because he doesn't understand England or English Jews. He thought this is a hotbed of antisemitism."


Not so easily impressed

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Independent editor Simon Kelner, who launches spin-off title i next week, must still be on a mission to prove himself. When appointed Indy chief in 1998, he rang his mother. Instead of the mazeltovs, she asked about his predecessor Rosie Boycott. "She's gone off to edit the Express," he said. "Now that's a job," she replied.


Booba in the dug out

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson appeared, according to the Guardian’s Barney Ronay this week, in the “surprise role of managerial Jewish grandmother”. So can we expect to see him dispensing cups of chicken soup at half-time, pinching Wayne Rooney’s cheeks and saying “Don’t worry, bubbeleh”?


I spy - Israel gets spooked

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

It's hard to find much optimism about the Middle East peace talks but at least it provides some entertaining hokum for the BBC's spy drama Spooks.

This week's episode featured some clandestine parleying between Israelis and Palestinians in London and an outlandish plot to bump off the American president who was flying in to join them.

Actor Paul Freeman wrestled manfully with his lines in Ivrit as chief Israeli negotiator, the super-semitically named Levi Cohen. But I don't think he will be picked to run a Spiro Ark ulpan.


The Atheist at the Shul door

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

A delightful nugget from Rabbi William Wolff - regional rabbi in North-East Germany - from his column in the latest issue of Manna magazine:

"Forget Golders Green or Stamford Hill and do not even think of Mea Shearim if you want to meet unbending 28-carat frummkeit. Go instead in search of a bunch of atheists.

"Those who take that faith seriously admit of no compromise. Invited to a shool or church wedding? Forget it. They'll come for the drinks afterwards. Go to a funeral taken by a priest or rabbi? They will, only to stand a decent distance away from the back of the crowd.


Board and JLC improving ties

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have agreed to set up a joint liaison committee to improve co-operation.

It will comprise three members each from the Board and JLC. The Board's representatives will be chosen from its executive and elected by deputies.

The Board's international division has also instigated a new "rapid response" group to co-ordinate reaction to events in Israel and a working group on European antisemitism. The Israel group will be chaired by Danny Handler, the European antisemitism group by David Safir.


Jewish school choice narrows in Herts

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

Jewish parents in Hertfordshire could find it harder to get their children into a Jewish primary school next autumn owing to a change in national admission procedures.

From now on, they can apply for places only through their local council - and Hertfordshire permits only three choices, including schools outside the borough. Some councils allow six.


Pro-Israel historian barred from Irish Middle East debate

By Simon Rocker, October 21, 2010

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is to lodge a formal protest against Queen's University, Belfast after the withdrawal of an invitation to be a speaker at a Middle East debate on Monday night.

The staunchly pro-Israel JC columnist and historian, who is a guest professor at Ariel College on Israel's West Bank, had been invited to join the panel at a discussion on "Conflict in the Middle East" as part of the Belfast Festival.

But last Friday festival director Graeme Farrow told Professor Alderman that the invitation had been a "mistake" as he had not consulted the other panellists about it.


Alderman 'disinvited' from Belfast Israel debate

By Simon Rocker, October 18, 2010

The historian Geoffrey Alderman says he has been “disinvited” from a panel debate on the Middle East at the Belfast Festival due to take place tonight.

The festival’s director Graeme Farrow asked him to join Professors Avi Shlaim of St Anthony’s College, Oxford and Beverley Milton Edwards, of Queens University, Belfast, as speakers at the event.

Professor Shlaim is a noted critic of Israeli policy, while Professor Edwards is the author of a recent study of Hamas.


Defender of the Faith

By Simon Rocker, October 15, 2010

You may be happy to hear that the Jewish Tribune, whose future a few weeks ago seemed parlous, is still around - and still biting.

Here is its veteran columnist Ben Yitzchok, in the latest issue, taking a potshot at the Chief Rabbi over his Rosh Hashanah broadcast:

"During the debate Lord Sacks was asked by one of the critics whether he could be certain of Hashem's existence," he wrote.