Muslim worshippers from the controversial new Golders Green mosque came to Golders Green Synagogue on Sunday to donate blood, as Muslim communities across the country participated in the biggest ever Mitzvah Day.
Their good deed silenced locals who have criticised the decision to turn the former Hippodrome building into an Islamic centre, and left Mitzvah Day organisers saying it “showed unity after recent controversies and the petition against the centre”.
Heralding the national initiative’s ability to trigger interfaith friendships, Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks said: “In a divided world, where we are increasingly suspicious and often fearful of our neighbours, events such as this are more vital than ever.”
Eight different faiths took part in this year’s Mitzvah Day, including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, in thousands of events, with record 40,000 volunteers from 30 countries from as far away as Namibia.
Projects ranged from the clean-up of a 400-year old abandoned synagogue in Belarus, a blood drive in Johannesburg, a cemetery tidy in Barcelona and care home visits in Australia, while setting off for France was a joint Jewish, Muslim and Christian delegation, who went to help refugees in Calais and Dunkirk, taking five cars packed with donations including coats, jumpers and cake.
In the UK, the Jewish-led day of good deeds saw hundreds support the elderly and homeless, as well as refugees and others from poor or vulnerable backgrounds.
Among the most active were members of St Albans Masorti Synagogue (SAMS) who knitted woolly hats and scarves, cooked an evening meal at a local homeless shelter, collected household and baby items for Syrian refugees and baked biscuits and cakes at the local Women’s Refuge as well as elderly care home residents.
In Cheshunt, SAMS members joined Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet at a woodland cemetery, planting more than 100 native trees including crab apples, beech and hazel, all under-planted with daffodils, dug in by the team.
SAMS coordinator Nick Grant said: “There were over 100 SAMS members and their children who got involved, so it took a lot of organising, but was hugely worthwhile.”
In Leicester, Imam Ibrahim Mogra led the city’s Muslim involvement at Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation, learning how to bake challah and making placemats for the homeless.
Mogra said: “Mitzvah Day is important for the Muslim community to participate in. It gives us an excellent opportunity to get to know our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as people of other faiths.”
In London, Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq MP brought her baby Azalea Joy to help make cards for refugees at the JW3 Jewish Community Centre, while Liberal Judaism’s Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich took his grandchildren to entertain residents a Jewish Care home in Redbridge.
“Helping one’s neighbours was something I learned from my aunts, through their example, when they took me volunteering as a child,” said Rich.
Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon all put out messages of support.
Labour’s Brexit lead Sir Keir Starmer MP joined Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Bishop of Edmonton Rt. Rev. Rob Wickham and Cardinal Nichols, Britain’s most senior Catholic, at South Hampstead High School, together with Mitzvah Day’s Interfaith Chair Daniela Pears. The event also marked The Pope’s World Day of the Poor.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis said: “Mitzvah Day promotes one of the core values and priorities of our Jewish community in a most extraordinary way. The energy, compassion and kindness with which thousands of people on Mitzvah Day give of their time for countless worthy activities never fails to inspire me.”
In the north, the ‘only Jew in the Cumbrian village’ of Hawkshead teamed up with the local church making tea for the elderly, knitting for the homeless and tree planting, while in Newcastle, Jews and Christians filled and wrapped shoe boxes for the area’s needy, containing toiletries, knitted hats, gloves, scarves, socks and sweets.
In London, EastEnders and Fiddler on the Roof star Tracy-Ann Oberman and Mock The Week creator Dan Patterson sang for the elderly at a care home in Hampstead, while young Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren from JCoSS and Lady Nafisa Schools met to cook for the homeless and clear out a food bank.
In Stanmore, Jews and Hindus replanted and renovated the gardens of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, with Bob Blackman MP joining, while residents of a Harrow care home were treated to some Bollywood dancing.