The fifth son

Rabbi Eli Pink describes his continual desire to reach out to the fifth son of Passover and introduc

For different people Passover will always bring to mind different things. For many people, Passover will always mean the frantic cleaning of the house for any trace of chametz – leavened food that is prohibited on Passover. For others it will bring to mind the matzah price wars between the supermarkets and local grocery stores. And for some, the genial atmosphere of the family meals springs to mind. However for me, Passover, and especially the Seder meal, has always been about the fifth son.

Allow me to explain. Passover is the festival which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and birth of the Jewish nation approximately 3300 years ago. In commanding us to teach our children about the Exodus, the Bible uses four distinct expressions, which the authors of the Haggadah, (the liturgical text used at the Pesach Seder), explained to refer to four types of children - the wise son, the wicked son, the simpleton and the clueless son – and gives the appropriate approach to each son.

However there is a fifth son, the lost son - the son that does not even reach the Passover Seder. The son who does not even know that there is a Passover Seder. It is this son that talks to me the most.

Having grown up in a family of educators, my father being a Headmaster, my mother a teacher and three of my brothers - community Rabbis, education has always been at the forefront of my life. Passover would exemplify this, with a cross-section of the Jewish community always present at my parents’ Seder table. As I grew up, I too yearned to reach out to the ‘fifth son’ and help unaffiliated Jews experience the beauty that is Passover.

My main field of operation in my early years as a Rabbi was the Ukraine. It was an incredible feeling to celebrate a Passover Seder in a former communist meeting hall, protected by members of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry Police (formally the K.G.B), helping 350 people regain their Jewish heritage that had been suppressed by the selfsame officers during the communist regime. It was heart-warming to hear tens of families, young and old, proclaim ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’ the same declaration that Jews everywhere had been proclaiming for 2000 years, yet that a few short years earlier would have earned them a night-time visit for counter-revolutionary activity.

I remember my first communal Seder in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. We expected two hundred people, catered for three hundred, and hosted three hundred and fifty. From two hours before our published starting time, queues were beginning to form outside the doors and for three hours the hall was full of three hundred and fifty ‘fifth sons,’ relearning Jewish traditions.

Memories like these do not fade quickly. I keep them with me and they give me the impetus to carry the Passover message into the entire year, looking for the fifth son wherever Divine providence takes me.

Rabbi Eli Pink was Program Director for the Tzivos Hashem International Childrens’ Organisation in the Ukraine before settling in Leeds, England together with his wife Dabrushy and children Leah and Avremi. Rabbi Pink is the Director of Education for Lubavitch Foundation of Leeds.
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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.