Passover and the Importance of Freedom

Passover Seder Plate

Image via Wikipedia

Today is the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Although I’m far from religious, I can’t escape the cultural significance of the holiday and the time of year as it is one of the times that links the past recollections of family times with a strong cultural tradition of spending time together and recalling a communal history.

It is traditional for families to spend this time together and the festival itself recalls the Biblical event of the exodus from Egypt and the importance of freedom.  Freedom  though, it is a concept that I’ve spent some time thinking over.

According to Wikipedia (I know full well the dangers of referencing Wikipedia!), Political Freedom is about the

relationship free of oppression or coercion;[ the absence of disabling conditions for a particular group or individual and the fulfilment of enabling conditions; or the absence of economic compulsion

It seems particularly valuable to linger on that definition a while in this days when the government (and opposition) are determined to divide the country into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ camps, into ‘working’ and ‘non-working’ where ‘working’ is good and non-working is bad and creating and extending a culture where we are judged on economic output and ability to earn alone.

Freedom is challenging and breaking the divisions that our government is seeking to create.

The castigation and alienation of immigrants, for example,  when Cameron holds forth debates which link the extension of the ‘benefit culture’ and increasing immigration in the minds of the audience. Blaming the poor seems to be very popular by those in power. That is not freedom. That must be challenged.

For me, that’s the importance of speaking against Cameron’s talk of those who come to this country and his maleficent  linking between immigration and the benefit bill.  He panders to an isolationism that breaks society into discrete sections. Divide and rule.

I find his words hard to compute with my image and idea of what Britishness is. What is it that makes Cameron’s home counties Britishness is so diametrically opposed to my urban Britishness?

Experience and identity, I would wager. I am from immigrant stock but that doesn’t make me feel less British. Should it? I am unsure now.

We have a long way to go to create the idyllic, accepting  and yes, free, British society that I want to live in but I don’t want to live in a country that equates immigration with problems. I want to live in a country which does not criticise on the basis of ability or first language. Integrate, integrate, integrate – we hear. Surely the richness of the nation is the elasticity to accept diversity. I imagine Cameron would feel satisfied looking at ‘someone like me’. I seem integrated, I certainly speak English with an English accent. But I don’t want his approval or his distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants.

I don’t necessarily say there should be no immigration controls at all but I do believe that it is an easy bandwagon to jump on in times of economic hardship. It is a broken record. It is stuck on repeat. Blame immigrants. Blame difference. Blame disability and/or sickness. Blame benefits.

It is a society that has created these systems that needs to be blamed and it is a foolhardy and base politician that plays on these lowest common denominators to pander to a public that feels frightened amidst harder economical times.

But these are dangerous words from Cameron and we would do well to heed them. He does not have an understanding of my Britain, my England, my London where people do come and live from all over the world and are creating communities together. On the one hand he tries to praise communitarianism through his ‘Big Society’ approach but only if it is about Royalist Street Parties?

My Big Society is very different from Cameron’s and the more he speaks the prouder I am of the society that I live in and the more I strive for the society that I want to create. The demonstration on March 26th? That was my society.

The best way to counter these arguments of Cameron’s is to prove that we will not accept the agenda that has been laid down for us and to keep challenging the reactionary views that immigration only causes problems, that people who do not work are idle and that there are distinctions between deserving and undeserving poor.

Freedom is an ethereal concept and while it means different things to many different people my hope for this coming year is that we stand up more as a collective and tell the government and those who claim to know what we want and what is best for us about a society works for us. Freedom is an equal and equitable society.

The world is changing and sometimes we need to take a step back to see how it has changed. We have more opportunities for collective action that might have been possible in the past and have ever new ways of making connections and building links across divides which might otherwise have remained closed. In some ways, I have never been  more optimistic about the possibilities for change that we can hold in our hands.

We just have to seize back the debate and the rhetoric and perhaps that freedom and change can be within our grasp.

So for those celebrating over the next week whether Passover, Easter or the Spring Solstice or for those simply celebrating the days of Spring as they arrive with a hopeful expectation, I hope we can all think about the importance of political freedoms over the next year and all that we can and must do to promote it.

The New Year

Happy New Year! While being far from what could even generously regarded as a practising Jew, it would be remiss not to mark one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar, that of Rosh Hashanah, which is celebrated today and tomorrow.

image ronalmog at Flickr

Although noone would ever describe me as religious now, I was raised in a traditional observant household where all the festivals were celebrated. The frequent occasions throughout the years often mark different memories and remembrances for me – usually from my childhood.

As I like the autumn, the High Holydays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which follows in just over a week, mark the season when the trees turn colour and the leaves start to fall.

I was taught that the celebration of the new year in Judaism is a lot more circumspect than the secular calendar. It is a time to look back and think of how life has been lived over the past 12 months (or 13 months in a Jewish leap year – one extra day sometimes just isn’t enough!).  Reflection then. It’s amazing really. One of the cornerstones of my practice and I’d been doing it for as long as I can remember!

These are days in which we (as Jews) are traditionally judged. Falling very much into the secular camp and not being very good at believing in ethereal ideas, I see it as being just a good time to turn back to reflection. Rather than fearing a wrathful divine intervention, I am now far more afraid of the harm caused by humanity all by itself.

So for me, these times which draw me and link me irrevocably with a part of my culture and heritage which I can’t shake off (and believe me, I tried at some particularly rebellious late teen stage) are about giving me time to pause for thought and reflect.

Reflect on the ways that I work and interact with people and the effects that I see as well as those I don’t.

Reflect on the throw-away remarks I might make when I’m tired and am working late into the evening and take a telephone call that I try to speed up so I can head off on my way.

Reflect on every decision I make and the responsibility I hold and their implications.

Reflect on my own learning and training as well as being responsible for addressing needs and gaps as I see them.

So on that note of reflection – a happy new year to all who are interested! As for me, well, I’m off to work – I think my grandparents would  not be best pleased!