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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How will British science survive Brexit?

What the future of science and tech looks like in the UK, without the European Union.

Science and tech are two industries most likely to be affected by Brexit. British science and tech companies were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining. A Brexit survey run in March by Nature found that of the 907 UK researchers who were polled, around 83 per cent believed the UK should remain in the EU.

UK scientists receive close to £1bn annually for research from the EU – a testament to the quality and influence of the work done on British soil. Between 2007 and 2013, the UK sector supported EU projects by spending €5.4bn, and was rewarded in return with funds of around €8.8bn; it’s a give and take relationship that has seen growth for both.

The combined science and tech sector has laid down the framework and investment for some of the most important research projects in the world. To date, the brightest minds in the UK and Europe have combined to work on highly influential projects: the Large Hadron Collider headed by CERN discovered the Higgs Boson particle, the Human Brain Project set itself the gargantuan goal of unravelling the mysteries of the human brain, and the European Space Agency has helped expand space exploration as European and British astronauts have headed into the ether.

In May 2016, chairman of the Science and Technology Facilities Council Sir Michael Sterling announced that UK scientist Professor John Womersley will lead Europe's next major science project – the European Spallation Source  which is a "multi-disciplinary research centre based on the world's most powerful neutron source." It's the type of project that creates openings and opportunities for researchers, in all fields of science, to really materialise their most ingenious ideas.

The organisation techUK, which according to their website represents more than 900 companies, said in a statement that the result has created many uncertainties but has attempted to appease concerns by declaring that the UK tech sector “will play its part in helping the UK to prepare, adapt and thrive in a future outside the European Union.”

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has reinforced techUK’s concerns surrounding uncertainty, highlighting areas which need to be addressed as soon as possible. The institute believes that discussions with the EU should focus on ensuring access to digital markets, freedom to innovate and growth of “our academic research base and industrial collaborations in computing . . . to shore up and build on a major driver of UK economic success and international influence in the digital sphere”.

Confusion over the UK’s position in the EU single market has prompted questions about the freedom of movement of labour, raising concerns among researchers from Europe about their future role in UK-based projects. The naturally collaborative nature of STEM research, the cross-breeding of ideas which foster scientific and technological advancement, could be severely hampered if limitations are imposed as a result the UK’s separation from the single market.

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize winner and director of The Francis Crick Institute said: “Being in the EU gives us access to ideas, people and to investment in science." The Royal Society reports that researchers at UK universities house more than 31,000 researchers of EU origin. The danger of losing much of that support is now imminent.

Many other leading voices in the community chimed in too. Paul Drayson, former Minister of Science in the Department for Business, told Scientific American: “The very idea that a country would voluntarily withdraw from Europe seems anathema to scientists.” Remain advocate Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for universities and science (and brother to the leave campaign’s front man, Boris Johnson), stated his concerns to a House of Lords committee of there being very little means to make up for severed EU finances. The referendum result means that a solution to replace that money from a different source must now be sought. He also tweeted:

Despite the science and tech sector favouring a Remain vote, there were some who were leaning towards Brexit pre-referendum. Scientists for Britain, a group of UK scientists who, according to their website were “concerned that pro-EU campaigners are misusing science for political gain”, issued a statement after the referendum. They thanked leave voters for sharing their vision of the UK “outside the political structures of the European Union.”

Though there are many new policies which will need to be drawn up, it is evident that the UK’s requirement to prop itself up once outside the EU will only serve to hinder science and tech growth. The industries best served through European and global outreach are now at risk of being marginalised.

Currently in place is “Horizon 2020” – an enterprise touted as “the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever” as almost €80 million is available to researchers seeking to take their ideas “from the lab to the market”. Once Article 50 is invoked, it is crucial that any negotiations that take place ensure the UK’s spot within the programme is maintained.

There are options to maintain some European integration; gaining an “associated country” status like Switzerland could continue to strengthen the STEM sector, for example. But prioritisation of science and tech seems bleaker by the day. As a new landscape takes shape post-Brexit, we must work tirelessly to prevent our most progressive and forward-thinking frontiers caving in.