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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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.