Pesach Message

Dear Friends,

Pesach is upon us and we will, in our various ways, be making preparations for it.


Whether you scrub the whole house within an inch of its life, or just try and stick to matza for a few days, attend a seder or organise your own, I doubt that many Jews get through the season of the festival without thinking, if only briefly, about the great founding story of the Jewish people.


Remember what it's all about. We are told that 'God brought us out of Egypt from slavery to freedom'. As the Haggadah rather inaccurately(!) tells us, He did not send a messenger. He did it Himself. Which rather shoves Moses out of the limelight, doesn't it! But our rabbis were very concerned that Judaism did not become a personality cult organised around Moses, despite him clearly being an unparalleled personality in our history.


This is a very salutary message for our times. We are encouraged to become more and more obsessed with personality and celebrity, often losing sight of what matters and what we should be valuing, and instead being distracted by the superficial aspects of this or that political leader or the trappings of fame or celebrity. Imagine our media, if only for a day, removing reference to all the individuals in our news and instead concentrating on the really important and timeless issues we should be addressing.


Without doubt, one of these issues would be the challenges of climate change. The 10 plagues threaten to be revisited upon us if we do not pull out of the spin humanity is in right now - and this time, the Jews will not be immune. We're all in the same boat. We should be lobbying our governments and raising our consciousness on this front, as the CJC has long urged all our affiliates to do. At your seder this year, perhaps you might, after doing the traditional 10 plagues, do another set of contemporary plagues to remind ourselves that the world is not so different from the way it was 3,000 years ago.


Another topic though should be the conditions under which people still labour. After all, the central focus of Pesach is slavery and freedom. Modern slavery is a thing, and it would be good if, at your seders, you might spend a bit of time discussing the dreadful conditions in which many people still toil. It may not involve chains and whips, but it often involves exploitation, insecurity, lack of sufficient recompense to be able to feed and house yourself and your family. and yes, there are still some who work for nothing and are trafficked in terrible circumstances. At the very least, we should be conscious of, and grateful for, our good fortune compared with many.


These, and topics like them, are issues that we discuss each year at our annual model Diplomats' Seder which takes place in central London. This year, once again, we hosted senior diplomats from many countries as well as leaders in the highest echelons of the Commonwealth and its associated bodies. We sat in the usual convivial atmosphere of a seder and once again relived the ancient process of our seder, this year made all the more demanding of our attention because sadly, there are Jews once again in captivity and our hearts must go out to them as they must feel the despair that our ancestors felt in Egypt, that no-one could rescue them from their apparently hopeless situation.


But Pesach reminds us too that no situation is in fact hopeless, and that it is a Jewish imperative to hope. Fittingly, that is the name of the Israeli national anthem - Hope - Hatikvah. Jews have always been resolutely unrealistic, and this is how we've changed the world again and again. So let us resolve once again to be that force for good in the world, committed to demanding better of ourselves and others, for the freedom and benefit of all.


Hag Sameach! My warmest good wishes for a lovely festival together with your families and communities. Thank you for all you do - and will do! - for the Jewish people and the world.




Clive A Lawton OBE JP