Thousands of volunteers of all ages and faiths helped others in a Jewish-led day of good deeds for Mitzvah Day 2017.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Imam Ibrahim Mogra, Muslim Council assistant secretary general participated alongside MPs and celebrities in initiatives across the United Kingdom.
Over 1,200 projects in 415 Mitzvah Days supported the elderly, homeless, refugees and some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society across the United Kingdom.
This years event also saw 40,000 volunteers take part in 731 Mitzvah Days in a record global reach of 30 countries from Australia to Germany, France, Israel, Philippines, Namibia, Belarus and Romania.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis helped sort clothes at South Hampstead High School in London.
“Mitzvah Day promotes one of the core values and priorities of our Jewish community in a most extraordinary way,” he 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.”
Laura Marks, Mitzvah Day founder and chair, commented: “In a divided world, where we are increasingly suspicious and often fearful of our neighbours, events such as Mitzvah Day are more vital than ever in bringing people together and beginning to form real and lasting friendships between faith groups.”
Around the country, numerous faiths including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists participated, resulting in over 100 interfaith events.
Imam Ibrahim Mogra led Muslim involvement in Leicester to bake challah and make place mats for the homeless.
“Mitzvah Day is important for the Muslim community to participate in.
“It gives us an excellent opportunity to get to know our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as people of other faiths,” he said.
Mitzvah Day also united politicians with Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon putting out messages of support.
“Mitzvah Day is a special time when thousands of people, of different faiths and no faith, come together to help others and do something positive for their local community,” The Prime Minister noted.
Projects included a joint Jewish, Muslim and Christian trip to Calais to help Care4Calais and the Dunkirk Refugee Women’s Centre where the group took five cars packed with donations including coats, jumpers and cake.
Muslims from the new Golders Green Islamic Centre joined Jews to give blood at Golders Green Synagogue.
The only Jew in the Cumbrian village of Hawkshead teamed up with the local church for a series of events including tea for the elderly, knitting for the homeless and tree planting.
Meantime, EastEnders and Fiddler on the Roof star Tracy-Ann Oberman and Mock The Week creator Dan Patterson joined volunteers to sing for the elderly at the Spring Grove Care Home in Hampstead.
Schoolchildren from JCoSS and Lady Nafisa Schools cooked for the homeless at Sufra NW Food Bank.
In Leeds, university students set up food collections all over the city whilst across the Pennines, members of BBYO’s Manchester chapter visited residents at Heathlands Village and in Leeds,
Jews and Christians in Newcastle wrapped more than 100 shoe boxes for the areas most in need.
Across London, there was a plethora of activity.
Mill Hill East Jewish community attended a clearing, planting and tidying event in Canada Villa’s garden including laying a new herb garden for use in cookery courses for young people.
“Mill Hill East has gone from strength to strength,” said Avi Gillis. “We are now having Shabbat morning services fortnightly and a good crowd of all ages attend.”
Children from Woodside Park Synagogue cheder visited Jewish Cares Rubens House in Finchley where they sang songs they’d written and composed. Residents and children baked and decorated biscuits before making decorations for Chanucah.
Younger children also visited Clore Manor home in Hendon with the PJ Library.
Meanwhile, Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue children visited The Betty and Asher Loftus Centre whilst volunteers went to Sydney Corob House for people with mental health needs.
At Stanmore and Canons Park Synagogue, a week of events included an interfaith gardening project where volunteers transformed a rehabilitation garden at The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
The shul ran activities for the Princess Alexandra home, Firm Foundations, Watford New Hope Trust, US Project Chesed, Separated Child Foundation, Camp Simcha, JAMI, National Animal Welfare Trust, Jewish Women’s Aid and Afula children’s home in Israel.
Volunteers gave blood for the Joely Bear charity, whilst a craft fair benefited Norwood’s Kennedy Leigh Centre and local emergency services.
And a ‘knitathon’ took place for Akim and Gimmel Foundation.
“We really appreciate everyone’s help and assistance in this communal initiative for Stanmore Shul to do something good for the wider community,” commented Stanmore organiser Juliette Harris.
“There was such a wonderful atmosphere around the Shul as all the volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got to work, making sure that all the activities we organised were a huge success and all the collections were sifted and sorted, ready for dispatch.
“We are so looking forward to doing even more next Mitzvah Day.”
Members of New West End Synagogue, Central Synagogue, Western Marble Arch, Holland Park and Westminster Young Professionals worked together to benefit St Mungo’s, Chapter 1, Dashwood House, The Separated Child Foundation, The Refugee Council, Magic Breakfast, local foodbanks and Thames Reach.
Pupils at Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School supported three charities.
Organised by house captains Ethan Clerck, Talia Woolf, Samuel Anto-Agyei and Aaron Caplin, families raised funds for Lupus UK, Unicef and Camp Simcha, whose Chief Executive, Neville Goldschneider, spoke to pupils about the work of the charity.
At Bushey Synagogue, young and old volunteers, aged three to 100, took part in numerous projects with the highlight a musical afternoon tea on a ‘generation to generation’ theme.
Youngsters including the Bushey Brownies entertained more than 100 senior members of the community.
The room was decorated in green and white courtesy of the Bushey Barmitzvah Club boys.
Rabbi Elchonon Feldman took part in the musical entertainment with a guitar sing-a-long.
There was also a craft fair for children who made paper flowers for guests and Chanucah cards for Aleh who support severely disabled children in Israel.
Rabbi Feldman said, “It is a real credit to this community and the young members in particular, that we saw the generation gap well and truly closed.
“Everyone helping everyone and enjoying each other’s company. Truly community at its best intergenerational and inclusive of all.”
Other Bushey volunteering included a team of people tending to the gardens at the New Hope Trust homeless shelter for the fifth year in a row, other helpers assisted outside local Jewish shops whilst another annual project benefitted the charity GIFT.
And volunteers helped at Watford General Hospital where a tea and memorial service had been organised for people who had lost a relative in the past year.
Mitzvah Day organiser Alisa Heimann said, “There was a great buzz around Bushey this year with so many members of the community giving up time to help make a difference to someone else’s life.”