An 85-year-old who mentors young offenders as part of his wide-ranging voluntary work outside and within Anglo-Jewry has been named as the 2013 Jewish News-Mitzvah Day Community Hero. John Coleman volunteers for the Samaritans helpline and is a mentor for young offenders and older prisoners before and after they leave prison.
He is also involved with the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue group in Birmingham and organises respite trips for a branch of British Friends of Israel War Disabled. After being selected from our 10 inspirational finalists by a panel including Luciana Berger MP, Norwood CEO Elaine Kerr, Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks and Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer, Coleman was announced as the eventual winner during a party at JW3 at the conclusion of Mitzvah Day on Sunday.
Coleman, speaking from Israel where he’s currently on holiday, told the Jewish News he was “astonished and flattered” to hear of the honour from his daughter Sally, who collected the trophy on his behalf. “I sometimes feel I get more back than I can give and enjoy doing what I do. I certainly don’t consider myself a hero. Far from it.” The Birmingham Hebrew Congregation member said he began volunteering as a mentor around eight years ago as he was about to retire from the motor industry and wanted to ensure he wasn’t “sitting around doing nothing”.
“I try to encourage them to help themselves and have a positive outlook. It starts while in prison and in most case continues when they come out. I feel I’m not wasting the rest of my life twiddling my thumbs. As long as I can continue to do it I will.”
Marks said the work of every finalist “simply must be acknowledged”, but added: “John’s commitment both to the Jewish but also the wider world made him this year’s perfect Community Hero. Mitzvah Day reaches right to the very heart of Jewish values. To see the community engaging with people of other faiths and local issues is Judaism at its very best.”
The other finalists were Linda Goldberg, Shmuel Kahan, Arnold Aarons, Norman Rosenbaum, Hirsh Cashdan, Bayla Perrin, Rafi Fuchs, Leni Kariel and 14-year-old George Rosenfeld, one of our youngest ever award finalists. Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said it was an “honour” to be on the judging panel.
She said: “The shortlist of nominees was exceptional and it was incredibly difficult to select an ultimate winner. Every single one of the 10 people on the shortlist have made such an enormous contribution to their community in a voluntary capacity – they are an inspiration to us all.” A record-breaking 30,000 participants were involved in 1,000 projects across Britain and 18 other country, including for the first time Brazil and Austria, during the eighth Mitzvah Day.
A host of MPs and faith leaders were among those taking part in the in projects ranging from visiting the elderly and sick, cooking and baking for the homeless and clearing parklands, cemeteries and farms. Large-scale toy, clothing and food collections also took place. Facebook and PWC were among a record number of work places to support the Give Away Your Lunch initiative to donate food to homeless shelters and soup kitchens, while among a host of interfaith projects, sixth form girls from Hasmonean High School, Maria Fidelis Catholic High School and the Azhar Academy spent the afternoon gardening at Spitalfields City Farm.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said Mitzvah Day has become “a leading light on how to strengthen bonds and create friendships across different faith groups. It brings people together to do good through a variety of hands-on social action projects – in turn these make a long-term difference to the society around as well as fostering harmonious, strong local communities”. During the JW3 party, Mitzvah Day announced the creation of three new awards – multi-mitzvah, interfaith and schools – in recognition of the year-round impact of social action.