Simon Rocker



More fuss over faith school entry rules

By Simon Rocker, January 5, 2010

It's not only in the Jewish community where admissions policies to faith schools have become a hot potato. The Catholic Church has filed a complaint with the Office of Schools Adjudicator about one of its own schools in West London because it thinks the entry conditions are too strict and penalise less observant candidates.

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Did the Coens get it right?

By Simon Rocker, January 4, 2010

Lots of debate over the merits of the Coens' A Serious Man. I found the film strong and unsettling, with some excruciatingly funny moments, but an acquaintance I ran into in the foyer (as one does in NWLondon) did not think much of it.

But I wondered, would rabbis in a Conservative Temple in the 60s have said "Hashem"?

ps Who knows the Jewish members of Jefferson Airplane/Starship?

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Things are better, but not by much

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

When the Institute for Jewish Policy Research appointed a commission to investigate who speaks for British Jews, “the nervousness in some establishment bodies was palpable”, recalled JPR’s then director Antony Lerman.

The very commission was seen as a challenge to venerable institutions such as the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate. The report it issued in 2000, A Community of Communities, duly reflected discontent.

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Muslim anger over war-crime law pledge

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

The Muslim Council of Britain has protested to Foreign Secretary David Miliband over plans to change the law to prevent the arrest of Israeli politicians visiting Britain.

MCB general secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari wrote of the council’s “deep disappointment” and “grave concern” at the government’s position following former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s cancellation of a visit to Britain last month.

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Hornby’s second thoughts

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

Author Nick Hornby has revealed he considered changing the Jewish identity of a key character in his new film, An Education, for which he wrote the screenplay.

It is based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir about her relationship as a teenager with an older man, called in the film David Goldman (as played by actor Peter Sarsgaard, below). Goldman is a dodgy wheeler-dealer whose contacts include the 60s racketeer Peter Rackman.

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No show Oborne

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

One man unable to make Limmud was journalist Peter Oborne, presenter of Channel 4’s recent attempted expose of the Israel lobby in Britain. He was invited to speak at the conference. but was too busy on assignment in Zimbabwe to complete his application form in time.

Or was the Israel lobby secretly out there on safari?

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Limmud table talk

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

Lots of feelgood fraternising at the Limmud conference where United Synagogue Rabbis Michael Rosenfeld and Natan Levy breakfasted with Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich, and Jewish Leadership Council chief exec Jeremy Newmark and his team courted the grassroots at the bar till 2am.

“Who says we are remote?” tweeted the still sober JLC head.

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Lock up your dummies

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

On Edgware K, an email forum where kosher folk advertise barmitzvah lessons or announce the latest addition to their brood, the following message was posted: “Seeking a pregnant mannekin”.

Is some new golem on the loose in Middlesex? Or could there be any link to another message on the forum seeking loan of a “maternity wedding gown”?

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Yiddish test for Yentob

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2009

Alan Yentob’s TV foray into Scrabble last week saw him take on the word game’s top woman player in a test to pick out genuine words from a list. “Kittel,” he was heard murmuring, “I’d rather like that to be a word”.

Kittel indeed is one: the white robe worn on High Holy Days by some Ashkenazim, which might explain its unfamiliarity to the Sephardi Yentob.

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See you in court

By Simon Rocker, December 24, 2009

In my analysis piece on the JFS case in today’s JC,, I suggested this may not be the last time we see an intra-communal dispute come before the secular courts.

The Catholic Herald recently reported that Equalites Minister Mike Foster believes that the Equality Bill, going through Parliament, could result in more religious discrimination suits.

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Mosque defends Saudi invitations

By Simon Rocker, December 24, 2009

Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque has defended its invitations to two Saudi-based invitations condemned as “antisemitic and anti-sectarian” by another Muslim organisation.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy had called on the mosque to cancel scheduled appearances this weekend by Faisal al-Jassim and Abdul Aziz Al-Sadhan.

The anti-extremist think-tank had also denounced the invitations to the two preachers, publishing extracts from their sermons.

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Birmingham mosque defends Saudi speakers

By Simon Rocker, December 24, 2009

Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque has defended its invitations to two Saudi-based invitations condemned as “antisemitic and anti-sectarian” by another Muslim organisation.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy had called on the mosque to cancel scheduled appearances this weekend by Faisal al-Jassim and Abdul Aziz Al-Sadhan.

The anti-extremist think-tank had also denounced the invitations to the two preachers, publishing extracts from their sermons.

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Analysis: No reason to think a consensus is at hand

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

When, two years ago, an 11-year-old boy was rejected by Europe’s largest Jewish school, no one would have foreseen the consequences: three court hearings costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, the interference of the secular authorities in the affairs of a religious minority, and the forced overhaul of entry polices which had served Jewish schools for decades.

But the roots of the JFS conflict lie outside this country: they are part of a global battle over the definition of who is a Jew which has been gradually heating up in the post-war years and may well become fiercer yet.

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Convert challenge to Chief after JFS

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

The Board of Deputies faces an uphill battle to secure non-Orthodox support for a change in the law in order to override last week’s Supreme Court judgment on Jewish school admissions.

The Liberal, Masorti and Reform movements have all indicated that their support for any change to the Equality Bill, currently going through Parliament, will be conditional on their converts being accepted into mainstream Orthodox schools.

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Muslims slam hate speakers

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

A Muslim campaign group has called for the withdrawal of an invitation to two Saudi-based preachers it denounced as “antisemitic,” who are due to speak at a Birmingham mosque at the weekend.

Faisal al-Jasem and Abdul Az As-Sadhan are scheduled to appear at the winter conference of the Green Lane Mosque.

But in a letter to the mosque, leaders of British Muslims for Secular Democracy said that they had read about the teachings of the two men “with great alarm”.

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Nude bikers' cold reception

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

Riding bicycles may be ecologically sound but not in New York’s strictly Orthodox enclave of Williamsburg.

Chasidic residents successfully lobbied for the removal of a bike lane, citing parking problems and reportedly the invasion of scantily-clad riders.

In response, two-wheeled objectors had planned a protest last Saturday with a topless ride through the area.

But providence, and the weather, intervened: the downturn in temperatures forced the stripped protesters to cover up.

Is there a prayer for frost?

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One over the eight in Essex

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

I hope you had yourselves a merry Chanucah. They certainly did at Buckhurst Hill Chabad House in Essex, with this whisky-filled menorah.

The 7ft lamp was made of pipes containing 65 litres of single malt donated by the Tullibardine Distillery in the Scottish Highlands.

A tap fitted to the stem of the menorah ensured that Rabbi Odom Brandman (pictured) and company could enjoy a regular flow of l’chaims.

Beats doughnuts any day.

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Mandy amid the latkes

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

Although Gordon Brown was off in Copenhagen trying to cool the planet, Lord Mandelson was on hand to dispense good cheer at last week’s Downing Street Chanucah party.

Premier latkas all round for those there to enjoy them. But while entertainment types such as Josh Howie and Vanessa Feltz were present, many a communal official was miffed at not being on the guest list.

Still, there’s always Purim.

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Guardian apologises

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2009

Hallelujah, an apology from the Guardian on Tuesday, which said it should not have put headline “Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs” on a story about the admission, from an ex-head of a forensic institute, that, in the 1990s, specialists took organs from the bodies of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers without permission from families. The headline “did not match the article”, the paper said.

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Inside story: bad-guy broiges

By Simon Rocker, December 17, 2009

A striking trio of Jewish prisoners is currently doing time in the remote surroundings of the North Carolina Correctional Facility, USA. Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel, is far from keen on the company of his Jewish cellmate, a rapist and murderer. He does, though, have a regular lunch with the third Jew: Bernie Madoff. Lunch companions they may be, but the Diary has learned that Pollard is barely more enamoured with the stupendous swindler, whose lack of remorse irks Pollard. According to Our Man On The Inside, Pollard regards Madoff as lowlife.

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