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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.