by Laura Marks, Founder, Mitzvah Day
This will be the 10th Mitzvah Day. I can hardly believe how far we’ve come since the first event on England’s Lane NW3, with the fledgling JCC for London and 110 people. How the world, and our community, has changed. Social action as a mainstream Jewish activity was just taking off. There was also a growing interest in building inter-faith relationships, which were not yet being negatively fuelled by mass migration of refugees around the globe.
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In the past decade, Mitzvah Day has grown and adapted rapidly to changing times. But our passion, bringing people together to do hands-on projects locally, so changing the world for the better, remains the bedrock of our work.
This year a key area of focus is the refugee crisis. While there are few Syrians in the UK as yet, the crisis helps us to consider the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers already here seeking refuge and a secure life. By supporting existing charities, including our synagogue drop-ins, we can make a difference and start to consider a longer-term solution to the problem as more migrants arrive.
This year we are focusing particularly on Jewish/Muslim relationships, so crucial and so fragile in the current climate. We will be building stronger links with our Muslim neighbours and demonstrating together that we are more similar than different. Shared projects include Jewish and Muslim students in York doing blood donations together, and South London’s Jewish primary school (Mosaic) doing a joint food-bank collection with a Muslim school. You can’t be too old or too young to join in, and our project focused on people with disabilities, the Wohl Mitzvah Day Together football match, makes this a reality.
As we launch, later this year, Mitzvah Day Spain, Belgium and even Poland, joining Australia and Germany, we can reflect on the values we share with our neighbours. Our belief that we can transform our local communities by doing projects for charities which need us with people we are determined to know better remains, 10 rapid years on, the heart and soul of Mitzvah Day.