Lock-down focuses our human rights glasses

6 Apr, 2020 | Blogs, Latest, Promotion, Protecting Human Rights in the UK

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By Student Rabbi Gabriel Kanter-Webber

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The glasses we usually associate with Pesach contain wine. But I think glasses have another connection with it as well.

“During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”

Three months ago, none of us even dreamt that such a line would ever find its way onto the statute book.

Yet here we are, preparing to observe Pesach over Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, kept in our homes by the most draconian piece of rights-restriction legislation ever to be enacted in British peacetime.

It seems strangely appropriate. At Pesach, we not only recall the story of our ancestors’ journey from degradation to liberty, but we relive it. We regard ourselves as if we, personally, were redeemed from slavery. We wear Pesach glasses to help us see our past more clearly.

Within my lifetime at least, it has never been easier. This year, I can identify with God’s instruction to our ancestors during the Exodus: “And you, none of you shall go outside the door of your house.” That instruction, the rabbis tell us, was a recognition of just how deadly the Angel of Death was. Once unleashed upon the world, it would not distinguish between righteous and wicked, but would kill anyone with whom it came into contact.

That sounds familiar.

But even more familiar, not just to the Jewish people but to anyone who ever watched The Prince of Egypt, is what happens nine verses later: “Up! Leave my people! You, and all the Israelites, go!”

The Exodus lockdown was a necessary precursor to true freedom. Our ancestors spent a night cowering indoors in small family groups, living in fear with their movement totally restricted, before eventually realising and relishing the true value of liberation.

Our weeks under lockdown should remind us not just of the human rights abuses perpetrated against the ancient Israelites, but of abuses perpetrated every day all over the world. However claustrophobic and draconian our current situation, we have clean water, electricity, broadband; some of us even have pasta and toilet roll. Others, in our country and abroad, are not nearly so fortunate – and the restrictive decrees under which they live have no good reason and are not time-limited.

Pesach lends us a pair of glasses that not only help us look backwards, at history, but which help us to view others’ lack of human rights right now, with all the clarity of our years as a persecuted minority.

Britain’s lock-down is far from easy. But it also lends yet more focus to the pair of Pesach glasses that we can all put on this year.

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