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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If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.