From North London to Brighton via New Zealand

Zalman Lewis describes his journey around the world and the different Passover rituals he has experi

Walking down Western Road in Central Brighton on a Friday night often attracts surprised looks, as revellers are taken aback by the sight of a bearded rabbi clad in black, usually flanked by a few Kippah-wearing guests. To me, the surprised looks are not unusual. In fact, I often get similar astonishment from residents of my home community in Stamford Hill, when they learn that I live and work in Brighton.

Although Brighton is only 50 odd miles south of ‘home’, Passover in Brighton is worlds apart from the experience I had when I was growing up at home. That’s not to say that the rituals or meaning have been altered, on the contrary, to me things are very much the same, yet altogether different at the same time. At my father’s Seder table, one could not help but notice my father’s passion for education, as he engaged us kids in lengthy conversation about the slavery and exodus. Time stood still at those Seders, and I often find myself wandering down memory lane, as I picture my late Bubba expertly pouring the contents of Elijah’s cup back into the wine decanter. The ritual, accompanied by a moving melody, was often held somewhere between three and four in the morning.

In Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by 100 Israeli backpackers, Seder night was vastly different. I was studying in Melbourne in the late 1990s, and spent two Pesachs leading Seders in Auckland where wine flowed quicker than the pace the text was read; the Matzah was downed between chatter about skiing, bungee jumping and upcoming trips to India or Thailand.

Today I’m the father, but blessed to be surrounded by more than just my biological children; students and young adults also look to me for insight and inspiration. Gone are the long hours of discussion; gone are the many minutes of carefully analyses, both of text and of detail. But the soul of the evening remains intact. The spirit, the song, the joy and the essence of the evening, expressed both in the meaning and significance of freedom, as well in the simple act of consuming the Matzah, reveal the very core of what the evening represents for Jewish people the world over.

A trip across the globe, combined with the memories of Seder night at home, inspire me each Pesach to impart the lessons taught to me by my father, albeit greatly condensed, to the participants at our Seder in Brighton. And even if the guests are gone and we’re already fast asleep while in Stamford Hill my mother has just started serving the soup, the core meaning of the evening, its experiences and its joys remain the same.

Zalman Lewis studied in Talmudic schools in Manchester, Australia and New York, prior to moving to Brighton, where he and his California-born wife Shterna direct the Chabad Student Centre, serving Jewish students at University of Sussex and universities on the South Coast.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.