Thousands of volunteers came together on Sunday to plant trees, support food banks and perform good deeds during an annual Jewish-led day of social action.
Mitzvah Day, the UK’s biggest faith-based day of social action, returned for the 11th year, with 25,000 volunteers and 500 organisations taking part up and down the country.
The day was praised by cross-party politicians, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan hailing it as another example of the “profoundly positive contribution London’s Jewish community makes to our city.”
“By encouraging Londoners of all faiths and backgrounds to come together and volunteers in support of good cause, it shows that London’s diversity is our greatest strength,” he added.
Chancellor Sajid Javid said it brings “people of all faiths together to give up their time and to help others” while Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said it makes “a real difference to the lives of the people who are involved, whether in care homes, in schools or refugees or people who are living in very difficult conditions on the streets.”
In one event, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis visited a London mosque, joined by members of Brondesbury Park Synagogue and Hampstead’s Roslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Mitzvah Day’s founder Laura Marks, its chief executive Georgina Bye and interfaith adviser Rabbi Jeff Berger.
The group planted apple and fig trees, basil and hyssop, vowing to meet again at the Al-Khoei Islamic Centre in Queen’s Park to reap the produce.
“In a very challenging world, by standing here together we are making a huge statement,” Rabbi Mirvis told the event.
“Being on this site, which used to be a synagogue, with our Muslim brothers and sisters on Mitzvah Day is charged with that symbolism of unity. This is what the world should be like all the time,” he added.
Dr Sheikh Ramzy, of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre, added: “If you look at every part of the world, there is war and hatred. But by coming together and planting this seed of peace in this holy place, we can start to bring peace to our heart, our families, our communities, our cities and around the globe.”
Over in Finchley, five rabbis, each representing a synagogue movement, took part in an emotional ceremony at the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association. The community centre opened earlier this year after its former premises were destroyed in an arson attack six years ago.
Jewish and Muslim youth planted bulbs at the centre to donate to a local care home, attaching labels with notes and pictures for residents. Rabbis Danny Rich, David Mason, Miriam Berger, Rebecca Birk and Jeff Berger were hosted by the association’s Abu Bakar Ali and Asma Mohamed Ali who led efforts to reopen a centre for the Somali Bravanese community.
“This was an amazing demonstration of how communities can support each other in adversity and open our doors to share positive moments together,” said Mitzvah Day chief executive Georgina Bye.
“Planting bulbs at the centre and in pots to be donated to a local old age home, we look forward to returning to see them bloom and to continue this wonderful relationship,” she added.
A similar project took place at the Centre for Islamic Enlightening at the Hippodrome in Golders Green with the interfaith women’s group Nisa-Nashim.
“It was a pleasure to work together with our Jewish friends and neighbours on Mitzvah Day, in our local community, to do something nice for people in care homes,” said the centre’s manager Razi Zadeh.
Meanwhile in Finchley Road, the JW3 hosted six faith communities to cook for homeless people staying at the Pond Square Chapel Night Shelter in Highgate.
Volunteers used produce from their fridges, gardens and cupboards to produce a meal in a nod to this year’s theme “Going Greener,” designed to encourage projects to help the environment.
The day at the JW3 also saw volunteers wrap presents for vulnerable children, register as potential stem cell donors and turn old t-shirts into tote bags for charity.
Elsewhere in the country, the day saw a flurry of interfaith events in Leeds, tea parties and “collectathons” in Manchester, schoolchildren’s baking projects for elderly communities, blanket-knitting for the homeless in Newcastle and a beach clean-up on Walney Island and Maryport in Cumbria.
“In this political climate, when everything is so unclear, one thing we can be sure of is that our environmental climate needs our attention,” said Marks.
“By focussing on the environment for Mitzvah Day this year, something we share with all humanity and with our neighbours from all faiths and backgrounds, we ground ourselves in real tangible and positive local action,” she added.