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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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue