Progressively Speaking: Why Mitzvah Day helps us interact with other faiths
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Progressively Speaking: Why Mitzvah Day helps us interact with other faiths

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

Members of Alyth Synagogue and The Mosque and Islamic Centre of Brent at a previous Mitzvah Day event
Members of Alyth Synagogue and The Mosque and Islamic Centre of Brent at a previous Mitzvah Day event

This Sunday, as in previous years, I will be one of the 40,000 volunteers around the world dressed in  green, doing good deeds on Mitzvah Day.

My community at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue have been involved since Mitzvah Day began  a decade ago and have always made sure to invite our neighbours to join in, too.

We’ve collected food, welcomed refugees and cleared our local common in conjunction with the nearby churches, mosques and Hindu community.

And, like most Jews of all denominations, we don’t just do this important work on Mitzvah Day, but all year round.

Why? There are two reasons.

Firstly, it is the language of our religion and people. Some define this more through ritual mitzvot, perhaps reciting a blessing to acknowledge the uniqueness of space and time. 

Others – including many young people – define it through social action and social justice work, and this is especially a focus of Liberal Judaism.

Equally as importantly, it is good for all Jews that non-Jews get to meet us. Mitzvah Day can be the first time that a Christian, Muslim or Hindu will fully interact with someone Jewish.

Barriers are broken down and, as I’ve seen in my own community, friendships are formed.

When I was outreach director of Liberal Judaism, I used to travel around the north of England meeting Jews and establishing new communities.

Invariably enjoying a meal and drink in a pub at the end of a hard day, someone would approach and ask if I was Jewish: I was wearing a kippah and often had a Chumash open studying the sedrah… yup, you got me!

By the end of the evening, I often had most of the customers gathered around for a lesson on Judaism.

I never encountered antisemitism, only ignorance.

Mitzvah Day is a wonderful opportunity to combat that ignorance and show others the best of our Judaism – as well as see the best of their faiths, too.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue 

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

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