This post is mainly for people who aren’t Jewish. I want to communicate to you the exasperation that many Jews feel when they’re
told that this whole antisemitism controversy is invented by Zionists and Tories to try and damage Labour.
It isn’t invented. It’s about things that Jeremy Corbyn and his political allies keep doing, it isn’t about things Jews keep doing. But bear with me for a minute while I tell you a little about seder night. Which is tonight.
Seder night is when Jews remember their liberation from slavery in Egypt. It is a family festival, celebrated not in synagogue, but at home, around the dinner table.
Well, sometimes a dinner table, extended by a kitchen table, with a little kids camp table at the end; all covered in white table cloths and with your best cutlery and flowers. Big extended families eat together; sometimes 20 or 30 people squashed around the table.
But before you’re allowed to eat you have to listen to the person in the family who knows how to read Hebrew trying to hold it all together and get everybody’s attention, while the cynical teenagers gently take the piss and ask if it is time to eat yet.
We are invited to feel that we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt; and that we, ourselves, were liberated from bondage. (Cue the annual titters from the other end of the table about how bondage isn’t so bad etc etc.) This is about how the God of the Jews saved the Jews and smote their enemies, angrily and violently; but it is also about how we think about everybody who is enslaved, and we pray for everybody’s liberation. Pesach is both about our own particular Jewish story and also about our ancestors finding their way towards a universal God and towards the concept of humanity.
So we go round the table, reading in Hebrew, reading in English; eventually we’re allowed to drink our second cup of wine. Hooray. But we spill ten drops of wine. Why? Because while we’re pleased the Holy One sided with us and hurt our enemies, we also mourn for their suffering too.
And we eat Matzah, which is bread that never rose. It is like big square crisp breads. My nostalgic memory is that in England Matzah always comes in red cardboard boxes, of the most common brand. They’re sitting on the table, waiting to be eaten. One piece is hidden, for the kids to find later and get as prize. We eat Matzah because our ancestors had to get out of Egypt quickly, before Pharoh changed his mind; and they could not risk waiting for the bread to rise.
And the women (well, you know, traditionally…) fuss about in and out of the kitchen making sure the food is ready at the right time; and we eat an egg (you know, an easter egg, to remind us of the Spring time and the circle of life) and salted water and bitter herbs to remind us of the bitter tears of oppression. And nowadays there’s an orange on the seder plate. Why? Because some old rabbi once said that a woman belongs in the rabbinate like an orange belongs on the seder plate.
And before we can eat there’s a bit more praying, and a bit more telling of the story of the liberation from Egypt.
And then… (can’t we bloody eat yet?) … a few songs.
Dayenu is a long song. It goes on forever. Especially when you’re impatient for your soup. It has a catchy tune and it is one of those songs that repeats and repeats to make its point. It is about how wonderful God is. On the face of it, it says that each one of the things God did for us, on their own, would have been enough, we would have been awed. In fact, of course, that isn’t really true. The journey from slavery to freedom required many indispensable events and elements; and all were necessary. We say we’re grateful for each one; but really that is just to demonstrate how much we’re grateful for the whole lot.
Verse 1: “If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
and then a chorus. We sing Dayenu, it would have been enough!
Verse 2: “If he had carried out the judgments against them, and not against their idols – Dayenu, it would have sufficed …
Verse 13: If he had given us the Torah and not brought us into the Land of Israel – Dayenu, it would have sufficed.
Verse 14: If he had brought us into the Land of Israel and not built for us the Holy Temple – Dayenu, it would have sufficed.
You get the pattern? Everybody sings the chorus. It takes a little while.
Then we have matzah ball soup. And then dinner. It’s a very warm, family occasion. And sometimes we argue, and fall out, and laugh. And some people take it more seriously, some less; and some people go on into the small hours of the morning talking about theology and philosophy and politics and what it means to be Jewish.
So. Adrian Cohen wrote the Jeremy Corbyn Dayenu. All I ask is that you read it out loud. The whole thing. And between each verse, sing the chorus, if you know it.
Dayenu – it would have been enough for us.
If Corbyn had supported Rev Sizer but distanced himself from Paul Eisen Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t distanced himself from Paul Eisen but had refused to take Raed Saleh to tea in the Commons Dayenu.
If Corbyn had tea with Raed Saleh but had not met with Bashir Assad in Damascus Dayenu.
If Corbyn had met Assad in Damascus but had also organised STW demonstrations in defence of the Yazidis, in support of Kurdish self determination, protested against chemical weapons and barrel bombs by the Assad regime, the siege of the Yamouk Palestinian refugee camp and the slaughter in Eastern Ghoutta Dayenu,
If Corbyn hadn’t organised protests by the STW but had condemned the antisemitism aroused by STW protests against Israel in 2014 Dayenu,
If Corbyn hadn’t condemned antisemitism in 2014 but had refused to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah and call them his friends Dayenu.
If Corbyn had met with Hamas and Hezbollah but had not regularly gone on the AL Quds march under the Hezbollah flag Dayenu.
If Corbyn had regularly gone under the AL Quds march but had refused money from Press TV Dayenu.
If Corbyn had accepted money from Press TV but had supported the removal of the mural in 2012 Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t supported the removal of the mural but had removed himself from Facebook Groups like Palestine Live and blown the whistle on their content Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t blown the whistle but had given interviews with Jewish Communal newspapers and answered their specific queries Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t given the interviews but had said ‘Israel’ at the first LFI reception after his election Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t said the word Israel at the first but had turned up at the third Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t turned up at the third but had met with LFI at anytime for a meeting in the last three years Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t met with LFI but had addressed the concerns about antisemitism at the JLM Chanukah Party as scripted and agreed with his staff Dayenu.
If he hadn’t addressed antisemitism at the Chanukah Party but had asked to tour Jewish areas of London, visit schools and synagogues at any time in the last three years Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t visited Jewish areas but had expelled any of Livingstone, Walker or Wadsworth Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t expelled any of Livingstone et al but had commissioned a proper independent report on antisemitism in the party Dayenu.
If Corbyn ordered a whitewash but had at least used that as a basis for zero tolerance going forward Dayenu.
If Corbyn hadn’t used it as a basis for zero tolerance but in the face of the current manifestation of the crisis had distanced himself from phoney JVL and slammed those calling concerns about antisemitism a smear and defended those MPs now under attack for attending the rally Dayenu.
If Corbyn had done none of the above but had sacked Christine Shawcroft from the NEC and removed the whip from Chris Williamson Dayenu.
All together now Day Dayenu, Day Dayenu, Day Dayenu Dayenu Dayenu.