Family-centred Passover

Our Faith Column this week will look at Passover which runs from 19 to 27 April. Rabbi Reuven Leigh

During the week of Passover this year, my wife and I will be welcoming to our home over 100 people.

As you can imagine, catering on such a scale has its own challenges, even the might of a Tesco Extra was unable to supply the full range of ingredients we would need to feed the masses. Notwithstanding the joy of picking out forty onions and obscene numbers of potatoes, I intend to take advantage of the delivery service for next year.

Our guests will range from the professor to the undergraduate, from the religiously experienced to the novice. Yet despite the numbers and diversity, we hope to offer them a warm and friendly family experience.

We all know what it feels like to enter large religious institutions and feel lost and irrelevant, not quite sure what to do or where to sit. In the Chabad House our aim is to make people feel at home and comfortable, to get them involved but also feel comfortable as a casual observer.

The idea of being ‘individual centred’ seems to be one of the main lessons of Passover.

On the day we celebrate becoming a nation it would be far more appropriate to do rituals that express our collective and national identity and yet the evening is spent at home with family.

The whole Passover eve ceremony (the Seder) was originally a family get together, where all members would eat the Pascal Lamb. Nowadays, even though we’re missing the lamb, we still spend a whole evening together discussing the birth of our nation. We work tirelessly to stimulate the children's interest and hopefully educate them to appreciate our freedoms.

Being a father of four small children I’m not a stranger to family life and the responsibilities that it entails, but every year during Passover I’m struck by how family-focused the festival is.

I think it is a subtle lesson to all of us in positions of spiritual leadership. I’m sure I am not the only one who sometimes feels compelled to solve the world’s problems, from climate change to world poverty, whilst at the same time neglecting the more day-to-day issues that I actually can influence.

Who hasn’t heard the joke of the husband who explains how he has achieved such a wonderful marriage? “I make all the important decisions whilst my wife is responsible for everything else, I decide whether the government should put up taxes or not and who should be in the England team, and my wife decides where to live and which school to send the children to."

Passover, with all its national significance promotes the slogan “Think Global, Act Local”. I would like to think I will be able to suppress my desire for global influence and come to terms with a simple truth -- if one person doesn’t have value then neither does a multitude.

Rabbi Reuven Leigh is director of the Chabad house at Cambridge University and serves on the executive board of Chabad on Campus UK.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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