Simon Rocker

British Reform leader hits out over arrest at the Wall

By Simon Rocker, November 30, 2009

There's been a lot on the net about the recent arrest of a woman for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall. Here are the views of Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield:

"It should have been the climax of our holiday. In fact, it was the only big let down. I was in Israel this summer with my daughter, son-in-law and two older grandchildren. We had a brilliant walk through the Old City and came to the Wall.


Neusner reverts to Reform

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, the prolific scholar of Judaism, explains why he has gone back to the Reform of his youth in an article for The Forward.

"After a half-century of apostasy, I affirm Reform Judaism as the American Judaism both of my personal choice and of our communal necessity. Indeed, I have come to believe that if Reform Judaism did not exist today, American Jews would have to invent it," he writes.

In 1995, incidentally, he wrote an article in the JC supportive of the Chief Rabbi's criticism of the Masorti movement.


Attorney-General's Jewish connections

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

Baroness Scotland, the Attorney-General, revealed some unexpected Jewish connections last week.

Born in Dominica as the 10th of 12 siblings, she grew up in Walthamstow in north-east London — next door to Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation or, in her words, “Boundary Rd shul”.

“You see before you the Shabbes goy,” she told guests at the British Friends of the Hebrew University’s annual legal dinner at the Middle Temple.

To cheers and laughter, she added: “I bet I went to synagogue more than most of you.”


Women back protest over Congo atrocities

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

A Progressive rabbi was among the participants in a high-profile event to call for an end to the atrocities in the one of the world’s worst conflict zones, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk of Westminster Synagogue joined a multi-faith rally last Thursday at London’s Albert Hall to highlight the rape and torture of women and girls in the eastern part of the country, in particular.

The event marked 100 years since the Great Congo Demonstration, held at the same venue, to protest against murder and slavery at that time.


Ex-Bevis Marks rabbi resumes usury fight

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

The former rabbi of Bevis Marks is continuing to support a campaign against high interest rates, despite his involvement having indirectly cost him his job.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha resigned from the City of London synagogue last month after months of tension with the leaders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

He had been disciplined following his participation in an interfaith rally in July, organised by the charity London Citizens, which set off from Bevis Marks to the nearby headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland.


Academic regrets Israel lobby quotes

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

Israeli political scientist David Newman has admitted he made a mistake in taking part in last week’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Britain’s pro-Israel lobby.

The British-born academic, who lectures at Ben-Gurion University, suggested that organisations such as Bicom had too narrow an agenda on Israel.

But in an article for the Jerusalem Post this week, Dr Newman revealed that his appearance had prompted “some of the most fiery invective I have ever received, nearly all of it from the UK”.


Board bid to engage Israeli-Arabs

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

The Board of Deputies and the UJIA have joined a new task force to promote greater interest in Israel’s Arab citizens.

Other founding members of the group are the Pears Foundation, the Zionist Federation, the New Israel Fund and the Abraham Fund Initiatives UK.

Trevor Pears, executive chairman of the Pears Foundation and co-chair of the group with Douglas Krikler, UJIA chief executive, explained: “Our foundation has focused on this issue since the symposium we hosted on the subject in 2007. Since then, interest has grown culminating in the UK Taskforce.”


Eilat hails vintage bentleys

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

John and Edward are not the only twins making the running. Let me take you to downtown Eilat, where last Friday the crowds were roaring on the entrants in a European Cup triathlon to the finishing line.

Israeli triathlon champs, twins Ran and Dan Alterman, had predictably elicited the cheers but then spectators caught sight of another pair of twins further back in the field.


The rabbi can wear a dress

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

A controversy has been averted over Belsize Square Synagogue’s search for a successor to retiring Rabbi Rodney Mariner, who is 68.

There were rumblings among Liberal rabbis over a clause in the job description requiring the independent Progressive congregation’s rabbi to oversee male taharah (washing of the dead), which was taken to mean no woman need apply.

Further egalitarian hackles were raised when inquiries suggested that most congregants did, indeed, prefer a rabbi in trousers than a skirt.


Christmas at the mosque

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

The reindeer are glittering again on lamp-posts, office workers are placing orders for mistletoe and down at the East London Mosque they are making preparations for an “imams and rabbis’ Christmas dinner”.

The novel interfaith nosh-up has been arranged for the day before Christmas Eve by dialogue groups Children of Abraham and Scriptural Reasoning. No turkey though, just kosher and halal fish and veggie options, along with soft drinks of course and crackers pulled “in solidarity with our Christian friends”.

I am sure they will look lovely in their Santa hats.


Pray with Easyjet

By Simon Rocker, November 26, 2009

If you recall, easyJet told us last week that they would be happy to allow a minyan on board their Tel Aviv-London routes but were unaware of any having taken place.

Well, I am pleased to update you. A Londoner flying back home has informed me that a few days ago he was approached by a member of the cabin crew asking him for the name of the evening prayer.

Whereupon an announcement duly came over the tannoy from the pilot inviting passengers to daven ma’ariv.

Now that’s what I call in-flight service. Wait till they making calls for grace after meals.


Schama v Sand

By Simon Rocker, November 24, 2009

In last week’s Financial Times, Simon Schama dismissed the claims of Tel Aviv University professor Shlomo Sand, over here recently to launch the English edition of his controversial new book, The Invention of the Jewish People.


Wanted: a rabbi for the CST

By Simon Rocker, November 23, 2009

The Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok is not happy at the Community Security Trust's religious observance.

He writes in the latest issue: "On several recent vists to functions in north-west London, I have received numerous complaints that CST volunteers are seen running around with two-way radios on Shabbos and Yomtov without any justification whatsoever. I am prepared to accept that many of these youngsters are well-intentioned, but wrongly believe that in an effort to detect antisemitic crime, laws of Shemiras Shabbos [observing Shabbat] can be disregarded."


New survey: do you fly the flag for Israel?

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

The first full national survey on how British Jews feel about Israel is to be carried out early next year.

It has been commissioned by the Pears Foundation, one of the major family trusts supporting Jewish causes, and will be undertaken by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

Though such surveys are fairly routine in the United States, they remain a rarity among British Jews.

JPR published some information on British Jewish feelings towards Israel 13 years ago, but this was based on a few questions which formed part of a broader survey of social attitudes.


Belle de Juives' pillow talk

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

So now we know. Belle de Jour, the anonymous blogger and author of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, finally unmasked herself this week – as a now Bristol-based medical research scientist, Brooke Magnanti.

As we revealed three years ago, Belle was our Belle, who during an online interview fondly recalled Friday nights at her grandmother’s, Jewish youth summer camps and felafel in Israel.


Two literary bedfellows

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

Amos Oz and Philip Roth, both wrongly fancied for this year’s Nobel Prize, are up for another literary award, which, alas, is not one that they are likely to wish to add to the trophy store. They have been shortlisted by the Literary Review for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, set up to mock dubious descriptions of erotic activity.

Roth has been nominated for a scene in The Humbling, a tale of an ageing actor and a lesbian, while Oz for a novelist’s reveries about a waitress in Rhyming Life with Death.

I shall spare you further detail.


What's the beef?

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

A reader was perturbed by Gastropub owners Geronimo Inns’ plan to bring in some different cuts of meat, called clod, sticket, knuckle and “Jewish fillet”.

Does the last term not have some doubtful origin, he asked? It, in fact, refers to the forequarter portion popular in the kosher trade because the rabbis do not permit true fillet.

And why can’t you get kosher fillet? Don’t get me started on that.


A foodian slip

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

"This fantastic evening," said Norwood president Richard Desmond, introducing Carol Sopher, chairman of the charity’s annual dinner on Monday, "has been organised by Carole Sobell".

Whoops! Ms Sobell was not even the caterer, which was Tony Page. Made aware of the error, Mr Desmond continued, “Sorry Carol... What do you want to call me?”

The gracious hostess declined the offer. Any suggestions?


Rabbi: Don't pray in a minyan on a plane

By Simon Rocker, November 19, 2009

Flying can pose all sorts of challenges, none more so than for those who are meticulous about saying their prayers at the right time of day.

A Manchester rabbi reportedly told a meeting this week that it is better to pray in your seat rather than risk a disruption by standing in the aisle.

He was unavailable for comment ...because he was flying when the JC tried to contact him.

But a member of his audience said that he had been concerned about the impression made on potential passengers, especially if Jews simply got up and tried to pray in a minyan.


Valmadonna's collection of Hebrew books struggles to find home

By Simon Rocker, November 12, 2009

The compiler of the world’s finest private collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts still hopes to find a new home for them, preferably in the UK.

Since February, the 13,000 volumes in Jack Lunzer’s Valmadonna Trust Library have been with Sotheby’s in New York, awaiting a buyer.

But now the 85-year-old bibliophile believes that the proposed new Jewish Community Centre in North-West London being built by Dame Vivien Duffield would make an ideal place to rehouse them.

“It would be wonderful if the library could stay in England”, said Mr Lunzer, who lives in Hampstead.