Simon Rocker

Interfaith cricket scheme praised in Leeds

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

An interfaith cricket scheme launched by Leeds Jewish Representative Council has been showcased nationally as a model of bridge-building between communities.

It is the recipient of a £12,000 "Faith in Action" grant from the government-sponsored Community Development Foundation. The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester has received a similar sum for a variety of interfaith ventures.

The Leeds scheme is one of 19 featured in Faith Matters, a new booklet from the CDF highlighting local success stories.

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Enter Lenny da Finchley

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Forget the Da Vinci Code. The Last Supper, the famous painting at the heart of Dan Brown's mystery bestseller, has an even greater secret to disclose: its creator, Leonardo Da Vinci, would have been able to make up a minyan.

That's at least according to a new booklet, Leonardo Da Vinci's Musical Gifts and Jewish Connections, by Italian musicologist Giovanni Maria Pala and his wife Loredana Mazzarella.

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Who knows tree?

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Inspired by David Baddiel's faith-change film The Infidel, Muslim journalist Sarfraz Mansour wrote engagingly in The Guardian of a month spent mixing in the Jewish community.

After a Purim knees-up at Rabbi Schochet's and a kosher cook-in with Denise Phillips, his adventures among the chosen ended at a JCC-sponsored "alternative Cedar".

Oh, those treacherous spell-checkers!

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Oxford job for BBC man

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

If Mark Damazer had followed in his father's footsteps, he would have been making kosher sausages in a deli in Willesden.

But after a sparkling BBC career - the last six as controller of Radio Four - he is leaving to become the new head of St Peter's College, Oxford.

He succeeds Professor Bernard Silverman, now the Home Office's chief scientific adviser (and an ordained priest, in case you ask).

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Roland to the hotel came

By Simon Rocker, April 15, 2010

Roland Loefler, once the JC's Swedish correspondent, has found new fame: as one of the faces of an ad campaign for a luxury UK hotel chain.

This portrait of him, specially painted by Rachel Constable, appeared in an ad for the Radisson Edwardian Hotels in The Times this week.

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A Vanishing Rabbi Reconsiders

By Simon Rocker, April 14, 2010

I recently pointed out the seemingly unusually high incidence of vacant United Synagogue pulpits. Well, one of the departing rabbis, Natan Levy, has reconsidered his planned exit and decided to remain with his community, Shenley for another year (after which he intends to make aliyah with his family - which is good for Israel but a loss for British Jewry).

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Questions quiz genius Alex Guttenplan didn't want

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

The Daily Mail dubbed him a "pin-up Einstein", the Guardian reviewer hailed him the "Lionel Messi of factual information".

Alex Guttenplan, a 19-year-old natural sciences student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge is the latest star to emerge from University Challenge.

In the final, screened earlier this week, he captained his college to a 315-110 point victory over St John's Oxford - a margin of victory for which "overwhelming" would be an understatement. Alex emerged victorious in an astonishing show of general knowledge, both arts and sciences.

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Picasso the wizo-lover

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

On first glance, this doodle of a menorah may seem of little significance but its creator was none other than Pablo Picasso.

In early 1958, he received a letter written on behalf of Wizo and he drew the menorah on the envelope to show his intention to help the organisation, according to Linda Morris, curator at Tate Liverpool - whose new exhibition, Picasso: Peace and Freedom, opens next month.

The artist gave not only money to Wizo but a painting to be sold at its Cannes conference in 1964.

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Come dine with me

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

Asked by a newspaper to name her "dream dinner party" guests, actress Felicity Kendal came up with a suitably eclectic band: Byron, Ghandi, Marlene Dietrich and Eddie Izzard were among her chosen, along with Israel's only female premier, Golda Meir.

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Smack me, it's a kiddush cup

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

Distant ritual memories returned to radical and highly secular poet Michael Rosen on a visit to London's revamped Jewish Museum. Reviewing it for the New Statesman, he was moved by the silver Judaica to write: "When my father died, among his things were two engraved silver cups. I had put them to one side, meaning to ask someone where, how and when they were used. And there they are! I smack my head, in the same way he used to smack his head: kiddush cups!

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Come drink with me

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

No, your eyes did not deceive you. Channel 4 has confirmed that, indeed, it was a bottle of Palwin's that appeared in the latest episode of its popular home cooking contest, Come Dine With Me.

Quite how our favourite tipple – I stretch the point – ended up on the table of host Dave, a Weston-super-Mare artist cum rickshaw pilot, is anyone's guess. No doubt it complimented his main course of jacket potato and home-made beans. Perhaps he can spare a glass for Michael Rosen (see below).

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Asleep on the job

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2010

NuMa, the new group set up to find bright ideas for British Jewry, gets its name from the Yiddish nu and mah, Hebrew for "what".

But numa also means "go to sleep" in Ivrit. A compulsory afternoon shluff is an idea I warmly endorse. Zzzzzzz…

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UK 'should prevent arms being used in West Bank'

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2010

The government should do more to make sure that military components sold by Britain to Israel are not used in the Occupied Territories, a joint parliamentary committee on arms exports has said.

They said it was “regrettable that arms exports to Israel were almost certainly used in Operation Cast Lead” – last year’s campaign against rocket-launchers in Gaza.

“This is in direct contravention to the UK government’s policy that UK arms exports to Israel should not be used in the Occupied Territories,” they said.

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Board rejects Sikh attempt to list Jews and Sikhs as ethnicity

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2010

The Board of Deputies has distanced itself from threatened legal action by a Sikh group to have both communities included as ethnic groups on the next census.

Both Jews and Sikhs are recognised for the voluntary religious question, which was introduced at the last census in 2001.

But whereas both are legally classified as ethnic groups - unlike Hindus or Muslims, recognised only as religious communities - they are not listed in the ethnic category on the census.

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Rabbi: We're in denial about cocaine

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2010

The Jewish community, says one drug addiction expert, is in denial about the rising use of drugs - particularly cocaine.

David Smallwood is head of the addiction treatment programme at the Priory in Southgate, which is in an area with a large Jewish population.

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A biblical tip for healthy Pesach eating

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2010

As it says in the Book of Joshua, the Israelites celebrated Pesach not only with matzot but parched ie barbecued corn.

A lot healthier than the over-sugared diet in which many of us indulge nowadays.

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The Yiddle in the middle

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2010

As the cricket season approaches, it is time to tell of a little-known episode of Ashes history - the encounter between the demon bowler and the Jewish knight.

In 1932, England went out to Australia and regained the Ashes with a thumping 4-1 win against a team that included the incomparable Sir Donald Bradman. The English triumph resulted partly from a new tactic, short fast-pitched bowling aimed at the batsman's body - hence the name, the Bodyline Series, by which it became known.

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First woman chief executive for Reform Jews

By Simon Rocker, March 25, 2010

The Movement for Reform Judaism will become the first British synagogue body to be professionally led by a female rabbi after Rabbi Tony Bayfield announced plans to retire as head in 15 months.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand, 42, who joined as executive director in 2007, will move to the post of chief executive in June 2011, according to proposals presented to the Reform Council on Sunday.

Rabbi Bayfield, who retires a month before his 65th birthday after 37 years' service to the movement, will become Reform's honorary president.

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Reform rabbi: Jews should think of Palestine during Seder

By Simon Rocker, March 25, 2010

The head of BBC's religion and ethics asked whether Jews think of Palestinian suffering at Pesach during a demonstration Seder last week.

Aaqil Ahmed was among a select group of journalists who attended the event organised by the Reform movement.

According to The Tablet, the Catholic magazine, guests were discussing "plagues of the modern world" when Mr Ahmed asked: "Not speaking personally, but journalistically, I would ask, do people remember the plight of those people today who suffer oppression at the hands of the Israelis?"

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Miliband: War crimes law failure is Tories' fault

By Simon Rocker, March 25, 2010

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has blamed the Conservatives for preventing an early change in the law in order to make it more difficult to arrest visiting Israelis.

Although the government published its proposal to amend the law last week, there is no prospect of it being passed before the next election.

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