OPINION: The mayor who came to our seder

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OPINION: The mayor who came to our seder

After welcoming Sadiq Khan like a member of the family for a Passover meal, Noeleen Cohen says politics and religion mixed beautifully at the seder table

Last Pesach, the amended question of why this year was different to any other year had a simple answer – Coronavirus. Picking ourselves up from the shock of lockdown and impending doom, we embraced our newfound technological freedom and planned our family seder on Zoom, which as it turned out, was filled with blessings.

We would definitely miss being with family and friends, but there was a freedom in not having to think about menus and matzo balls. The biggest blessing of course was the opportunity to be able to come together virtually with our family who are spread across the globe, from London to Brixton and Berlin, to South Africa and Shin Xu.

This year, as we faced the reality of another Zoom Seder we counted our blessings… a little differently.

Closest to home, all those who were at our Zoom Seder last year are still with us; the two eldest having celebrated a 90th and an 88th birthday. Since last Pesach millions of lives have changed as a result of the disproportionate impact of a plague that the world was largely unprepared for, leaving us with the bitter taste of maror on our tongues, challenged by the economic, social and political state of the world.

Noeleen Cohen and her family welcomed London Mayor Sadiq Khan

So, what has this got to do with the Mayor, Sadiq Khan coming to our family Seder? Everything.

Noeleen Cohen

When it was mentioned in a conversation that the Mayor would like to attend a Seder (on Zoom of course) I knew I could help. Our decision was not influenced by the fact that the mayoral elections are under 6 weeks away, nor that hosting a politician at one’s Seder is bound to have ‘implications’. It was about our Jewish values, about being connected to those who lead us. The family were agreed. Sadiq would be a welcome guest at our Seder table.

The story of the Exodus is at the core of what being Jewish is about. At Passover we are confronted by the big themes of diversity, refugees, plagues, violence and the abuse of power. Rabbi Jill Jacobs in her book Where Justice Dwells, states unequivocally, “Myth 2. Religion and politics don’t mix. The Bible is a political document. The core narrative of the Torah is the story of a slave revolt that results in the creation of a liberated nation…”

“Unmute nana”! A typical family Zoom seder, with a special guest

Our family and Sadiq debunked the myth: at our first night seder, politics and religion mixed beautifully; not because of who we are but because of what we shared – our narrative, our stories and the unique opportunity that our family had to get to know Sadiq Khan, the warm, engaging man who is London’s Mayor.

We talked about making our own matzah in 18 minutes from start to finish (which my brother- and sister-in-law had done) and about our community that Sadiq knows and has been welcomed into.

Sadiq enjoying the seder meal

Like Jews at Seder tables around the world, we talked about why homelessness and powerlessness, climate change and Covid-19 are the modern-day plagues that require our undivided attention.

It was in fact, a typical family seder complete with pleas of “unmute yourself Nana” and videos of Disney’s Prince of Egypt running in the background.

Only this year, this night was different to all other nights. Sadiq Khan joined our Zoom seder as the Mayor of London and left as a friend and member of the wider Cohen-Khan family.

Are we inviting the Mayor again next year?

You bet.

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