Mitzvah Day 10th anniversary: 10 good reasons to do good deeds!
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Mitzvah Day 10th anniversary: 10 good reasons to do good deeds!

Simon Rothstein looks back over memorable Mitzvah Day projects from the past decade

Clore Tikva Primary School attended a tea and dance at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. Picture: Yakir Zur
Clore Tikva Primary School attended a tea and dance at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. Picture: Yakir Zur

Over the next week, a wave of green will descend over synagogues, schools and shops for Mitzvah Day.

Now a staple part of the Jewish calendar – with more than 40,000 volunteers of all faiths and none doing good deeds all around the world – it’s hard to believe that Mitzvah Day has only been running for a decade.

Here, we pick out 10 of the most inspirational social action projects from the past 10 years, with thoughts from the people who made them happen.

Yes, Prime Minister 

From Sadiq Khan to his mayoral rival Shaun Bailey and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to her Liberal Democrat counterpart Vince Cable, Mitzvah Day has certainly lived up to its aim of bringing people together when it comes to support and involvement from across the political divide.

Prime Minister Theresa May has taken part on several occasions, including joining a cooking session for the homeless at JW3 when she was Home Secretary.

The Prime Minister said: “I am proud to have taken part in Mitzvah Day activities and watched the organisation grow and attract more volunteers each and every year. It is initiatives such as this that help to build the social fabric of our country.”

Theresa May and Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks at an interfaith cooking event

The first interfaith project

As the name suggests, Mitzvah Day is Jewish-led, but over the past decade it has grown to become the UK’s biggest faith-based day of social action. This year, more than 100 interfaith projects will run, featuring nine religious groups.

But, as the old saying goes, you always remember your first time, and that’s why Nottingham in 2009 is special.

As Mitzvah Day founder and chair Laura Marks explains: “We worked with Nottingham Inter Faith Council to put on a concert followed by a book and food collection for those in need.

“I have such fond memories of this day, as it showed that from very early on we recognised the value of bringing different people together to show that we all share the same values.”

Blood brothers

From the first interfaith project to one of the most recent – Muslim worshippers from the new Islamic centre in the old Golders Green Hippodrome gave blood at Golders Green Synagogue. The project made national news headlines and won a Mitzvah Day Award.

The Islamic Centre’s Ahmed Al-Kazemi said: “The blood drive was a really wonderful opportunity to find common ground and realise how much we share when we look past the externals.”

Big Down Under

The global growth of Mitzvah Day is something the charity is particularly proud of. As well as individual projects taking place everywhere from Romania to Rwanda, there are satellite offices in Germany, Australia and South Africa running Mitzvah Days across those countries.

Last year, in Australia alone, 60 organisations participated in 80 projects with environmental clean-ups particularly popular.

What do you call a collection of senior rabbis?

It’s not often in the pages of Jewish News that you’ll see the Chief Rabbi pictured with his Progressive counterparts. But on Mitzvah Day, you did.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks painted the walls of a care home when he was in the role alongside Rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg, Laura Janner-Klausner and Danny Rich – the senior rabbis of Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism. Other guests included Baroness Julia Neuberger.

Rabbi Rich said: “This was a memorable moment and a little piece of inter-communal history as we all bonded while watching the paint dry.”

School’s out

One thing Laura says she loves about Mitzvah Day is seeing different generations brought together. Usually that involves school children visiting care homes, but Clore Tikva Primary School in Essex reversed roles by inviting elderly members of the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre into their hall for tea and a dance.

Pack it in

All charities have their teething problems and sending 100 teenage volunteers into the World Jewish Relief (WJR) warehouse for a packathon in 2008 was chaotic… but also a lot of fun.

Laura jokes: “It’s not something we will repeat in 2018, but we are proud to still partner WJR on many projects to help some of the poorest and most vulnerable around the globe.

Lord Bourne at St Mungos

Lord Bourne leads way

One of the ways Mitzvah Day wants to develop over the next decade is to encourage more hands-on volunteering – such as the project run by Telereal
Trillium offering IT drop-in sessions for homeless people.

Lord Bourne, who at the time spoke on behalf of the government on homelessness in the Lords, visited one session at The Lodge, the St Mungo’s project for ex-rough sleepers, meeting residents, staff and volunteers. He remarked on his delight at seeing “the practical contribution volunteers are making”.

The Facebook team get involved in a makeover for Mitzvah day

Doing things by the (Face) book

The staff at Facebook have been taking part in Mitzvah Day since 2014, when the social media giant’s UK sales team took the day off to repaint hallways and provide a hot lunch at its local Salvation Army shelter.

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “Facebook is about connecting people and Mitzvah Day embodies similar values. It’s great for the UK office to get involved and we have a great response.”

A rabbi and an imam walk into a kitchen

When Imam Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council Britain, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis came together in the kitchens of Edgware Synagogue, you could feel a real warmth developing – and not just from the meal they were making for Barnet Winter Shelter.

Like Jews and Muslims nationwide do on Mitzvah Day, they talked about common ground, as well as how to chop veg.

Rabbi Mirvis said: “We must strengthen links and build bridges for tolerance and harmony.”

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and Imam Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain

Listen to this week’s episode of the Jewish Views podcast! 

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