At the Passover Seder each year, Jewish people ask why this night is different from all other nights. The question continues to find meaning; the circumstances we celebrate this year fill us with doubt and despondency. But there is an answer – for thousands of years we have been the people of the book. Texts and commentaries have informed our people’s direction. Our Haggadot teaches valuable lessons, a text written in forms as disparate as the people we are, in traditions and excerpts from the Tanakh. Through reading and discussing, we remind ourselves of the questions our ancestors asked. So this Pesach, what can the Haggadah offer us?
Pesach teaches us to take initiative, as we baked the matzah necessary to sustain our people through to Canaan. I am reminded of the successes of the DIY Judaism movement that entered the mainstream through The Jewish Catalog. Teaching rituals such as the blowing of a Shofar, mitzvot in supporting the elderly and practices such as singing prayers to the melody of Scarborough Fair, the book became a staple of many Jewish bookshelves. In recent years, DIY Judaism has also meant the support of Jewish institutions. These include Jewish theatrics, Seder meals, book clubs, community media, study groups, Shabbat meal programs and minyanim. The focus now should be to embrace these new institutions through these difficult times, encouraging participation in online Shabbat services, Jewish cooking groups and study sessions. Further, we should support tzedakah and volunteering for our Jewish charities. Considering the challenges of our modern world, we should follow on from DIY Judaism’s explicit embrace of creativity.
Pesach challenges us to find new perspectives, to discuss and debate. Throughout our collective history, with the Torah and Talmud, our Responsa and on to the online calls so many made this Pesach, Jews have always explored new methods of expressing their identity through conversation. The circumstances ask us to challenge consensus – expand our resources to the Daf Yomi community, to connect to our families through online calls, to better engage with the range of available Jewish podcasts & blogs and to reach wider audiences in Jewish Facebook groups. We should encourage every Jewish person to take part in Jewish life and join the discussion. What could be more Jewish than inventing new ways of asking questions?
Pesach asks of us to stand with the courage of our leaders in challenging injustice. The central contention that should define Keir Starmer’s term as leader of Labour is whether he listens to the Jewish community and eradicates the party’s antisemitism. Never again should it be true that the party’s leadership explicitly embraces a theory of conspiratorial capitalism, that CLPs, trade unions and fringe groups promote antisemitic thinking to fellow members and that Jewish members are made to choose between their identity as Labourites or as Jewish people. Labour must take heed in cleansing the antisemitism from wider British society that it has contributed to. There is a pressing need for Starmer to be apologetic on behalf of the party, and to be thankful for the many Jewish people that bravely spoke when Labour stood with the antisemites. These are tasks which, similar to cleaning a home of chametz, will not be completed overnight, but require efforts that are strenuous and challenging. We should remember that the enemy will always be the antisemitism which threatens to undermine peaceful Jewish existence in society.
Throughout this holiday, we remind ourselves of the perseverance our ancestors found that led us to where we are. We remember the questions they asked and the stories they told. With many isolated this year, away from family and comfort, this reminiscing and reflecting takes place in a difficult world. But we should remember that we are always together. A people of Jerusalem and exile, The Haggadah calls on us to remember that “in each generation, each person is obligated to see themselves as though they personally came forth from Egypt”. We remind ourselves of the freedoms our people have fought for and the freedoms we are yet to see. Chag Sameach.