Keir Starmer was one of thousands who took part in Mitzvah Day with a difference this year, as twin evils of loneliness and food poverty were highlighted.
The Labour leader joined the day of Jewish-led social action which involved more than 300 faith communities and organisations across the country.
Shuls, churches, mosques and community centres took part alongside 40 schools and thousands of families and individual volunteers, doing good deeds from home.
In wake of the pandemic, which put a stop to many traditional projects, Sunday 15 November saw pop up collection points, acts of kindness, virtual tea and a host of activities taking place virtually and physically.
Starmer visited South Hampstead Synagogue in his north London constituency, where he helped with a food and toiletry collection which will be distributed to three different local charities dedicated to fighting the crisis of food poverty.
Meanwhile, hundreds turned out for Bushey United Synagogue’s initiatives, which included its young members braving blustery conditions to tidy up the garden at The Peace Hospice in Watford, a record 18 black sacks of food being filled on Bushey high street for the charity Gift, and a cake collection for key workers organised by Rebbetzen Shira Kett.
Mill Hill United Synagogue distributed items in doorstop drops to isolated people in the community, while Pinner United held a collection for the charity ‘Goods for Good’.
Stanmore shul held four different ‘collectathons’ supporting causes, including clothes for the homeless, food for needy families, toys for sick children and those suffering with breast cancer.
It also held a ‘Big Community Tea Party’, with musical entertainment and an appearance from local MP Bob Blackman.
With the second lockdown preventing many activities from physically taking place, young families took part in a Zoom sing-a-long for Jewish Care residents at a number of its homes, with musician John Rose.
Adam Overlander-Kaye, Director, Fundraising & Community Engagement at Jewish Care, said: “We were grateful to John and the youngsters for providing such wonderful entertainment for Mitzvah Day. Our residents really enjoyed the opportunity to sing and be entertained.”
Other initiatives included a virtual Kabalat Shabbat for Jewish Care residents with Keren’s Nursery pupils, a BBYO UK-recorded video performances for residents, and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg planting trees for the charity’s Winter Wellbeing project in care homes, with his dog Mitzvah.
Elsewhere, Barnet Mayor Caroline Stock and councillor Sara Conway took part in a ‘Bringing Smiles To Your Door’ campaign with Age UK, while members of youth group FZY made food deliveries to Holocaust survivors.
East London & Essex Liberal shul baked cakes for run Mill Grove children’s home, and Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School pupils collected for Camp Simcha and Redbridge Food Bank.
Food drop-offs were also made by Jewish-Muslim women’s group Nisa-Nashim, while a blood donation drive was held by the Joely Bear appeal at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue.
Mitzvah Day’s chief executive Georgina Bye hailed the day as “a feat of flexibility and a testament to the tenacity and creativity.
“Despite the restrictions, thousands of people came together, in spirit, to run collections for foodbanks, write handmade cards for those who are lonely, record poems and songs for care home residents, make socially distanced doorstep visits to their neighbours, bake cakes for key workers, make masks for hospices, donate blood and so much more.
The initiative receives support from across faiths, denominations and the political spectrum, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying in a video message ahead of the event: “Mitzvah Day has become a great British tradition.”
Throwing his weight behind it, he said “volunteers rise to the challenge of COVID – not just maintaining this fantastic Jewish-led day of good deeds, but creating an entire month of mitzvahs!”
Speaking at South Hampstead shul, Starmer said: “I wish these food donations were not needed, but it fills me with hope to see how generous and resilient our community has been in rising to the challenges of the last few months.”
He heralded the day of social action as “a wonderful opportunity to see people of different faiths working together to enrich their local communities.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis congratulated Mitzvah Day, saying it is “encouraging us all to do more for those who are seriously affected by the pandemic – both on Mitzvah Day itself and indeed throughout the whole year.”
The initiative, which has been running for more than a decade, was this year’s focussed on the two major crises in society – food poverty and loneliness. In wake of the pandemic, the day of Jewish-led social action was extended to an entire ‘month of Mitzvahs’ throughout November.
Its founder and chair Laura Marks said: “This is no ordinary year. With so many people suffering from the effects of the pandemic, thousands of volunteers are giving time, creativity, donations and above all, love and kindness to support local causes.
“I feel lucky and blessed to see so many people supporting others in this time of crisis.”
The success was replicated in 30 other countries, from Brazil and South Africa to Canada and Bermuda – as well as all across Europe.
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