As Mitzvah Day enters its second decade as a charity, one constant has remained – a focus on bringing together Jews with those of other faith communities and uniting them in social action. Here, Simon Rothstein picks five of the finest interfaith projects in the past 20 years.
Mitzvah Day celebrated its 10th anniversary with a unique concept: cooking a record-breaking amount of chicken soup to feed the homeless.
The event took place at the East London Mosque, in partnership with Muslim Aid, where more than 1,000 portions of soup were cooked throughout the day.
Joining Imam Mohammed Mahmoud and Muslim volunteers from the Mosque and 8th East London Scout Group were Rabbi Roni Tabick and young Jews from New Stoke Newington Synagogue.
Two soups were made – a traditional Jewish chicken using halal chickens and a vegetarian alternative with recipe provided by Masterchef winner Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed.
“I was delighted to contribute to this fantastic interfaith venture,” Saliha said. “To me the Cookathon was testament to the immense power to do good that arises from friendly collaborative ventures across communities.”
The Chief and the Cardinal
Although Mitzvah Day’s main focus is bringing people of faith at the grassroots together, it has had many memorable examples of religious leaders following suit.
On one such occasion Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the UK’s most senior Roman Catholic, joined forces to sort clothes for the homeless at South Hampstead High School.
The Chief Rabbi said: “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.”
Cooking up a treat
The Salaam Shalom Kitchen, a partnership between Nottingham Liberal Synagogue and Muslim social action charity Himmah, is always a hub of activity on Mitzvah Day.
In its year-round project, volunteers from the Muslim and Jewish communities, together with many other individuals and groups, work together to offer hot meals – and company – to those suffering food poverty.
On Mitzvah Day, and its Muslim equivalent Sadaqa Day, fun activities are also on offer.
Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich, of Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, said: “This project doesn’t just help those in need. It helps Muslims and Jews build better relationships. It has allowed people to make genuine friendships. We think of ourselves as a family.”
In a longstanding partnership formed from Mitzvah Day, secondary pupils from JCoSS and the Lady Nafisa Muslim School spend time each year cooking for the homeless and helping out at shelters and food banks.
Three faiths in Dunkirk
In one Mitzvah Day project, 12 women from three faiths – and representing eight of Britain’s leading charities and institutions – took five car loads of goods to the Women’s Refugee Centre in Dunkirk.
As well as delivering items ranging from tents to colouring books, the Christian, Jewish and Muslim women spent two days at the centre, getting to know the refugees and their children by talking, playing games and painting nails.
Onjali Rauf, founder and chief executive of the human rights charity Making Herstory, led the trip. “Our faiths have their own traditions, practices and ways of being,” she said.
“But, at our core, we are humans bound by an unshakeable obligation to help our fellow humans no matter who they are or where they are from.”
υ Find out more at mitzvahday.org.uk