by Laura Marks
When faced with increasing problems in the Middle East, and indeed on our very doorstep here in Europe, the Jewish community in the UK has two options.
The temptation is to hide away and distance ourselves from our Muslim neighbours. The alternative is to build bridges – reaching out to create real, lasting relationships.
Last week saw the latter course of action, as Jews and Muslims came together on Sadaqa Day all over the UK to help those in need . Modelled on our own Mitzvah Day, the Muslim-led day of social action saw 10 joint Mitzvah Day/Sadaqa Day events take place as Jewish and Muslim communities combined to collect goods for refugees, clear green spaces, make cards for children in hospital and cook for the homeless.
And it wasn’t just an interfaith day, but an intrafaith one too. I was proud of the involvement of communities like Sinai (Reform) Synagogue in Leeds and Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, where “every Wednesday is Sadaqa Day” in their Salaam Shalom kitchen.
But I was equally proud of South Hampstead Synagogue, the modern Orthodox community. There. the members spent the day outside local supermarkets collecting for Camden Foodbank.
Our flagship event took place at JW3, with home secretary Theresa May joining a multi-faith team of volunteers to cook a three-course meal for the residents of Ashford Place. This is a community resource centre, which provides support on issues including homelessness, training, employment and health. But while Ashford Place and so many other charities benefited from Sadaqa Day, the real lasting benefit is to Muslim/Jewish relations.
The Mitzvah Day team, including our hard-working interfaith chair Daniela Pears, received numerous emails afterwards from young Muslims involved in the joint ventures. The messages quoted the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s teachings on charity and thanked their “Jewish brothers and sisters”.
That is priceless. Even with all the trouble in the world today, this proves that day by day, and project by project, we can build understanding between our faiths, concentrating on the similarities we have and working together to improve life locally.
Sadaqa Day may be Muslim-led, but it really is a gift for the Jewish community. It provides another opportunity for Jewish/Muslim engagement and a chance for our enthusiastic, hard working Mitzvah Day volunteers to keep building relationships that really matter.
As Theresa May told her fellow cooks during their event: “Coming together can help us to create resilient, cohesive communities.”